As I looked out into the crowd at a recent conference where I was speaking, I saw a sea of women ready to develop their leadership skills, hone their assertive communication, and invest in their professional advancement.
Sitting in the far back right of the room was a lone white man, who throughout the entire weekend sat quietly, listened attentively, and took notes. At the very end of the weekend, as I was about to roll out to the airport, he thanked me for the insights he had gained – not only from what was presented but also from the experience of sitting in a room full of people who identify as women, from all walks of life, sharing their experiences, frustrations, and triumphs in a world where women leaders still face gender bias in all it’s overt and covert forms.
“I’m really working to become a better ally to women in my workplace,” he told me, as he listed off some of the take-aways he was going to start implementing immediately.
I knew then I needed to flip my lens and focus on the practices men can embrace to advocate for gender equality. I so often find myself addressing crowds of women, that I have fallen into the habit of focusing on how women can “lift as we climb,” and forgetting to also ask for actionable support from those who benefit the most from historical systems of oppression: the white guys.
Still today, despite the many strides women have made in attaining more degrees than our male counterparts and serving as the majority of middle managers in the US workforce, men still account for 75% of all S&P 500 executive and senior-level officials. Men hold 80% of S&P 500 board seats, constitute 94% of CEOs, and hold just about 80% of the seats in Congress.
For the men who also want to make a more equitable world a reality, here are 5 simple steps you can implement right away:
As the women of the Obama White House exemplified, amplification can be a powerful tool in combatting unconscious bias at work. Regardless of malintent, women are much more likely than men to be interrupted, and many women report having their ideas only taken seriously when reiterated by a man in the room.
But male allies can help give credit where credit is due. When you hear a woman at work being talked over, interrupted, or worse — having her ideas co-opted by someone else — speak up to help pass the mic back her way.
“Hey, I don’t think Tamika was finished getting her point across. Tamika, did you want to add to that?”
“You’re right, that’s a great idea. I believe it was Marnie who raised this earlier, right? Marnie, what were you saying about this originally?”
“I feel like we’ve heard from everyone in the room on this except Allison and Renee. Did you want to chime in?”
Use your privilege like a spotlight to highlight the words of women who might otherwise fall on deaf ears.
- Mentor & Sponsor More Women
Countless amounts of research has found that establishing an ongoing mentor relationship with professionals on the rise is critical for providing the kind of valuable counsel and support needed throughout a woman’s career. But sponsorship can be even more critical.
Serving as a sponsor is like being a power broker: sponsors connect women with the substantive opportunities and networks of power needed for continued career success.
In a Catalyst report called Sponsoring Women to Success, researchers found that having a sponsor can be a career accelerator:
“Good sponsors can supercharge a woman’s career by providing her with access to essential networks, bringing her achievements to the attention of senior-level executives, and recommending her for key assignments,” said Ilene H. Lang, President & CEO of Catalyst. “Effective sponsors also provide career coaching and guidance that enable protégés to make broader and more strategic contributions to their organizations.”
Even the most well-intentioned professionals are likely to find themselves more often mentoring and sponsoring young people who remind them of themselves at the start of their career – it’s simply how we’re wired to be biased towards liking those who seem like us. But that’s a problem — one that perpetuates the systemic underrepresentation of women and people of color in leadership.
- Call It Out
Everyday sexism can take a toll on women’s professional reputations and internal sense of confidence. Microaggressions – those statements, actions, or incidents that reflect indirect, subtle, and sometimes unintentional discrimination against women and other marginalized minorities – are commonplace in the workplace. And when you take an intersectional approach to understanding gender inequality, it becomes clear that when combined with discrimination based on race, class, ability, sexual orientation, gender identity, women living at those intersections face even more microaggressions than others (ahem, we white women).
So what can a dude do? Call it out. When a colleague calls a woman “aggressive” or “shrill,” explain how that negative framing might gloss over the fact that she’s being assertive — a key skill all leaders need. If women are the ones asked to fetch coffee or take notes in every meeting, question the practice or volunteer yourself. If a colleague makes a sexist joke, speak up to let them know why it’s not okay.
- Listen to Women
It’s so simple, but so profound. We spend countless hours focusing on how to become better speakers in our culture, but rarely to we exert the same effort to hone our active listening skills. In a world where little girls are praised for being quiet and still and little boys are expected to be loud and rambunctious, it can be a radical act to practice reversing those roles.
Believe women in your office when they come to you with concerns. Allow women to be the experts on their own gendered experience in the world. Validate women’s experiences, even if you’re feeling called out or are tempted to get defensive. Practice empathically putting yourself in their shoes and trying to understand their experience.
This might even include being proactive about asking the women in your office how you can be a better ally. Get curious about what women need to feel valued, safe, and respected as equals – even if that requires soliciting anonymous feedback.
- Advocate for Fair Workplace Policies
When it comes to hiring for new positions, is your company embracing research-driven practices that reduce bias? Does your employer embrace pay transparency or other accountability measures for providing equal pay for equal work? Do you have on-site lactation rooms? Gender-neutral bathrooms? Equal parental leave policies that enable all working parents to thrive?
When men’s voices join women in advocating for these policies on the corporate, state, and national level, we double our collective power.
How else are you stepping up to be an ally for women at work?
This list is by no means exhaustive, and I want to hear from more men on how we can all be stronger advocates for women in the workplace.
Photo source: Pexels.com
Just this June, Fortune Magazine announced a new milestone in its list of Fortune 500 female CEOs. The number of women CEOs listed had reached an all–time high: 32 in a single year.
The percentage was still small — just 6.4% — but it had finally broken the 5% mark.
The majority of that small percentage are white women. With the departure of Xerox’s Ursula Burns in 2013, there are no longer any African–American women topping Fortune’s list. Only two women of color made the CEO list: Indra Nooyi of Pepsi Co. and Geisha Williams of PG&E Corporation.
Brande Stellings, senior vice president at Catalyst, calls the low number of female CEOs throughout history (just 64 named in the six–decade–long history of the Fortune 500) “pretty remarkable — in a bad way.
“When we have stories about women CEOs that don’t call them women CEOs — you never hear Mark Zuckerberg described as a male CEO — that would be a significant milestone to reach,” she says. “And we’re still pretty far from that.”
Below, six milestones in female CEO history:
1889: First-ever female CEO
Yes, Anna Bissell, of the sweeper and vacuum Bissells. When Anna’s husband Melville died in 1889, Anna moved into the CEO spot, soon earning the manufacturer its international recognition.
By the late 1890s, Queen Victoria herself insisted that Buckingham Palace be “Bisselled” to absolute cleanliness.
1972: First-ever female CEO of a Fortune 500 company
Katharine Graham became president of The Washington Post parent in 1963, but when she became CEO in 1972, she broke a new barrier for female CEOs.
Graham frequently found herself to be the only woman in a male-dominated room — the newsroom — in meetings and on the American Newspaper Publishers Association.
1999: First woman CEO to lead a company in the Dow Jones industrial average
Yes, it’s Carly Fiorina — former Republican presidential candidate and Ted Cruz’s former running mate. When she became CEO of Hewlett–Packard in 1999, Fiorina crossed off a new first for female CEOs.
She pointed to her CEO experience as evidence of her leadership capability when she was on the campaign trail in 2016, but her tenure at HP was marred by layoffs and a tech recession.
2009: First-ever woman-to-woman CEO succession
In 2009, Anne Mulcahey left her position as Xerox CEO and Ursula Burns — another woman, gasp! — stepped into the C-suite.
Stellings views this 2009 transition as one of the most important moments in the history of female CEOs.
“It’s rare just to have a woman CEO,” she says. “So that woman–to–woman succession is a milestone and makes it almost more a norm of having exceptional woman leaders.”
2009: First-ever African-American CEO
The first-ever woman–to–woman succession at Xerox also announced the promotion of Ursula Burns, a one-time Xerox intern who rose to the highest position in the company.
“By the time I got to work, I was very used to being around a whole bunch of men who were fairly uncomfortable with difference,” she said.
In a recent conversation with CNNMoney’s Poppy Harlow, Burns says she sees the current age as “a time of power” for women in tech. “We have to own our position in the world and be strong and aggressive about it,” she said.
2014: First female CEO at a big automaker
When Mary Barra became CEO of General Motors in 2013, she also became the first–ever woman to lead an automaker — a huge milestone in the history of the male–dominated industry.
Barra continues to top the Fortune 500 women’s list, and last year earned $22.6 million, more than any auto CEO in the world.
Although women make up roughly half the workforce, complete gender equity in the workplace is still a long way off. If current trends persist, on average women won’t receive equal pay until 2059, and that progress is even slower for women of color.
Even with the rise of sites like Glassdoor and Monster, many women are still left wondering exactly how prospective employers handle gender-specific issues in the workplace like family leave and pay equity.
To find out, female job seekers are turning to Fairygodboss, a job review site exclusively for women. The site provides crowd-sourced intel on how female-friendly company policy is at thousands of businesses.
The 2-year-old start-up just released its 2017 rankings of the best companies where women are happiest. Companies with the top rankings:
- Boston Consulting Group
- General Electric
- Salesforce, Deloitte, PwC
- Vanguard Group, Apple
- American Express
- Kaiser Permanente
- Thomson Reuters
The rankings were based on the responses from almost 15,000 women about overall job satisfaction, gender equity and likelihood of recommending their company to another woman.
The data is pulled from the anonymous job reviews that Fairygodboss uses to create company profiles.
“One of the reasons we have this ranking is because our social mission is to improve the workplace environment for women,” said Georgene Huang, CEO and co-founder of Fairygodboss.
“Our intent is for employers to learn from what companies at the top are doing right.” she continued.
Huang said she sees companies rise in the ranks when they make a concerted effort to promote more women into leadership and improve work-life balance.
At Boston Consulting Group (BCG), this year’s winner, hiring and promoting more women has been a priority for more than a decade. In just five years they were able to increase the number of women in their North American firms by 70% and raise women’s retention rates to be equal or higher than men’s.
“Getting women in the door is the first step, and then we really focus on ensuring that we are supporting women along the way,” said Michelle Russell, partner lead for Women@BCG, a program focused on improving women’s experience at the company.
BCG was able to close the retention gap through programs like Women@BCG and the Apprenticeship in Action initiative, a direct response to feedback from women who said they were dissatisfied with the level of mentorship available to them. Russell said the company also stepped up its recruiting of women and improved flexibility policies to make the company culture more inclusive.
Gender equity is an uphill battle
Women, particularly women of color, face a unique set of obstacles in almost every industry.
Men are 30% more likely to be promoted than women, which results in a disproportionate amount of male executives, according to a survey from Sheryl Sandberg’s LeanIn.org and the McKinsey consulting group.
“When women say their company doesn’t treat men and women equally, that’s the No. 1 thing they point out,” Huang said.
BCG found that the lack of mentorship was one of the major factors contributing to gender disparities in senior management. Through the Apprenticeship in Action initiative, the company was able to boost female promotion rates by 22% among senior managers.
Russell explained that while surrounding pieces like flex time and equal pay are important, improving the day to day experience is crucial to retaining women in leadership.
Another issue that has drawn national attention is the wage gap. On Equal Pay Day this year, women still only made 82% of what men are paid. For African-American and Hispanic women, that percentage drops to 68% and 62% respectively, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.
The wage gap not only exists within occupations but also between occupations. Men tend to dominate higher paying jobs that require similar qualifications to lower paying, female dominated fields.
Huang said women bring up equal pay slightly less frequently than unequal promotion because the information is a lot less visible. Women simply don’t always know if they’re being paid fairly.
Women also often bring up their employer’s family leave policy in their job reviews. Fairygodboss was actually born out of the challenges Huang faced when she was two months pregnant and hiding it from her employers.
“During my interviews I really wanted to ask about maternity policy and what the path for leadership was for women, but I felt like I couldn’t for fear of looking less committed to my job,” she said.
When Huang couldn’t find any helpful information online about company policy related to women, she and colleague Romy Newman created Fairygodboss.
Improving parental leave and flex time policies is key to supporting women and men in the workplace, according to Russell.
Birth mothers at BCG can take up 16 weeks of family leave, and any employee can take two months of unpaid time off with full benefits. Employees can use this “Time for You” for anything, whether it be extending family leave or learning how to horseback ride.
“I wanted to take a step back, so I took a leave to nanny my best friend’s 3-month-old in Juneau, Alaska,” said Russell. She used this time to reflect on her future at BCG and decide if she wanted a family of her own.
When she eventually did have children, Russell capitalized on BCG’s flex time policy to help integrate her work and family life.
“The firm has always been really supportive,” she said. “And the flexibility extends well beyond when you have small children.”
At any point, employees have the option to work at 60% or 80% capacity while receiving reduced salary and tenure credit. Russell worked at 80% capacity for about six months after her first daughter was born before coming back full time. She recently returned to 80% capacity to spend more time with her two kids and her best friend’s daughter, who is now 12, while they’re on summer vacation.
Although big companies like Microsoft, Amazon, and Netflix have publicly improved their paid family leave policy, millions of Americans still aren’t offered any time off after the birth or adoption of a child.
In fact, 1 in 4 women go back to work just 10 days after childbirth according to a report from PL+US Paid Leave for the United States. The Family Medical Leave Act gives women 12 weeks job-protected unpaid leave, but only 12% of U.S. non-government workers have access to paid family leave, according to the Department of Labor.
When it comes to family leave, women face consequences no matter what they do. Researchers at the University of Exeter found that women who take maternity leave were seen as “significantly less competent,” and those who don’t were seen as less caring parents.
Still, Fairygodboss’ message is a hopeful one.
“There are things you can do, there are ways you can improve,” Huang said. “We just want that to be the major takeaway.”
At the sold out 2017 Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association (HBA) 28th annual Woman of the Year (WOTY) event in New York City, award winners and representatives from HBA Corporate Partners were interviewed on the red carpet.
Men and women are equally qualified to lead, but what’s going on when nearly all new corporate leaders are men? A recent informal study suggests a path to parity.
Talking about differences between men and women leaders is a tricky business. Nobody wants to lean on generalizations about how different genders handle C-suite jobs; “women are like this” and “men are like that” commentaries is the stuff of bad 80s stand-up comedy routines. But look at the leadership gap when it comes to gender, and it’s hard not to wonder if there are distinctions.
Consider: According to research by PricewaterhouseCoopers, just 3.5 percent of the incoming CEOs of top global companies in 2016 were women. (That’s up from 2.8 in 2015, so, green shoots?) And once women reach those positions, there’s the compensation gap to deal with, which has existed in the association world just as it does in the corporate world.
So when I heard that Matthew McCreight had recently given a talk at a women’s leadership conference titled “What Women Can Learn From Effective Male Leaders,” it was easy to find the title a bit condescending—but also relevant.
Based on a recent report on the event at Entrepreneur magazine, a more relevant and less provocative title for the talk might have been, “Common Blind Spots Among Male Leaders.” McCreight interviewed 31 women leaders, and those conversations surfaced issues about gender roles that often don’t get raised. For instance, he recalls the case of one woman senior staffer: “The CEO had staff meetings every Monday at 8:00 am, so she had to bring her nanny to her house every Sunday night so that she could get out of the house and get to that meeting. So finally after a number of years, she was asked how it was going, and she said, ‘This thing is killing me!’ The CEO offhandedly said, ‘Why don’t we move it to 10?’”
Who’s at fault there—the male CEO for failing to consider the complex family lives of his VPs, or the female VP for not being more up-front about the issue? In perfect world, both sides would give the matter due consideration. But in the world we’re actually in, McCreight argues, women need to take the lead in highlighting the issues that a relevant to their careers, and play more offense in general. Much of the advice he received from the women he interviewed are of the take-ownership-of-yourself variety: “Don’t be afraid to make decisions”; “Don’t wait to be asked”; “Don’t be wishy-washy in what you want to know. Male leaders love to be asked to give advice.”
Good advice—to an extent. After all, asserting power is meaningful only so far as you’re in an environment where asserting that power is respected. A report last year on women in the workplace from LeanIn.org and McKinsey & Co. pointed out that women who negotiate for promotion and raises are 30 percent more likely than men to be told that they’re “bossy,” “intimidating,” or “too aggressive.” In too many work environments, “don’t be wishy-washy” is guidance that can carry negative consequences.
The good news, according to McCreight, is that male leaders seem to be getting it. He says many of the women who responded to his survey said, “the best male leaders don’t fit the stereotype, and instead show more empathy, a quality that is more often associated with female leaders.” But an environment where men project more empathy, respect, and—let’s say it—fair compensation and treatment of women doesn’t have to be a dream where people wait for the appropriately aware male CEO shows up. It can be built into the organization’s system.
For instance, McCreight advocates that organizations emphasize hiring for senior positions by using diverse teams that reduce the biases of the CEO or other leader. “We have a team of people to hire them, so we don’t just have a myopic view of whether I like somebody,” he says. “We look for people who are different, and bring them in and mentor them and help them along.”
Beyond that, women who aspire to the top job, or jobs near it, will still need to assert power in ways that are clear and up-front. As I wrote last fall, it’s an approach that has had some success. While there may not be a stereotypically “male” leader, it’s still a world of predominantly male leaders—and understanding the dynamic that creates is a first step for both genders to have more opportunities to be better at their jobs.
What does your organization do to promote gender parity in leadership roles? Share your experiences in the comments.