Why Women Need Men to Get Ahead... And Vice Versa

During the last 20 years, women have been talking to ourselves and complaining. We have been complaining about the small number of women CEOs leading companies. We have been complaining about the small percentage of women on corporate boards. We complain about the small percentage of women leaders in government. We are really good at complaining. And we certainly do have a lot to complain about.

But women have also been taking action...

57 % of all bachelor's degrees went to women in 2011.
51 % of all doctorates are held by women, as well as
47 % of law degrees and
45% of all master's degrees in business.

Yet only 14% of Fortune 500 CEOs are female, and fewer than one in 5 law firm partners are female.

In an editorial in the New York Times, Nicolas Kristof said that at the 2009 World Economic Forum, some of the most interesting discussions revolved around whether we would be in the same mess today if Lehman Brothers had been Lehman Sisters. The consensus was that the optimal bank would have been Lehman Brothers and Sisters.

The number of top leadership positions held by women are dwarfed by those held by men. Countless studies reveal that if there were more women at the top, companies throughout the globe would be more profitable, and yet the needle barely moves.

There has been a missing link in this process of gaining gender equality -- the activism of men. With few exceptions, women have been mostly talking to themselves.

The reality is that male leaders are the ones who can change the balance of power. But why should they? And how do women engage them in this quest?

Recently, a young organization with which I'm involved, IMPACT Leadership 21, has taken on this challenge by presenting a series of executive forums titled "Conversations with Men: The Language of Leadership, Equality, and Partnership," hosted by the New York Times and sponsored by The Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ. The purpose is to inspire discussion among women and men on the critical importance of collaboration and commitment toward advancing global women's leadership. Through these conversations, IMPACT Leadership 21 is beginning to identify issues -- seen through the eyes of men -- that are holding women back from succeeding at the highest levels of influence. The goal of these conversations is to develop a new roadmap that will advance opportunities for women to take on more roles as leaders at the very top. IMPACT Leadership 21 aims to serve as a platform for culminating key lessons learned and creating tools and resources that will give women the skills that are required to succeed as leaders in the 21st Century.

According to Janet Salazar, founder of IMPACT Leadership 21, "Without a transformative approach to advancing women's leadership we will find ourselves 30 years from now still talking about the same old issues, still wondering why women's progress into top leadership positions have been a trickle."

Salazar believes, "Men can be powerful ambassadors for change. Men are untapped, yet a critical resource in advancing women's global leadership and achieving parity."

The men participating in these conversations realize that having women equally represented in leadership roles and at the highest decision-making tables is not only the right or smart thing to do but is a strategic business and social imperative. Until now, men have been untapped, yet they are a critical resource in advancing women's global leadership and achieving parity. The problems and possible solutions which were discussed at the first Conversations with Men forum (April 26, 2013) were presented in a White Paper at a second executive forum on June 20 where the discussion continued.

In the White Paper the specific problems identified were:

1. Small percentage of women at the top of leadership positions
2. The "old boys' network"
3. Small percentage of women in Operations' roles which maximizes C-suite potential
4. Lack of male mentorship of women
5. Lack of male sponsorship of women
6. Equal wages still a problem

The themes of the solutions included:

1. Increasing women's self value
2. Changing organizations' cultures and values
3. Collaborating more effectively with male leaders

Specific potential solutions and the complete white paper are available to read on the IMPACT Leadership 21 website.

At the second executive forum, Conversations with Men continued and one particularly interesting topic addressed was "What's in it for Men?" Participants suggested the following:

  • Demonstrating increased revenue and ROI by women leaders would be convincing evidence
  • Women have specific leadership skills that impact employee productivity and performance positively
  • Women make the majority of purchasing decisions (80% in most categories) therefore, women leaders have inside insight on strategic planning and product development, etc.
  • Liberating men to choose to invest more time in their family
  • As we move from the Knowledge and Information Economy into the Relationship Economy, women's natural relationship leadership skills are needed
  • Millennial men are shedding the workaholic style of the Baby Boomers and want a more integrated life.

The Conversations with Men program will continue at the IMPACT Leadership 21 Summit on October 10th. IMPACT is also developing a workshop series based on Conversations with Men to support men and women in understanding the value of collaboration, how it benefits the individual and the organization, and how to translate men's and women's specific verbal and non-verbal communications to enable more productivity and fulfillment in the workplace.

I am hopeful that this new approach will help make new strides in what some are calling the Third Wave of Feminism. For me, this third wave will be a success when men are actively involved and become partners in authentic collaboration with women. The end result: Economic growth and an integrated life for both women and men resulting in new societal values for the future.

The panel at the first Conversations with Men Executive Forum on April 23, 2013 included: Kenneth Arroyo Roldan, CEO of national executive search firm; Wesley Brown & Bartle (WB&B); Andrew Hahn, Partner at Duane Morris; Anthony S. (Tony) Marino, Chief Human Resources Officer for the Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ, Ltd; Tony Smith, leadership coach and co-founder of VSA Consulting Group. The second panel on June 20, 2013 featured Solade Rowe, President of Wesley Brown & Bartle; Tony Smith, co-founder of VSA Consulting; and Debra Rosado Shaw, principal of Prime Insights, a diversity leadership consulting company.

Leslie Grossman is vice chair of the IMPACT Leadership 21 Global Advisory Council, author of the book "LINK OUT" (John Wiley) and president of Leslie Grossman Leadership.