Enough Talk! Men, You Can Make the Biggest Difference in Moving the Needle Faster Toward Diversity

by Coco Brown, Athena Alliance founder & CEO

“How many C-Suite executives at your company are personally invested in this initiative?”

That’s the question I ask executive women who sponsor company efforts to advance other women within their organizations. Why? Because, in answering this question, they often experience an “ah ha!” moment.

The executive ranks that these women run in are 84% male. If we want to move the gender diversity needle forward faster, we have to ask male executives to get in the game. And we have to engage them in how that game is played.

When I ask that question, I’m not asking “Are your male peers supportive and responsive?” I’m asking, “What effort do they personally invest?” And, I’m looking for a much better answer than “they believe in the value of diversity and want to see women succeed,” “they support our efforts,” or “they engage in the dialogue and exploration of the programs we want to put in place.”

Women must stop believing that we are solving the diversity problem by taking it on mostly on our own, and talking to each other in the hopes that men are listening. Just because it’s obvious to us what needs to be done doesn’t mean our male counterparts understand the valuable role they, too, can play.

Men, your investment is crucial. Why? Because you can move the needle faster than women can on their own. Let’s say a company’s leadership team consists of 15 top executives. Then, there are another 20 executives one layer down (EVPs, SVPs, or VPs). By the stats, 29 of these 35 executives are men and 6 are women. If each male executive supports the advancement of 3 women, they will collectively advance 87 women. If each woman executive at the company does the same, they will advance 18. Men can have almost 5x the impact!

Executive men if you really believe that diversity is good for business, why not try to move the needle as quickly as possible?

Executive men if you really believe that diversity is good for business, why not try to move the needle as quickly as possible? Why not get involved personally?

What would happen if you identified 3 high-potential women in your organization and offered to be their mentor and their sponsor? If there aren’t enough high-potential women in your company for this, choose women outside the company (or choose minority men).

While mentorship takes work and conscious effort, it’s not as time-consuming as you might think. And, it truly does make all the difference! There are only two things you need to be doing at any given time:

  1. Use your “social capital” to sponsor them. Encourage and enable these women to pursue experiences that move them up the ladder and make them more visible. Ask someone else in power to do the same. Brag about their accomplishments and put them forward for opportunities whenever you can. Do this purposefully, with the unique talents and goals of each woman in mind.
  2. Use your experience to mentor them. Give these women feedforward, focusing on their futures and not just on their pasts. Under-represented group struggles with persistence because history tells them others like them don’t succeed — you can teach them to expect success and quickly move past failures and setbacks. Celebrate their successes with them, encourage them to keep going, and help them realize that bumps are just bumps.

This is what it will take to create seismic change in diversity in leadership. And, men, it starts with you. The answer to “how many C-Suite executives at your company are personally invested in this initiative?” should be “all of them.” There are many great men in leadership who truly want to create more diverse and inclusive leadership teams, but don’t necessarily know how to drive impact.

Men, here’s the answer. We deeply appreciate your willingness to help us to move the needle.

Stay tuned… more perspectives to come...