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The New Frontier for Women in Leadership — Including Men

Why we need to engage men in the advancement of women.

Betsy Myers

How can it be that in 2013, women currently hold just 10 to 15 percent of the senior leadership (C-Suite) positions in corporate America?

And why haven’t we made more progress, given that women now represent 58 percent of our college graduates and hold 50 percent of middle-management positions — with 40 percent holding positions that include purchasing authority?

The flat-line that characterizes critical career mobility for women actually began 15 years ago; and it has extended itself into the second decade of the 21st century, despite energetic and exemplary efforts by committed CEOs and their companies where the numbers still only reach the 20 to 25 percent range for women in senior leadership. 

We reach for programs and initiatives that might help us and some — such as sponsorship, flexibility and accountability — most definitely do.

But corporate leaders and their teams are frustrated by the lack of gender progress as well as the gender tension (both overt and covert) that still permeates organizations. All of this drains energy and emotion — and, even worse, engagement — from our companies.

Savvy business leaders today understand that they must have a workforce that reflects the current and future workplace and customer. That’s why the vast majority of corporate CEOs no longer ask “why” they should include and advance women in their organizations.

Talent is a key motivator right now, and, beyond equity and fairness. Most CEOs agree that in today’s competitive global marketplace they must harness the top-tier talent in their midst to survive and remain competitive and profitable. The female perspective often leads to wiser decisions and the rich relationship skills that female leaders offer frequently result in happier employees and deeper client connections.

Unfortunately, what often passes for gender efforts inside corporate America becomes a series of discussions in which women find themselves talking to women. I know from my own experience that my goal was often to merely get sign-off, budget and resources from leadership to move my agenda on women forward within the organization. For many of us in this field, this has been a meaningful and productive strategy, but it hasn’t been woven into the fabric of the organization. And, on many occasions, a committed CEO with the best of intentions has gone away believing that this support, plus periodic face-time, was sufficient.  

What we know for sure is that what got us here won’t get us there. The old saying is true: Insanity is doing the same things and expecting different results.

But to get a different result — to truly support, retain and promote women in the workplace — shouldn’t we be engaging men in the conversation as full partners?

I believe the answer is “yes.” I believe that men are not the problem; and I believe that men are a key factor in the productive solution. 

That’s why engaging men in the advancement of women is the new frontier for every company in America that wants to compete and grow in the 21st century.

Betsy Myers is founding director of the Center for Women and Business at Bentley University.