3 Ways Men Can Become Compelling Allies to Gender Diversity Efforts

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Men are powerful allies to Gender Diversity and equality goals. That is, when they choose to be or when the organisation has well laid out strategies to involve them.

That's one reason I keep writing about how men can help gender equality goals.

Men helping to improve the poor representation of women and minorities in leadership roles makes organisational and financial sense as proven by many research studies.

Your contribution can make a significant difference to the careers of women and minorities around you. That in itself can be a very satisfying outcome. Moreover, your involvement with gender diversity can help enhance your leadership influence. It firmly establishes you not only as a successful leader, but as someone who cares about fairness and equality, and actively works to strengthen the organisation's future. 

Needless to say, it is in men and women's professional interest to be Inclusive Leaders and promote diversity at all levels of leadership.

It's not a question of if we need to work together to progress socially and economically, it's about how quickly can we create that reality for all of us. Everyone wins when we progress together instead of at the expense of one of us.

Yet, the well established benefits of having more women to balance out the men in leadership positions stands in stark contrast to the data for 2017 across the largest corporations globally.

The latest finding of the Chief Executive Women (CEW) ASX 200 Senior Executive Census 2017confirms that men still hold the majority (79%) of roles in ASX 200 executive leadership. This is important to think about because it means Australia has just 11 female CEOs on the ASX 200 or 5.2% of women CEOs. More startlingly, 41 of the nation's largest companies don't even have a woman on their executive leadership. Which means, we won't have more women CEOs anytime soon.

Female CEOs in the Fortune 500 aren’t quite the norm yet either, but they have been making strides. As of 2017, there are 32 female CEOs on the list, meaning that 6.4% of the U.S.’s biggest companies (by revenue) are run by women. This small number is the highest proportion of female CEOs in the 63-year history of the Fortune 500.

Has there been a dearth of gender diversity programs and strategies over the last three decades, one might ask?

Not really. Literally billions of dollars have been invested in these efforts. Among many complex reasons for why a lot of them leave us wanting, a crucial reason for their failure is perhaps, not involving men who continue to be decision makers.

A Gender Diversity initiative that does not consider the crucial ingredient of men as advocates and allies is likely to fail and not have long-term positive shifts.

Here's a shout out to men who might want to contribute to seeing their wives, sisters, daughters and female co-workers have a fair go at work, but don't know how they can make a difference.

#1 Seek out sponsoring opportunities

Men might need to go out of their way to find opportunities for women and minority leaders. This is because women and minorities are pushed so far behind that it's time to bend over backwards to try and level the playing field for them. Sponsorship is a great way to push a deserving leader's career ahead. This does not have to arise out of formal organisational programs. “Often times organisations haven’t factored men into the equation upfront,” says Eleanor Haller-Jorden, General Manager, Catalyst Europe. Who can you see around you that you know has the potential, but lacks the advocacy they need? As a leader you have all the freedom to say I'll sponsor a leader who I know most likely won't have a fair go at a senior leadership position.

#2 Role model flexibility at work

Men are really far behind in helping organisations become more flexible. Most of the responsibility and career backlash of flexibility falls upon women and minorities. Men are also fathers, husbands and sons. They have equal responsibility in being a crucial part of their households. Yet, women bear the brunt of most such responsibilities and the consequences this has for their leadership careers. While there are deep-seated reasons for this imbalance, we have to begin somewhere. As a senior male leader, how about setting an example of working flexibly, so everyone around you feels the permission to do the same. Unless more men leaders step away from their daily grind to do school runs or relieve their partner of a few responsibilities, so she can get ahead in her career, flexibility will stay a women's or people with disabilities issue.

#3 Support women in their absence

Behind closed doors, it's fairly easy and common to dismiss what women and minorities can accomplish and the opportunities they deserve. Sadly, the people being spoken about are generally not present in the room, so that they can be represented fairly or speak for themselves. As an advocate for gender diversity, make a point to speak out and communicate with your peers (most of whom are likely men) on how these assumptions might be just that. A leader who keeps their integrity and the organisation's best interests at heart often stands out. Let's not underestimate your own leadership influence when you speak up and advocate for what might help the organisation perform better and keep up with its rapidly diversifying customer base. These might not just be words that sound right, doing the right thing is a proven strategy to have a long and influential career while helping gender diversity goals.

Hope this helps us think of how men can contribute and be active participants in gender diversity goals, instead of being passive by-standers, who don't know what their place is in our quest for diverse leadership.

Your thoughts? Do you have comments and observations that might help this conversation? Would love to hear back.

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I am am Inclusive Leadership speaker, writer and facilitator. Check out www.equalityconsulting.com.au for how I can help your organisation build Inclusive Leaders.