Last month, a study on gender and leadership conducted jointly
by LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Co. was published. Accordingly to
the study, women account for only 19 percent of the C-suite
executives (based on responses from 132 companies).
The numbers are even more distressing if one focuses narrowly on
Fortune 500 companies. The percentage of female CEOs dropped in
2016 to only four percent. Yes, four percent.
Needless to say, women are grossly underrepresented at the top.
And, that hurts women more directly but men too, because companies
indisputably do better when there is gender (and other) diversity
at the top.
On the same day as the study was released, the Wall Street
Journal published an article written by Facebook COO Sheryl
Sandberg "Women Are Leaning In—but They Face
Pushback." As almost everyone knows, Sandberg wrote (3 years
ago) the ground-breaking book, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to
When Sandberg wrote Lean In, she acknowledged the obstacles
women who want to lead face. She chose to focus more heavily on how
women can navigate these obstacles.
In her Wall Street Journal article, Sandberg focuses on the wall
women hit when they lean in (a meme for "go for it if you want
it.") Citing the McKinsey/LeanIn study, Sandberg states:
"women who negotiate are 67 percent more likely than women who
don't [negotiate] to receive feedback that their personal style
is "intimidating," "too aggressive," or
"bossy," and they are more likely to receive that kind of
feedback than men who negotiate."
This is consistent with what Sandberg wrote in Lean In:
"She is very ambitious is not a
compliment in our culture."
"Men are continually applauded
for being ambitious and powerful and successful, but women who
display these same traits often pay a social penalty."
"When a man is successful, he is
liked by both men and women. When a woman is successful, people of
both genders like her less."
"But since women are expected to
be concerned with others, when they advocate for themselves or
point to their own value, both men and women react
Sandberg's article is a clarion call for companies to do
more. In this blog, I want to narrow the focus: men must do
Too often the burden of eradicating gender bias is left to
women. This is wrong in so many ways.
Women and men alike are hurt by gender bias. Why should women
alone tackle the problem?
Mentoring and sponsoring is essential, yet in many organizations
the responsibility as it relates to women is placed almost solely
on women. This investment in others diverts women in or near
leadership from their own goals. Why should women bear this
Men have a perspective that is needed to tackle the problem.
Gender diversity is a "plus" and that includes in
tackling gender bias.
We need more male allies. Of course, that means at looking at
But there is a lot men with influence can do "in the
moment" on a day to day basis. Here are just a few
Continue to call out successes by men
who work for and/or with you. But make sure you do the same for
women and with the same enthusiasm. If you are aware that
unconsciously this may not be your proclivity, you can consciously
overcome the bias.
If you begin to think that a woman is
too assertive, pushy, bossy (get the picture?), focus on what she
is doing and then ask yourself: how would I react if Jim rather
than Jane were engaging in this behavior? Again, with conscious
awareness of the potential unconscious double standard, you can
Use your voice to speak loud and
often about the business benefits of gender diversity. Yes, it is a
moral issue, but money talks so talk money.
Speak up when you hear assertive
women called "bitch" or worse. To ignore is to condone.
There is no such thing as a passive bystander if you are a
Engage in cross-gender sponsorship
and mentorship. Where men hold disproportionate power, this is
necessary for women with potential to have access to power. Plus,
you will learn as much as you impart.
Don't wait for a formal program. Time is of the essence.
Sheryl Sandberg has asked women: what would you do if you were
I ask men: how much will you do if you are secure?
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