The evidence keeps piling up that gender diversity at the top of business organizations is just good business. Catalyst, McKinsey & Company and Credit Suisse, among others, have shown correlations between having women in leadership and bottom line results. Women alone cannot remove the barriers to their reaching the top. Women need male allies to take this issue on.
Where are women most likely to find allies for gender diversity? I suggest three:
1. Men who get the business case. These are men who deeply understand that business results improve with women at the top. They have a reason to develop, promote and champion women. For some, the desire for their organization to excel is enough. For others, the reward must be personal. There is nothing wrong with WIFM (what is in it for me?) Some will be motivated by the higher bonus, approval from the boss, job security or promotion that may accompany better team outcomes.
2. Men who have experienced being an outsider. In most workplaces, women remain minorities at the upper levels. Unintended and unconscious mind-sets can make it more difficult for them to succeed. Two of these are the “comfort principle” and “unconscious images.” Men who have been excluded by these unconscious attitudes often take a personal interest in diversity and inclusion. So do men who have someone close to them who has experienced discrimination. I met one such man, a successful business executive who looked like an insider. But he had been outcast as a child because he was born out of wedlock in the South. Then he was adopted by a Jewish man and took his surname; in high school, he was not permitted to attend a society function. He had great sensitivity for women who felt excluded at work—and was a champion for getting more women and minorities into management.
3. Men with daughters. Once men have daughters, they often become supporters for women in the workplace. They do not want their own daughters negatively affected by the comfort principle or unconscious images. Barriers that had been invisible before are seen. They have a personal reason to take on the challenge of removing them.
Who have been your male allies? Did they fit any of these categories?
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