How Men Can Help Women Flourish as Business Leaders

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Although women make up nearly half of the workforce, several metrics indicate that a gender gap persists, but is narrowing over time. Qualified women are often passed up for promotions and make 84 cents on average for every dollar a man earns.

“There are many talented women from diverse backgrounds and experiences that have a great deal to contribute,” says Alice Korngold, president of Korngold Consulting and author of the book, “A Better World, Inc.: How Companies Profit by Solving Global Problems…Where Governments Cannot.”

“The world needs all the great people to contribute in various ways, especially as we are looking to tackle important social, economic, environmental issues,” she continued. “We can’t leave out half of the population. We want to include all the people that we want to contribute.”

Many organizations are missing out on women reaching their full potential by hindering their contribution. What can aware men do to remove leadership hurdles for women in the workplace? Certainly raising awareness is one of the first and most important steps, and a recent campaign is designed to address this.

The HeForShe initiative was developed by women to engage men and boys as advocates and is full of answers in what it refers to as a “solidarity movement for gender equality.” The program seeks to raise awareness of global issues and creates a call to action. As of the writing of this post, 322,000 people have taken the HeForShe commitment globally.

A one-year pilot initiative called the HeForShe Impact 10x10x10 engages 10 governments, 10 universities and 10 corporations across the globe to drive top-down change. PwC is a founding Impact corporate champion. The company is asking all its people to join the movement, and it aspires to have  80,000 staff members join over the next three years.

It is encouraging to see such workplace initiatives, as corporate cultures often don’t consistently support women’s advancement. Aware men can serve as major assets in the advancement of women. Despite the narrowing gender gap, women may still be considered to be riskier appointments for certain roles.

“Another important step to removing barriers is for aware men to speak up, especially around other men,” says Korngold. “In groups of decision-makers that are discussing promotions and salaries, men can say, ‘Excuse me, we just talked about the three men that are in line for a promotion, but we didn’t talk about the two women.'”

Ultimately, corporate culture needs to change to harness the full potential of women, which is not a quick fix. Many organizations are not flexible enough to offer women the work-life balance they may seek. The needs of women in the workplace vary and may not be met by many corporations, especially if women choose to have families.

“The problem is that some women in my generation opted out of working when their children were younger because there weren’t many good options that made it possible to balance career and family,” says Korngold. “When they’ve tried to get back into the workplace, it’s been difficult to enter in a position that is suitable.”

Sponsorship is another tool for narrowing the gender gap and can help qualified women advance and achieve what they might not have otherwise. Although it sounds similar to mentorship, where advice and feedback are shared, there is one key distinction: Sponsors use their influence with powerful people to encourage advancement.

Korngold explains: “Sponsoring, not just mentoring, women involves using influence and relationships to create opportunities for women of all backgrounds to access jobs. When you are introducing the right person for the right job, the employer might consider highly qualified candidates that wouldn’t otherwise be considered. The person you recommend might then get the job, because they are qualified.”

Korngold is not alone in her assertion. A Harvard Business Review article states, “Our interviews and surveys alike suggest that high-potential women are over-mentored and under-sponsored relative to their male peers — and that they are not advancing in their organizations. Furthermore, without sponsorship, women not only are less likely than men to be appointed to top roles but may also be more reluctant to go for them.”

Certainly mentoring programs can be helpful, but they’re not a replacement for a sponsor. Some workplace programs match high-potential women with qualified sponsors to assist them in reaching their potential. It is especially helpful to have sponsors trained in gender-related and leadership issues, and to continue sponsoring women as they transition to new positions for a few months to boost their effectiveness.

Organizations that successfully remove hurdles in women’s leadership can gain a strategic advantage by having greater access to talent. “Employers would be smart to offer better options to women who are trying to balance work and family,” says Korngold. “That way, they could attract and retain some of the most highly capable people in the marketplace.”

Image credit: /Fanzango

Sarah Lozanova is a green copywriter and communications professional specializing in renewable energy and clean technology. She is a consultant for Sustainable Solutions Group and a regular contributor to environmental and energy publications and websites, including Mother Earth Living, Home Power, Earth911, and Green Builder. Her experience includes work with small-scale solar energy installations and utility-scale wind farms. She earned an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio Graduate School and she resides in Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage in Midcoast Maine.