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Want to Help Women Achieve Leadership Roles? Bring on the Men

3p Contributor | Wednesday February 5th, 2014 | 1 Comment
Haas students attend a "Lean In" event together at Facebook Headquarters, fall 2013.

Haas students attend a “Lean In” event together at Facebook Headquarters last year.

By Kellie McElhaney, Haas School of Business

This past fall, I offered my Women in Business course at the MBA level, for the second year in a row. Again, the course filled, and again, males enrolled in the class as well as females. The fact that our male students see the value of investing in women globally exemplifies our culture of Beyond Yourself and Question the Status Quo.

This year, a male student applied and lobbied hard to be my graduate student instructor, so I gave him a shot. He was brilliant, not only in the structure, attention and small group discussions that he added to the class, but also in the perspectives he offered to me as the instructor. A theme that strongly emerged from the course readings, lectures and discussions this year was the critical need to bring men into this hard work, both to raise awareness of and to educate them on the data, value and opportunities of investing in women, but also to include them in solutions and efforts.

Warren Buffett says we can no longer afford to leave out women as part of the world of business, and my students agree: We can neither afford to leave out men as part of the solution. My male graduate student instructor’s novel idea – “Bring a man to class” night – resulted in 29 men in attendance. While most were students, spouses and partners, two Haas staff members also attended (sadly, though invited, no faculty showed up).

For the first hour, we listened to a leader from Facebook, a Haas alum, talk about her journey to authenticity and sincerity in leadership. For the second hour, the enrolled students summarized the data supporting the impact of investing and empowering women in leadership, and a rich though too brief discussion ensued. Challenges were raised. Solutions were discussed. A new idea on which we at Haas must work was born: How do we most effectively engage men in addressing this gender gap at work?

I am convinced that the men who have taken my course will go out into their respective professions and organizations and lead change, just as some corporate leaders, like John Chambers at Cisco, have done. For their final assignment, all students had to make a commitment to what they will do when they leave here to move the needle forward at the individual, company and system levels. One of my EWMBA students had already begun his work at his San Francisco tech firm. He had organized and was developing the strategy for a formal Women in Leadership group at his company. That’s the power of real-time education leading to real-world change!

We, too, at Berkeley-Haas are committed and strategizing. Under Laura Tyson, Laura Kray and my own leadership, the new Institute for Business and Social Impact has also committed to developing a center around women, the gender gap and business opportunities. As Hilary Clinton says, “Women represent the single biggest opportunity of this century.” We here at Haas are on it… stay tuned for more information!

Kellie McElhaney is the faculty director of the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley. 

A version of this piece was originally published on the Redefining Business blog, a Haas School of Business publication.  


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  • AndreaLearned

    I love the “bring a man to class” night! How can we model that for post-university business world with no classes, but plenty of conferences? Hmmm…

    Anyway –

    While we have become focused on bringing more women to the table (important), we also need to identify and support the human attributes they have come to represent (empathy, communication skills, longer-term thinking) that could be further developed in both women and men. What is it that makes for a good business leader TODAY? A human being who develops both their relational and linear skills, who is open to continual learning from men and women, and who sees a norm of smart women and men working together all around them.