Men As Allies: How Does Shared Responsibility for Leadership Lead to Gender Equality?

Does gender partnership hold the key to gender equity and gender equality in the U.S. workplace? How does shared responsibility for leadership catalyze change in organizations and share the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead as we try to operationalize this idea?

The stats are telling; the players may have changed but the plot has not. Companies are making lots of efforts to support women and help them get a seat at the table. There are programs galore. But the results are disappointing and fatigue is beginning to set in. Here are some examples:

  • Women make up 51% of the workforce
  • They make up 60% of our college graduates -- in a third of the Asian countries, women outnumber and outperform men in colleges and universities
  • However, only 21 of the Fortune 500 CEOs are women -- just 4.2% and that number is down from 24 in 2014
  • IT has 5 women CEOs (the most) not surprising since IT leads in the innovation space. Telecom, Energy and Materials have zero
A majority of businesses in the U.S. are started by
as are the majority of the small business owners. In the US 45% of our millionaires are women and 60% of them earned their own fortunes and19% of Fortune 500 companies have women on their boards -- 81% do not!! At
survey, I am proud to say that 29% of the NAFE Top Companies have women on their Boards and over half of those have at least 4 women on their Boards.


So why engage men? There are many reasons.


Fortune 500 companies with gender-balanced representation consistently outperform those that don't. They survive economic downturns better and at a greater rate than those that don't. Companies with the highest percentage of women directors show return on equity (ROE) outperformance of 53%. Our own NAFE top 25 companies for women report 34% higher profits than those in their industry who don't make our list. The first payoff seems to come when women reach 22% of senior leadership. And, men are usually the decision makers. Sad to report that it's an undisputed fact that women are the minority at the decision-making levels. Male decision makers need to become engaged and hold themselves accountable for the outcomes.

So what are the big challenges?
  • Fatigue -- doing the same thing again and again with little progress to show
  • There is some sense that we've made progress and we are done
  • These problems are embedded deep in the fabric of our HR processes and our corporate culture and are stubborn and difficult to root out

So my call to action and challenge to all of your companies is to engage men and change the mindset. We must reframe the Advancement of Women from a HR issue or a corporate social responsibility effort to making it a core business strategy that can drive innovation, mitigate risk by reducing group-think, and drive a higher return on equity (ROE).

A recent Wharton study on equity gaps showed that of the sales and brokerage roles examined, men were provided a leg up, a greater edge and opportunities to succeed;

  • Men received projects that had two times bigger budgets and three times as many staff to support them as compared to their women counterparts
  • 33% of the men said they received C-suite support vs 25% of the women
  • 30% of the men received budgets in excess of10 million vs. 22% of the women
  • Across all sales functions, women receive 64% of the salary that men get
  • Sales is obviously individually driven but women systematically received inferior accounts and were denied staff support contributing to this wage gap

During my 20 years as head of Global Diversity at Merrill Lynch, we set out to identify the key male allies for our top 50 women leaders in Investment Banking. We asked for three names from each woman leader and expected to get up to 150 names. We expected some duplicates and thought we'd get 100 names -- we got 60. Many of these 60 men were allies to our senior women cutting across industry groups. I spoke to each of them individually trying to ascertain what made them a male ally. The answer surprised me.

It wasn't because they were raised by strong mothers or that they had mothers, sisters, wives or daughters who worked or that they had daughters getting ready to enter the workforce.
The only common thread in all of their responses was, "they had a profound and strong sense of fairness and refused to stay quiet when they saw something unfair happen". That could be an unfair or unequal assignment of accounts, resources or staff, or an unfair review for bonus or promotion or comments about tone, style and fit. They refused to stay quiet. They spoke up in forums where the women were often not present to defend themselves or present their side of things.

This gives me hope that there are enough men with that inherent sense of fairness and justice and they will step up to be the allies to support a gender partnership and gender equity.