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The 4 Things Your Company Needs to Do to Advance Women — Lead!

Leadership for advancing women must start at the top.

78% of business leaders rate retention and engagement as urgent or important, but only 15% believe they are ready to address it. – Deloitte 2017 Global Human Capital Trends

Leadership for advancing women must start at the top. Ask yourself one simple question. Do my leadership team and the organization have the ability to leverage and manage people who don’t work, think and act like them?

We need to look no farther than Corporate boards. If gender parity on your board of directors is a priority for your organization, you are most likely years away from reaching that goal. According to the latest Global Board Diversity Analysis by Egon Zehnder, an executive search firm, women currently occupy around 19 percent of the board seats of the largest global companies. At the current rate, Egon Zehnder analysts predict that global gender parity on boards remains at least 50 years away.

The numbers really don’t look any different if we examine the Executive Teams of most companies where men still hold more than 85 percent of positions. And these numbers are largely unchanged for the past 10 years. According to Mercer’s global study of over 500 companies, “When Women Thrive”, male employees and middle managers are only engaged in diversity and inclusion activities at a 40% rate. Simply put, these two groups represent our greatest opportunity to drive change. I have found you don’t need to convince women and other underrepresented groups that diversity and inclusion is a good idea. You have to convince men and middle managers. So what can companies do to drive long-term systemic changes for women and how can we create a sense of urgency in doing so?

Leadership in Advancing Women

In my work as corporate gender strategist, I work with clients and frequently write about how progressive companies and their leaders are undertaking four simple, yet very challenging, actions to chart a new course for their organizations:

  1. Listen
  2. Learn
  3. Lead
  4. Have the Will to Change

In previous posts, I’ve distilled Listen and Learn into steps that you can put into immediate practice to drive change. Let’s turn our attention to Lead.

Lead

Leadership starts at the top of organizations. If you read any article describing the best practices of advancing women in the workplace, visible, vocal leadership is always a critical element.

While most of us will never be asked for recommendations to fill board seats, the question is how to demonstrate Leadership in Advancing Women on a daily basis within our organizations.

For best practices on leadership, I reached out to Leadercast, a company on a mission of filling the world with leaders worth following, and spoke to Angela Raub, Chief Sales Officer at Leadercast, for her insights.

JTH: Before getting specifically into gender, what are the hallmarks of a great leader today?

AR: Change management and transformative environments are becoming the “new normal.” There are three hallmarks of impactful leadership in today’s world: authenticity, transparency, and collaboration. The lens on leadership has been magnified through social media and a world that is finally “coming clean” with secrets that have been ignored for decades. True leaders can no longer run organizations based solely on their personal drive to achieve strong financial returns, but they need to take a more holistic approach.

Leaders who will be deemed “great change-makers” in the future will build on a strong foundation of strategic thinking and openly acknowledge “the past,” or the way things used to be done. They will not only acknowledge the past, but own it, and reset the bar of the new normal within their organizations. The world will quickly see if a leader is not authentic and truly committed to a desire to positively affect the world. As the trust of the Fortune 1000 is at an historic low, leaders have no choice but to commit to a new ethos. Transparency, if not embraced, will be the demise of all of us.  

JTH: What initiatives or best practices have you seen companies put in place to show visible leadership on women’s advancement? 

AR: Organizations that invest in women through their employee resource groups (ERG) by providing internal mentoring programs have seen significant results from those investments. Kimberly-Clark, a Catalyst award-winner, has dramatically moved the needle by positioning more women in middle-management and director-level positions, a result of their investment in leadership dollars through their talent cohorts, as well as supplemental investments that were allocated by ERG leaders. The investments have paid off 10X, as volunteer leaders in the ERGs were acknowledged for their selection of talent in the organization, the company progressed toward its goals and the women in the organization felt valued. Kimberly-Clark showed that they were authentically invested in their desire to change the organization’s dynamic.

JTH: From your perspective, what can leaders do to engage people within the organization to understand and be accountable to the mission and vision to advance gender balance and equity?

AR: Any organization that is transparent about their goals and initiatives to close the gap on gender disparity will begin to see a culture shift. Leaders must clearly communicate and cast the vision for the company, while transparently addressing past transgressions and identifying “champions” in the organization. Senior-level executives must be partnered with influential middle-managers to ensure that everyone is heard and collaboration is experienced throughout the teams that are working to eliminate gender disparity.

JTH: How can leaders create a work environment that supports allyship, specifically with men and middle managers — a workplace where curiosity, courage, confidence, caring, and commitment are valued traits?

AR: Leaders are responsible for creating a safe space for others to share their stories and perspectives, along with their talent. Not only are they responsible for creating these spaces, they must protect them. This looks different for each organization and each person in an organization. While the world may see only a few faces of a company, people should know that those faces represent and stand with the many diverse voices within the organization.

JTH: Any closing thoughts on leading and being a visible champion?

AR: I urge female executives to continue to help women at any and all levels. I have recognized unconscious bias in myself, and we all need to be overt in our efforts to help, encourage and mentor the women who follow us in our organizations. They may very well be our replacements, but how wonderful to know that through our efforts and encouragement, we are helping another generation achieve wins and earnings beyond our wildest expectations. That is true success.

To summarize, Angela’s key points, there are three hallmarks of impactful leadership in becoming champions for women in today’s world: authenticity, transparency, and collaboration.

  • Authenticity – Ask yourself if your organization, top to bottom is able to recruit develop and retain people that are different than themselves?
  • Transparency – Are you demonstrating transparency in your commitment to advancing women? Do you have open job postings, mentoring and pay equity analysis in place and how are you holding people accountable for success?
  • Collaboration – How are you talking about change as an organization and do you have a plan to drive the commitment of men and middle managers?

In Part 4 we’ll focus on having the Will to Change, which may be the most important driver of a successful change initiative.

Image: Bigstock – Minerva Studio

Jeffery Tobias Halter is the country’s leading male expert on advancing women and engaging men. He is the President of YWomen, a strategic consulting company focused on engaging men in women’s leadership issues. Jeffery is a two-time TEDx speaker, HuffPost Contributor and the author of two books, WHY WOMEN, The Leadership Imperative to Advancing Women and Engaging Men and Selling to Men, Selling to Women.