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Engaging Men to Advance Women: 7 Reasons to Act

Engaging men to advance women in the enterprise is a human issue. 

Women currently hold just 10%-15% of the senior leadership positions in corporate America, despite the fact that they now represent 58% of all college graduates and hold 50% of middle-management positions in the United States.   

Bentley’s Center for Women and Business ( envisions a world where women no longer make up such a small fraction of corporate leadership and where developing and promoting female leaders becomes a best practice across the corporate landscape.

To that end, the center recently brought together a distinguished 
and diverse group of business leaders to study how men in positions of organizational power and influence can help advance women to create a more balanced business model for future success. This past week we have shared multiple perspectives that have come out of this discussion. We invite you to read those perspectives here, here and here. The article below represents the center’s conclusion.

1. This Is a Business Issue – Engaging men to advance women in the enterprise is, first and foremost, a business issue. Male leaders are in a unique and influential position to promote talented female executives into the senior ranks of companies. If men can’t – or won’t – make this a business priority, then hard-core success metrics for their companies will erode. These metrics include: future revenues and profits; recruiting and retaining the best talent; and engaging people so they’re productive and contributing to corporate competitiveness. There will continue to be a tremendous (and quantifiable) downside attached to homogeneous corporate leadership in the coming decades, because 85 percent of those now entering the workplace are minorities and women. Simply put, membership in the C-Suite must reflect this business reality in order to generate sustained growth in the 21st century.

2. This Is a Leadership Issue – Engaging men to advance women in the enterprise is a leadership issue, because CEOs are responsible for their companies’ financial success, and organizations cannot flourish without blended and balanced leadership teams that meld the talents of both males and females. CEOs must drive this business necessity across and through all levels of the enterprise. Women cannot succeed, move up and create full value for companies without firm, focused and flexible leadership from the top.  

3. This Is a Commitment Issue – Engaging men to advance women in the enterprise is a commitment issue that requires unwavering corporate dedication. It’s critical that companies define what “Fully Engaged” means when it comes to male business leaders including and advancing women. “Fully Supportive” may not be the same thing as “Fully Engaged.”

4. This Is a Trust Issue – Engaging men to advance women in the enterprise is a trust issue. Males and females must set aside their respective gender bias and anxiety and find ways to create a safe corporate environment that will facilitate sensitive listening and courageous conversation. A feeling of emotional and professional safety will lead to greater mutual understanding and collaboration; and this, in turn, will lead to more women joining men in the leadership ranks of companies everywhere.

5. This Is a Management IssueEngaging men to advance women in the enterprise is a management issue.Managerial teams in companies can take concrete steps now to implement initiatives that will impact the blend and balance of corporate leadership through programs, budget, people and culture.

6. This Is an Accountability IssueEngaging men to advance women in the enterprise is an accountability issue. In terms of including and advancing women, companies should measure and track everything that maps back to meeting business goals and objectives. Hard targets should be set and hit. And an integrated scorecard should be developed and transparently distributed on a quarterly basis. Finally, compensation should be tied to the advancement of female leaders.  

7. This Is a Human Issue – Engaging men to advance women in the enterprise is a human issue. Companies have to be willing to feel comfortable about being uncomfortable as they address the issue of gender and executive leadership. In addition, they must be able to accept that there are different readiness levels within their organizations; and male executives have to be met where they are – whether they’re open to, anxious about, or threatened by rising female leadership. A concerted and self-aware effort must also be made to address blind spots as well as conscious and unconscious bias on the part of male leaders. Finally, organizations must understand that establishing blended and balanced corporate leadership is hard work, and immediate success and transformation is a rarity in this realm.   

8. This Is a Fatigue Issue – Engaging men to advance women in the enterprise is a fatigue issue. Female leadership at the senior levels of American companies has plateaued; and the conversations we are having about gender and work today are the very same conversations we were having in the 1990s. This lack of progress has been draining energy and emotion – and, even worse, engagement – from companies. Organizations need to accelerate their efforts to include and advance senior women leaders before each gender gives in to weariness, and gives up the search for resolution here. When it comes to female leadership issues, men can’t check out, or merely check the box; and women absolutely can’t surrender.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock


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