We’ve been talking about gender (and cultural) diversity for years now. And yet, despite the fact that 50 percent of the workforce is comprised of women and that women are now graduating with twice as many degrees as men, women make up only 14 percent of senior executive roles. So what is going on here? Why are more women not advancing to the senior leadership ranks?
I realize that I run the risk of being politically incorrect when I say this, but I think men play a significant role in this situation. Quite frankly, how could they not? The vast majority of senior and executive leaders are men. Given their sheer numbers, one must logically conclude that men have some kind of impact or influence on the lack of women in leadership…but not in the way that you might think.
Generally speaking, most organizations have done a commendable job of providing leadership development and diversity training to fill the leadership pipeline with qualified candidates and to help women overcome the obstacles to their advancement. Many of the reasons women are not advancing in the numbers they should be revolve around their own self-limiting beliefs, assumptions and behaviors. I call these “sticky floors” because they hold women back from achieving their key goals and career objectives.
However, there are at least two other factors that keep women out of senior leadership roles, and they do not directly relate to women:
- Organizations and their predominantly male leaders do not buy into the business case for Integrated Leadership – fully engaged, balanced teams of men and women working together.
- Men are not aware of the significant role they play and therefore do not see themselves as a major part of the solution to this problem.
The Business Case for Integrated Leadership
The evidence supporting the importance and value of women in senior leadership is overwhelming. Multiple studies have proven that organizations with more women in senior executive roles are more profitable, have greater market share and are better able to grow and maintain their competitive advantage. The bottom line is this: balanced leadership means better business results. Organizations that choose not to leverage women at the leadership level will simply fall behind.
Interestingly, men typically are not seen as playing a significant role in advancing women into leadership – that job has been left to the HR or OD department. To some extent, men have been pushed to the sidelines and as a result have perhaps become apathetic about supporting women. Yet men are in the best position to mentor and sponsor women because they have spent the most time in the leadership ranks and hold the most knowledge and experience.
In my experience working with organizations, I have found that men are not as comfortable mentoring women as they are other men. Socially, men are wired to work with men. Let’s face it – there are inherent gender differences that make it more challenging to build cross-gender relationships. And in today’s hyper-sensitive workplace, men are much more cautious in their dealings with women. However, when 50 percent of the workforce is women, it behooves men to build bridges, look for women’s strengths and learn how to leverage them. Mentoring women in the leadership pipeline represents a huge opportunity for male executives to grow the company.
So how can we develop a more Integrated Leadership approach – one that encompasses the strengths of both men and women? Men, women and the organizations for which they work all play key roles in the solution. And the first step to solving the problem is awareness.
Men, do you…
- Believe in the business case for more women in leadership?
- Ask the women on your team for their perspective and input because you genuinely believe they have something of value to add?
- See yourself as an advocate for the aspiring women leaders in your organization and feel comfortable mentoring them?
Women, do you…
- Reach out and build partnerships with male leaders?
- Invite men to be your mentors/sponsors and ask for their advice and support?
- Offer your valuable input, opinions, and perspectives?
And as an organization, do you…
- Develop and train men to give them the skills and knowledge to effectively mentor women?
- Seek different ways to advocate for and sponsor women in the leadership pipeline?
- Proactively look for opportunities to integrate the strengths of male and female leaders?
The dearth of women in senior leadership is not just a women’s problem or an organizational problem – it’s everyone’s problem. And it’s time for men to actively participate in the process of advancing more women to the leadership ranks and creating a balanced, integrated senior leadership team.
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