Why male leadership is key to helping women advance

05 Mar 2019

Why male leadership is key to helping women advance

Men in leadership positions have a responsibility to support their female colleagues and be an agent of change in their organizations.

“Men tend to be the stakeholders because they are in the positions of leadership. There may be enough women to mentor other women, but they may not be in the same positions of power.” Brad Johnson, professor of psychology at the United States Naval Academy, put the case for men needing to be more involved very clearly, speaking to the Harvard Business Review online.

Missy Chicre, Vice-President, Client Value at Menttium, agrees that it’s imperative that men become allies.

The Menttium Corporation, based in Minnesota, offers cross-company corporate mentoring. It has an established programme designed to help women advance in their careers. It operates in more than 70 countries and across more than 200 companies.

Chicre said: “Men need to be talking to women at all levels and seeing what barriers they face.

“Men should be pushing the agenda on requiring diverse candidates for key roles.”

“It can take more time and be more difficult, but if nobody is building accountability around that, it’s easy to make excuses.”

When Menttium began, the vast majority of their mentors were men, but this has changed as mentees go on to become mentors and now as well as men mentoring women the opposite is often true.

In an age where the landscape has shifted so fundamentally and both men and women are navigating a new normal, it is a real benefit that men are being mentored by women now in many organisations.

A good place to start

A powerful start to supporting women is to ask them what they need, how support can be shown and how the workplace feels to them.

John de Regt, founder of JDR Consulting, which recently formed a partnership with Odgers Berndtson, has more than 40 years of executive coaching and search experience.

He asks: “Would organisations benefit from more women in leadership? Yes, because having more women heightens the possibility that we move from domination to collaboration.

“I think that what men can do to help women to reach their potential is to treat them like people – empower consistently, irrespective of gender.”

James Clarry, COO of Private Banking and Head of Lending at Coutts, became involved in the Royal Bank of Scotland’s (RBS) Women Network because he felt passionate about gender equality.

He has said: “I attended a few of the events and it was fairly typical that if you had an audience of 100 women, there would maybe be three or four men. And yet the topics they were discussing were fantastic and completely relevant to my day job, relevant to all of our day jobs.”

As a result, the RBS ‘Male Allies’ group was set up with the intention of getting men involved in the fight for gender equality. Within a short time, more than 1,500 men had taken the pledge.

John McKay, of McKay Coaching in Calgary, Canada, believes male-to-female mentoring allows men to understand better what motivates female co-workers. “If empathy can come to play in the broadest terms,” he says, “it helps everyone understand what’s driving individuals to do what they do. Men need to lean into this whole gender issue in the industry.”

Crunching the numbers

There is empirical evidence that sponsorship and mentoring can help level the gender playing field.

Research highlighted by the Harvard Business Review has shown that men who champion female colleagues take a different view on where the credit lies for women succeeding at a senior level.

It also showed organisations with female board representation tended to outperform those with no women at the highest level.

In addition, those in the top quartile for gender diversity were found to be 15% more likely to outperform those in the bottom quartile. 

The tone at the top

Tara O’Sullivan, Chief Creative Officer at Skillsoft, based in New Hampshire, says many organisations are moving away from women-only training. The move is towards inclusion councils and other programmes that include people in majority groups and those in less represented groups.  But, she argues, the “tone at the top and the mood at the middle” must be supportive of diversity and inclusion.

In addition, “no amount of training in the world” will address gender inequality without company-wide backing.

This article is from the latest ‘Women, Diversity and the Path to Greater Inclusion’ edition of the Odgers Berndtson global magazine, OBSERVE.

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