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 (www.bentley.edu/cwb) 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.
I view female inclusion and advancement in the workplace as a seed-and-soil issue.
For years, solutions were solely focused on the seed – inspiring women to embrace ambition and other leadership skills, encouraging networking with other female cohorts, and supporting women as they endeavored to navigate the corporate culture.
These efforts are critical, and formal programs play a significant role in sending a powerful signal.
For example, Full Circle is a PwC program that allows parents to “off-ramp” from their careers, stay connected while they are gone, and then return to the firm. Mentor Moms is a PwC effort to match women returning from maternity leave with experienced mothers who are successfully juggling family and careers. And our Women’s Networking Circles provide a forum to discuss career advancement.
But we also recognize that we cannot solve the leadership gap without focusing on the soil as well – including the personal responsibility of our business leaders and our collective efforts in sustaining an inclusive culture.
We all have “blind spots” and people make unconscious assumptions that may lead to missed opportunities to advance women as leaders.
As a result, PwC hosts interactive sessions for our leaders about how to identify potential “blind spots” and better understand how they influence decision-making. More specifically, we engage in candid conversations with our white male leaders that take gender issues head on. The result is increased gender intelligence and enhanced cultural dexterity in this critical group.
These efforts are firmly rooted in our soil. We want our leaders to be able to coach, sponsor and connect with people who are different from them. Breaking the cycle of people sponsoring those who are similar to themselves requires these types of intentional effort.
Finally, it comes down to establishing trust-based relationships between men and women – I’m drawn to what my father used to tell me: “In order to lead people, you have to love and trust people; and, to love and trust people, you need to learn them.”
So, yes, men must get much better at learning women; and women have to keep on learning men.
It’s a crucial way to get seeds to grow vibrantly and productively in America’s corporate soil, a rich and fertile ground for next-generation prosperity.
Chris Brassell is currently a National Director in PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Office of Diversity, where he is responsible for driving national diversity and inclusion strategies as well as thought leadership and brand identity designed to support the attraction, development, retention and advancement of the most talented individuals in the firm. He is also a nationally recognized subject matter expert on cultural transformation, work and fatherhood, and multi-generational diversity. He is spearheading an effort at PwC to engage and include white males in the diversity and inclusion discussion. He attended the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, and is an active member of the Wharton Alumni Association. He is also an active advisory board member of the Howard University Center for Accounting Education, and a member of Asia Society, the Society for Human Resource Management, the National Association of Black Accountants, Ascend, and the Association for Latino Professionals in Finance and Accounting.