Advancing Women and Engaging Men: Reflecting on 10 Years and What’s Next

The Leadership Imperative

Ten years ago I launched YWomen around the concept of The Leadership Imperative to advance women. Simply put, The Leadership Imperative is designed to:

“Move the entire organization to a deeply internalized approach regarding differences, executed with a sense of urgency, to create competitive advantage.”

This statement would lead to focusing on integrating strategies, active male engagement and the need for advocacy. It would also be the basis of my second book, WHY WOMEN: The Leadership Imperative to Advancing  Women and Engaging Men.

In this article series as I have reflected on the past 10 years and look ahead to the next 10 years, I find that the Leadership Imperative is just as relevant today as it was initially. Companies are still struggling to recruit, retain and advance women and literally every other under-represented group of individuals. Men and middle managers are disengaged from DEI initiatives, active male advocacy is still lagging and leaders seem to be unwilling or incapable of rising to the challenge.

So how do we fix the problem?

A starting point is to look at the actions of companies that are making progress and model those initiatives.

Five Things Companies are Getting Right

  1. Acknowledging male allyship is critical
  2. Shifting to a lens of intersectionality/race/gender +/age/ableism
  3. Winning the war for talent
  4. Accountability and transparency
  5. Leading with empathy

Next, let’s look at the challenges and how to address them.

Five Areas That Need Improvement

  1. Lack of end-to-end strategy
  2. Failure to truly understand your customer
  3. Lack of accountability
  4. Lack of CEO commitment and the diminished role of the CDO
  5. Committing to action

Next, I believe we must look at what the future holds in store.

The Leadership Imperative: Three Macro Trends 

Given the pace of change couple with global business and economic realities, I do not believe that tackling the factors noted above will be enough to fully address the issue. This brings me right back to The Leadership Imperative as an inflection point for the next 10 years. I believe that companies also need to focus on three macro trends (and get everything else right!).

1) A deeply internalized approach regarding differences (Culture/Engagement)

Successful companies will focus on driving diversity, equity and inclusion into the culture of the business function and move away from a standalone DEI function. Leaders at every level within the organization must drive this change as they are the people who shape the culture of the company. Millennials and Gen Z already make up more than 50 percent of the workforce and their expectation is that companies “get them” and foster a culture of inclusion. As the past year has shown, if they don’t like the culture, they’re going somewhere else.

No longer can senior leaders mandate when and where you will work. The issue of flex time/location and culture needs to be driven by the people closest to the business. And while flextime/location is the current topic du jour, new unforeseen challenges will arise. Successful companies are the ones that are most agile and able to adjust in the face of the next crisis. The companies that have a deeply internalized approach to diversity, equity and inclusion will be the companies or brand choices of consumers and talent.

2) Executed with a sense of urgency (People/Management) 

Today’s workforce has higher demands than ever, not only with regard to flextime/location but in their expectations of leadership and management. Ask yourself if your leadership and management team is ready to manage a workforce that is already diverse and becoming more diverse every day when it comes to topics of not just gender and race but also multiculturalism, ableism, ageism, gender expansiveness and shifting parental roles?

Currently, there are 11 million job openings in the US. It is estimated that this number will grow to 25 million in the next five years as the remaining Baby Boomers retire and fewer workers enter the workforce. And while technology may ease some of this burden, managers need help now. They need training to manage people who are different from them and to manage each employee as an individual. There has never been a time in history with a greater need for a sense of urgency than today, and that trend is not changing any time soon.

3) To create competitive advantage (Revenue/Profit)

The need to drive revenue and profit has not changed in the past 2,000 years, and it’s certainly not going to change in the next 10. However, unless companies deeply internalize their approaches regarding differences and execute with a sense of urgency, they will never maximize revenue and profit and create competitive advantage. Competitive advantage comes from culture/engagement/people and management aligning on a common mission.

This brings us full circle to the need for male allyship. Men are still in charge. Men hold a majority of the senior and middle management positions within organizations, and I believe they will still be in charge for the next 10 years. The companies that will win in the marketplace, the workplace and with the workforce are the ones with the greatest number of men who are allies, champions and advocates for advancing women and other underrepresented groups.

Maybe, just maybe, if we double down on what companies are doing right, address the areas that need improvement and use a lens of The Leadership Imperative, will we drive more male allies to step up and we will see exponential leaps in the advancement of all groups in corporate America.

We simply don’t have time to wait another 10 years.

Celebrate 10 years

To celebrate the 10th anniversary of YWomen and help you reach your goals of engaging men to advance women, I’m sharing a special gift with you — one free license for the YWomen Creating Gender Advocates (CGA) virtual series (a $1,000 value) and 50 percent off future purchases.

CGA provides an interactive playbook to explore gender differences and biases in the workplace and design action plans to move your company from awareness to advocacy. It also provides a year’s worth of programming and gender conversations for your BRG and staff meetings.

To obtain your free license*, please provide us with your email and a little additional information using this link.

Thank you for your support for 10 years of advancing women in the workplace! Please share this offer with your friends and colleagues in other organizations to help us accomplish our goal of 1 million men and women reached.

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*This offer is open to companies with more than 100 employees and limited to one free license per division or employee resource group.