Men As Allies

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Men As Allies (28)

Together as Allies—How Men and Women Can Create a Better and Smarter World

This fall, I have been speaking at several major conferences and women’s leadership forums within organizations. While “women’s forums” have traditionally been designed as “women-only” events, I like to shake up this assumption a bit. I ask companies to have women attendees not just invite other women to attend, but also to bring along a male supporter of the initiative.

It’s time we start cracking the isolation factor that has often accompanied female leadership forums. This calls for men and women to start having this important conversation not only on gender-balanced leadership but also on how can can work together towards shared business goals, challenges, and opportunities. The only way to effect real change in this arena and better understand each gender’s unique but important differences is to reinforce a unified voice. And it is only when we begin to experience this journey as partners in a shared purpose, rather than as insiders and outsiders, that the alliance can truly be powerful. When it comes to advancing women’s leadership, men and women working together as allies should be a primary goal for our teams, our organizations, and our world.

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Cracking the Code on Gender Equity

Why have so many companies failed to make much progress when it comes to achieving gender parity in their senior ranks? Perhaps even more important than looking back, what really needs to happen next to grow the pool of female talent at the executive ranks, so that we can finally achieve gender equity at the C-level and in our boardrooms?

I get asked these questions in almost every meeting I have with SHAMBAUGH’s clients when it comes to strategizing about how to improve gender equity in their company. While the solution isn’t simple, this quote from Albert Einstein can guide us in the right direction: “We cannot solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

With this wisdom in mind, it’s time that we crack the ceiling of only around one-third of women—34 percent—in senior management roles, and in the tech industry in particular that reportedly has only 11 percent of women execs at Fortune 500 companies. (Some tech firms are pushing hard to do better than this—I just learned that SAP reached its goal to have one in four management positions at the company filled by women—yet we still have a long way to go.)

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Changing the Narrative on Women in Leadership

It’s often said that the dearth of women at the C-level is due to a pipeline problem. But according to a recent New York Times article, “Why Women Aren’t C.E.O.s, According to Women Who Almost Were,” the pipeline isn’t the issue.

In the piece, author Susan Chira emphasizes how women who aspire to reach the senior ranks in corporations or institutions continue to experience resistance despite their clear capabilities and proven capacity to get results. After interviewing dozens of female CEOs, would-be chief execs, and other professionals, Chira finds that “many senior women in business are concluding that the barriers are more deeply rooted and persistent than they wanted to believe.” In other words, old narratives are at least partly to blame.

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Women’s Confidence—How to Get It If You Don’t Have It

Fake it until you make it.” When I wrote my latest book Make Room for Her, that was a central piece of advice that men gave women when it came to the issue of confidence. When researching the book, I spoke with a male colleague of mine who is an Executive Vice President of global business development, who had this to say on the subject of women and confidence:

“The only way you grow is to lose some battles along your way to winning the war. When taking on new opportunities or working in unfamiliar areas where you have little or no experience, it’s important to be okay with knowing that you are going to stumble and fall. You will certainly make mistakes, but in the long run you will learn and grow, which will make you considerably more valuable to others.”

This EVP also told me that women need to keep “putting themselves out there” and “taking the risks involved with something that’s new to them,” adding that doing so starts with believing in themselves. “Women have to know that they can be successful without having all the answers and they have to be willing to fail in order to ultimately succeed,” he said.

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How to Make “Women’s Issues” Everyone’s Issues

I was heartened to see the recent New York Times article by Peggy Klaus. In her piece, Peggy notes that she has recently heard more professional women questioning the value of women-only events and conferences, asking “how helpful is it to talk mostly to one another instead of to the men who hold the power and who must be a key part of the solution?” In one of my recent posts, I referred to this tendency as the “isolation factor.”

This is an issue that we’ve been addressing for a long time at SHAMBAUGH, specifically through our Integrated Leadership model. As Peggy said in her article, “we should not leave women’s issues to the women alone.” I couldn’t have said it better myself, which is one reason why our Integrated Leadership model focuses on what organizations and men can do—alongside women—to harness the full power of gender-balanced teams and leaders.

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What Men Can Learn From Women

In my last post, I shared some strategies on how organizations can engage men in advancing more women into leadership positions. With that general background in mind about the important role that men can play in helping boards and executive teams achieve more gender-balanced leadership, let’s shift our attention now to considering why men and organizations should care about women’s leadership.

The primary reasons are first, men want to be part of successful organizations, and second, organizations need to be competitive to succeed. Simply put, research has proven that a balanced leadership team leads to better business outcomes. Top-performing organizations recognize the value of having women on their executive teams in addition to a wider spectrum of diverse thinking, styles, and backgrounds. This is true from a business perspective as well as a leadership advantage.

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How Organizations Can Engage Men in Advancing Women’s Leadership

When confronting the frustrating challenge of the dearth of women at the executive ranks, it’s tempting to point to men as the problem. Yet the model of Integrated Leadership shows that on the contrary, when properly engaged by their companies, men can play an important role in the solution.

Interestingly, while men as a group have spent the most time in senior leadership and comprise close to 80 percent of the executive ranks, companies typically don’t see the potential of harnessing men’s experience to help advance their female leaders. Many organizations have invested plenty of time, money, and resources into diversity initiatives and women’s leadership/networking programs, yet this hasn’t truly moved the needle at the rate that is needed for the 21st century. HR generally has sole accountability for these efforts and results, rather than considering the significant role that men—who, in most cases, constitute the most powerful stakeholder group in large corporations—could play if working in partnership with women and organizations.

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Who You Know Matters as Much as What You Know—Women Can Advance Their Career Through Sponsorship

Over the last several weeks, I have had the opportunity to speak at several conferences and client organizations with one common request: to address what really drives women’s career growth and advancement. While we all know that there is no single “quick fix” that will instantly create gender-balanced leadership, one important factor that facilitates better balance is providing sponsorship opportunities for your top female talent.

In SHAMBAUGH’s work with talented female leaders, we’ve found that while high-potential women generally have strong and supportive professional relationships, these tend to fall under the category of mentors—advisors who serve as role models, providing perspective and constructive criticism. But when it comes to understanding the importance of developing relationships with potential sponsors—key high-level decision-makers who are able to go beyond mentoring to advocate on women’s behalf in relation to strategic opportunities and advancement—female leaders still tend to shortchange themselves.

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