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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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Who You Know Matters as Much as What You Know—Why Women’s Sponsorship Still Matters

Do you expect that if you work hard to prove your value and differentiate yourself as a model employee that you’ll be automatically considered for career advancement? Research has shown that over three-quarters of women (77 percent) believe that long hours, hard work, and education lead to promotion rather than relationships and key connections.

This belief is simply false—and men know it. As I reported in my recent book Make Room for Her, Catalyst’s research has shown that 83 percent of men believe that who you know matters as much or more than your job skills and level of competence when it comes to corporate advancement. Men focus more energy than most women on building and intentionally leveraging a meaningful network to help them rise in their career. Women would be wise to follow their lead, since studies have shown that women are overmentored yet undersponsored.

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