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4 Ways Husbands and Fathers Are Paving the Road For Female Leaders

Since Kevin O'Leary first broke the news that his woman-led companies are responsible for all his investment portfolio returns, I've seen a lot more information surface (or resurface) on the advantages of diversity in leadership roles.
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saramargulisdadSara and her father Patrick circa 1976

Since Kevin O'Leary first broke the news that his woman-led companies are responsible for ALL his investment portfolio returns, I've seen a lot more information surface (or resurface) on the advantages of diversity in leadership roles.

For example, a 2012 report by Dow Jones found that successful, venture-backed start-ups have a higher median proportion of female executives at 7.1 percent, compared to unsuccessful start-ups with just 3.1 percent. This March, Quantopian, a Boston-based trading platform ran a comparison of the performance of women-led Fortune 1000 companies vs the male-dominated S&P 500, over 12 years from 2002-14. The women-led group performed three times better. Three times!

This tells me, that in some very real ways, we are already leveling the playing field for women in business. I believe much of this change is starting with men. More specifically, the husbands and fathers that understand women's issues are everyone's issues.

It's time we gave them a big shout out for the work they're doing in the business world, at home with their families, and beyond. Here are four big ways that I've witnessed husbands and fathers paving the way for female leaders in business, and beyond!

1. Being the Change in Corporate America
While the US still lags the rest of the developed world in paid family leave, some notable, male-led companies are leading the way with game-changing policies. For some stellar examples, see this list of companies with the best paternity leave policies. Facebook offers the longest paternity leave in the country according to the list, and is even going a step further by requiring its contractors and vendors to offer at least $4,000 for new parents who don't get paid leave in addition to other family-friendly policies like $15 minimum wage and three weeks paid leave/year.

Such policies give mothers and fathers the economic freedom and job protection they need to take time off from, and return to, their careers after the birth of a child.

Beyond paid leave, flexible job schedules and work-at-home policies are providing tangible returns by reducing employee health care costs and increasing retention. Jeffery Tobias Halter, the country's leading male expert on women's leadership issues, is calling for even more policy changes like "core hours," a practice we stumbled upon at Honeyfund. Our entire team is always in from 10 am to 3 pm so we can have critical face-to-face time. Outside core hours, we all enjoy the flexibility we need to complete our work while being available for family and other obligations.

2. Starting with Startups
In the startup world, more and more investors are backing women-led ventures. Just last week, Intel Capital's managing director Lisa Lambert announced a $125 mil investment fund for women- and minority-led startups as part of a company-wide program to achieve "full representation" of women and minorities in the company's US workforce by 2020. The Wall Street Journal article about the fund cites a Babson College report from 2014 that found only 15 percent of venture capital-funded companies in the US have female executives, and only three percent of venture capital dollars go to companies with a female CEO.

That trend is changing fast, in part thanks to Kevin O'Leary and the entire Shark Tank enterprise. The reality-TV-based investment platform, where entrepreneurs from all walks of life pitch to real investors, who are judging not on connections, networks, or gender but rather on the merit and financials of the businesses, is garnering head-turning results. Just this year, the wife-and-husband team from Groovebook turned Kevin's $150k investment into a $14.5 mil sale to Shutterfly. Awesome.

3. Stepping Up at Home
I'm pleased to see the men of my own generation (X) participating in a new home and family dynamic, and in turn expanding career opportunities for their wives. My own husband and co-founder Josh Margulis has been an excellent partner, taking equal responsibility for parenting and household work, as well as building our popular online wedding registry and crowdfunding website from scratch, in his spare time, while working a full time job. Without his commitment to our equal partnership at home and at work, I could not have pursued the career I now have.

In honor of father's day I also have to acknowledge my own dad, who set a strong example for myself and my brother of how a bread-winning husband and father can play an active role in household and parenting duties. I remember my dad helping with dishes and laboring tirelessly on the house and yard all weekend. He changed diapers, made baby food, helped with homework and delighted in our school triumphs. He took us to the hardware store (and donuts) on Saturday morning, and even challenged us to solve math problems on lumber for building garden beds and fence posts. He was a remarkably involved father, I know because people always remarked on how lucky we were.

Outside my own family, I see many of my fellow Gen-Xers benefiting from the involvement of their baby-boomer fathers. One example is that more family businesses are being handed over to daughters. A recent study from Kennesaw State University and Ernst and Young looked at 2,400 of the world's largest family businesses across the globe. The study revealed that 55 percent had at least one woman on their board and 70 percent were considering a woman for their next CEO.

Daughters in Charge founder and family-business consultant Amy Katz has some insight into this trend. "Fathers are recognizing that daughters bring unique talents and experiences to the family business, and naturally lead with the collaborative style that many organizations seek."

4. Public Displays of Affection
One of my favorite ways men are supporting women is public shout-outs to mom. I love Kevin's story about how his mother taught him the three investment principles he uses to run his successful O'Leary Funds.

Fellow "Shark Tank" shark Daymond John recently acknowledged his mother for instilling in him the discipline, focus and drive he needed to become the man he is today.

In truth, most of us could not have achieved the success we have without the love, guidance and support of our mothers. As men like Kevin and Daymond lift up and acknowledge their mothers' positive impact, they inspire today's moms, including myself. With that support and inspiration, I believe we will do something truly remarkable. We will raise the first generation of children who won't know gender pay-gaps and lack of diversity in business and politics. They will live and work in a world where families, companies and governments are enjoying the proven rewards of equality and inclusion.

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