I have two daughters who believe they can be whomever they want to be. I spend my days supporting women in the pursuit of their dreams and the shattering of glass ceilings. Yet much of my inspiration comes from early memories of my father conquering any obstacle with charisma, wit and unwavering will. While he wasn’t a feminist by any stretch, he believed in the power of his daughters and the world they were capable of bettering. I’m confident if he were here today—we would be having the open and often uncomfortable dialogue required for cultural and generational change. And that’s what it takes: an inclusive dialogue and a partnership where we’re walking forward together. We may not always be in lockstep, but we must understand that we’re never going to get to gender parity on our own.
Here are 4 ways we can include men on the path to advancing women in leadership.
1. Make the policies more inclusive
Deloitte is ahead of the pack when it comes to policies with its 16-week leave. While it’s not the longest leave out there, the policy is the broadest in scope, allowing “men and women—to take up to 16 fully paid weeks off to care for a family member. This includes a new child, spouse, or aging parent.”* By making the policies open to both men and women around caregiving beyond children—the organization exponentially increases the impact of the program and most importantly the buy-in of leadership. According to The Wall Street Journal, the policy “has the potential to "normalize" caregiving, making it okay for single people, men, senior executives—anyone—to take a block of time off to care for an ailing family member or a new child.”** As employees of different ages and genders are able to leverage this opportunity, more will be able to take part in the vital ongoing conversation about the value this policy brings to both the firm and its employees.
2. Invite men to the conferences, workshops and conversations
Because of my passion for supporting women in leadership, I go to a fair number of workshops and conferences about the topic. While I’m completely engaged in the content and the palpable inspiration of the speakers—occasionally, I’ll look around the room at the sea of professional women and think—we’re talking to ourselves and that’s why we’re not making any headway. I’m encouraged when I talk to women’s interest groups within Fortune-100 organizations about workshops and we both agree—the content and the spirit of the room MUST work for both men and women. The panel must be diverse in gender and race. The name of the workshop and the marketing materials must be inclusive. This sounds obvious, but I can assure you, it’s often not done—causing us to continuously recycle the same ideas within our closed circles.
3. Find senior male advocates and mentors
Just because you want to be an inspiring woman leader, doesn’t mean you must find all of your inspiration from women. I’ve built wonderful relationships with some of my male leaders throughout my career and they continue to show up for me with wisdom, support and connections within their respective networks. By continuing to seek out these male advocates, you’re including them in the conversation of what it can look like for a woman to lead, broadening their perspective of what’s possible, while giving them an opportunity to be a change-maker via their support of you and your career. If you position it that way, I promise they’ll want to join you for the ride.
4. Empathize and educate
Men are our partners in moving toward gender equity in leadership and in pay. If we see it any other way, we lose traction and remain stuck. Quite frankly, those men who don’t partner up will be left behind over time—because the movement is hitting a tipping point…this is happening. In my practice, I see women who have been culturally indoctrinated to “want it all,” strive for perfection, feel plagued by guilt if they ever prioritize work over family—and willingly take on the role of CEO of the household. And on the flipside, men are faced with the pressure of provide or perish. Women want to have creative and exciting careers and men yearn to participate more in parenting. As women, if we can empathize with where men are coming from, the pressures they face and the distance they often feel from being able to engage with their families in a real and meaningful way—we can start from a place of partnership in our educating of each other on the costs of how we’re currently living. We can advocate for ourselves instead of stewing in resentment or complacency. We can ask for help, believe asking for help is a sign of strength and believe that the men in our lives are capable of providing that help.
All of this said, I do live in a reality in which I know there are institutional biases firmly in place—but the necessary disruption begins with coming together, rather than fighting each other. I’m optimistic because I’ve seen this model work, and because women leaders and like-minded men are creating new institutions that will be this change we’re seeking. They will set the example. They will amplify their voices and their results, and those who are smart will listen.