Why Women’s Advancement Is Everyone’s Issue

I recently was a keynote at a major leadership conference in New York. One of the great pleasures of my trip was meeting a male CEO of a Fortune 500 organization, who I call Henry. We were speaking about the progress of women in leadership and what still needs to happen to move the needle. I asked him what he saw as the biggest challenge within organizations to getting more women into senior management.

“Most important is that we ‘all’ need to be in—organizations, men, and women need to play an intentional role,” said Henry. “This means organizations need to have the right culture or it won’t happen. Male leaders and executives need to understand that a balanced leadership team is essential to remain competitive and achieve better business outcomes.” Lastly, Henry said: “What I think is the biggest nutshell to crack is having women leaders truly understand the importance of helping each other.”

I think Henry is onto something, as I have personally observed the power and positive results that happen when women support each other. Whether it’s the choice of words we use, mentoring or sponsoring other women, or providing feedback and guidance, there is an opportunity for women to expand the view of their role of leadership and the positive impact they can have on other female leaders. Yet while Henry’s frustration is shared with other male and female leaders I have spoken to, we should not single out just women.

While there is often pressure on women to help other women succeed, putting the full onus on women to help other women reach senior management may be misguided, since men are generally still in the more powerful positions in organizations and on boards, and thus able to be of more tangible assistance. No question that it’s also still critical for women to continue to move toward being advocates, mentors, and sponsors for other women when appropriate—yet the bigger issue is to recognize the benefit of women and men building productive partnerships with each other, and understanding the differentiating value each gender brings to the table through collaboration.

In my recent book Make Room for Her, I discuss the fact that forward-thinking men understand the importance of gender-balanced leadership—which I refer to as Integrated Leadership—and recognize the value of having women on their executive teams from a business perspective as well as from a leadership advantage. Smart men also know that they can benefit from women’s insights and natural abilities, recognizing that they have much to learn from women. As evidence of these truths, SHAMBAUGH conducted a recent study that explored what men considered the five most beneficial things they learned from their female colleagues. These were:

  • How to be a better listener. Women can help men understand the critical leadership skills of asking the right questions, listening to both the content and feelings behind responses, and then continuing to question in greater depth based on those responses.
  • How to be empathetic. Having empathy with others and helping people develop empathy are attributes that are important but missing from many organizations. A study from Hay Consulting found that women had a greater capacity than men to demonstrate the powerful “coaching” style of leadership based on their emotional quotient.
  • How to foster better communication and collaboration. Many leaders today are finding that you can’t use the traditional style of command and control to gain a lasting sense of commitment or to foster engagement. You need to actively and meaningfully involve people in problem solving, decision making, and innovation activities. According to plenty of research on gender brain differences to date, communication and collaboration are skills that many women naturally possess and inherently have a greater capacity to demonstrate compared to men.
  • How to think more holistically. Many male executives whom we surveyed recognized that when women pushed them to look at the bigger picture or consider all the options, they often came up with better solutions and avoided potential problems. Men shared that one of the most important strengths that women bring to their teams is having a more holistic or integrated perspective.
  • How to trust your intuition. In our study, we defined intuition as “knowing with no evidence.” While this type of “gut feeling” may seem too nebulous to rely on when it comes to making decisions, recent research shows that intuition can be a reliable source of business insight. Men surveyed said that women on their teams have helped them to avoid relying solely on logical thinking when it comes to solving business issues, but to instead tap into the full spectrum of leadership thinking within their teams, which includes learning to think more intuitively.

Each of these areas offers an entry point for women to help mentor men. Yet when it comes to helping women, men are in an ideal position to return the favor—in areas from advising women on how to improve their strategic networking skills and their negotiating ability, to providing sponsorship opportunities and becoming more politically savvy. The goal for both men and women should be investment in relational capital—to cultivate and build relationships with key decision makers, male and female, who can take an active role in helping women to advance.

While some women need to move out of their comfort zone and intentionally cultivate relationships with senior-level leaders specifically for the purpose of career advancement, women’s leadership development is not a women’s problem. Organizations, women, and men all have an important role to play in moving more women into senior executive positions through Integrated Leadership. We must work together across the gender divide—with women sharing their unique leadership style with men, and men leveraging their power networks to bring more women to a seat in the boardroom—so that more women can ultimately do the same.

No matter our gender, we all need to connect, build community, and support one another. The day that all parties—women, men, and organizations—understand these basic principles of collaboration and support is the day that we will all collectively reach higher levels of success and thrive.

Looking for Rebecca Shambaugh to keynote on 21st Century Leadership Best Practices or strategies and techniques to accelerate the development and advancement of your female leaders? Visit www.rebeccashambaugh.com

Learn more about SHAMBAUGH’s Executive Coaching, Leadership Programs, Keynote Offerings, Sponsorship Consulting and our signature Women In Leadership and Learning Program (WILL) by visiting www.shambaughleadership.com

Rebecca Shambaugh is author of the best-selling books “It’s Not a Glass Ceiling, It’s a Sticky Floor,” “Leadership Secrets of Hillary Clinton,” and “Make Room for Her: Why Companies Need an Integrated Leadership Model to Achieve Extraordinary Results.”


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