Whenever I speak at a corporate conference or teach a workshop about gender diversity, at least one woman says something like: “If the CEO brings up his daughter one more time, I’m going to lose my marbles.”
Does this reaction surprise you? It certainly surprised a well-liked and well-intentioned CEO of a large financial services firm with whom I recently worked. He was shocked to learn just how not well his father-daughter story went over. This particular CEO—let’s call him Dave—was entirely on board with creating an inclusive company culture and with promoting talented women. He had assumed that his personal story would show just how much he cared about the women in his life, and how he had worked hard to support and encourage them. Unfortunately, his story had the opposite effect.
When it comes to creating gender parity, men have the power to make a big difference—or maintain the status quo.
Whether you are part of the problem or part of the solution depends on the kind of male leader you are. One of the 20 percent who get it and are acting on it; one of the 60 percent who believe in it but don’t know what to do; or part of the 20 percent who don’t get it and don’t care to.
Dave belonged to the majority, the sixty percent of male leaders who have the best of intentions but aren’t sure about best practices. Consequently, the blood drained from his face when I told him what his female colleagues—in this instance, high-level executives—had thought of his story.
“I shouldn’t talk about my daughter?” he choked out.
“You can,” I said, “but you can’t stop there. Your colleagues may be glad to know that you’re a good dad and decent human being who wants his daughter to be valued in the world just as much as his son. But that doesn’t much help your female colleagues to overcome the barriers of a male-designed, male-centered office culture. If you are committed to truly walking the talk, you have to be able to back up your lip service with success stories about them.”
You are probably not included in the 20 percent who couldn’t care less about gender parity—if you were, you would not be reading this article, or scoping out the Good Men Project in the first place. If you’re within the top 20 percent of men who are at the top of their leadership game, who both talk the talk and walk the walk, and you’re just here for a refresher, then welcome. Otherwise, you’re like Dave—one of the sixty-percenters who want change but don’t know what to do about it.
Here are some tips to get you started.
Get other men on board.
The vast majority of high-level positions are occupied by men. These male execs and board members have the majority of the power, and it’s up to them to decide to use their power for ill or good. If these men are in denial about the value of gender equality or are devoted to maintaining an old boys’ club, then little will happen by way of progress.
According to Everett M. Rogers, in his book Diffusion of Innovations, the tipping point for a movement to catch on is when the critical mass of early adopters reaches 13.5 percent. As a culture, it may appear as though we’ve exceeded that threshold. But what about your small circle? Do at least 13.5 percent of your male colleagues actively champion the advancement of women in your company? If the answer is no, then that’s where you have to start—with the men.
Make the business case.
If doing what’s right isn’t motivation enough for your male peers, then the fact that having more women at senior levels of an organization leads to a better bottom line should be. More than twenty years of research has shown just that. According to Catalyst research, Fortune 500 companies with the highest percentage of women board directors attained significantly better financial performance than those with the lowest percentage. These facts may provide the nudge your more stubborn colleagues need.
Take responsibility for your own leadership style.
The tone for office culture starts at the top of the leadership chain. As a leader, you need to take an honest look at whether your actions match your words. Do you say you want to promote more women? Then create an official sponsorship program, in which those at the top actively acknowledge, mentor, advocate for, and advance talented lower-level women.
Do you say you are a proponent of diversity? Then get educated about brain-based differences in thinking and communication, and learn how you can harness these differences for the company’s benefit. Do you say you value what women bring to the table? Then make sure your company’s meritocracy is truly inclusive, with comprehensive measurements for performance. Do you claim to be an innovative leader? Then make sure you are holding yourself accountable using thoughtful metrics and 360 leadership assessments.
After my talk with Dave, he began to publicly praise his female colleagues. He talked about the real, tangible strides the company was making toward gender parity. He didn’t have to abandon his father-daughter story—he simply kept it in his personal life, where it belonged. And, more importantly, he used it as inspiration to push his company to succeed in the recruitment, retention, and advancement of women.
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