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Diversity Is Good For Business


by Clif Boutelle, SIOP Public Relations

Male Champions Can Be Change Agents for Women’s Leadership

Although women are seeing greater progress in reaching upper management levels in their organizations, the reality is that most of the top jobs are still held by men.

A compelling reason for championing gender equality is that it is now understood to be a critical business issue. Studies have shown that companies with gender diversity in top leadership roles have positive effects on return on investments and return on assets. Marcus Noland of the Peterson Institute for International Economics and colleagues found that a profitable firm in which 30% of the leaders were women could experience a 15% boost to its net profit margin in comparison to a similar firm with no female leaders.

A 2015 Gallup poll found that people who work for female managers are more engaged and higher performing than those who work for male managers. The poll suggested that female managers are better at cultivating potential in others and help define a bright future for employees.

However, women and men often do not have the same experiences at work, says Anna Marie Valerio, president of Metro-New York-based Executive Leadership Strategies, LLC.

“Women are less likely to have access to the people and opportunities that advance careers,” she said. “They also do not get to see many women in senior management positions.”

Men often get the plum promotions, tough assignments, and greater recognition. But one key to increasing the number of women leaders is “male champions,” men throughout an organization known to advocate for talented women and value diversity.

“Women can add a great deal to an organization, and there are many men who know the value women can bring to a leadership team,” Valerio said. “Men can have an important role in leveling the playing field for all talent.”

Many organizations could learn more about how to champion women, according to Valerio and research partner Katina Sawyer, an assistant professor at Villanova University, who specializes in inclusion and gender diversity. 

For the past year, Valerio and Sawyer have interviewed men and women in senior leadership roles in Fortune 500 companies and other organizations to better understand the specific behaviors associated with success in gender inclusive leadership.

“There really isn’t much prior research on male champions, so we decided to examine the effective behaviors which drive organizational inclusivity,” Sawyer explained. “The results can be used by organizations in leadership development programs and in basic managerial training to create a culture of true gender inclusiveness.”

It is these behaviors that tell us so much about how men can encourage and develop women leaders, Valerio added.

“We believe our research can leverage current gender equity practices, help companies develop tactical solutions for increasing gender inclusivity, and effectively enhance existing gender policies,” she said. “The research shows it is clear that gender equality is viewed as a leadership imperative within organizations. However, despite organizations’ commitment to gender diversity, the pace of change has been slow.”

Valerio says their research is ongoing, but preliminary findings suggest that some of the key behavioral themes associated with gender inclusive leadership that support women’s career advancement include a proactive focus on inclusive talent development as well as creating a workplace culture that values women’s leadership, customizing skill-building assignments for female leaders, and providing effective mentoring and coaching for women.

“Overall, our research aims to understand the processes and most effective ways in which gender inclusive leader behaviors create gender inclusive workplace cultures. We are confident that organizations are starting to embrace gender equality as an important organizational imperative, and we believe our work provides important insights on how to practically achieve these goals,” said Valerio.

Practices associated with gender equity and gender inclusiveness are still evolving in organizations, Valerio said, noting that companies who win awards for "best places to work for women,” and “best places for working mothers" have consistently dedicated budgets and resources to these issues over a period of time. 

One reason gender inclusive priorities often do not translate into visible action, Sawyer said, is the way in which organizations have attempted to address issues of gender equity in the past.

“Many of the solutions organizations have put in place to address gender equity or to promote women's leadership have been women focused, such as affinity and networking groups, and women's leadership training,” she said. “Although these programs certainly have merit, male leaders are largely absent from these efforts. We believe that encouraging men to display behaviors that are valuable for championing female leaders may provide the opportunity to change organizations by leveraging those who already have power and influence.”

Men can and should be partners in educating other men and in moving organizations toward greater leadership roles for women, the researchers say.

“So, this solution stands in contrast to existing programs that aim to train women to navigate negative workplace environments, because it purports to train leaders to actively enact inclusive behaviors and to change workplace culture from the top down,” Sawyer said.

The researchers acknowledge there have been many positive changes. Organizations have created a variety of programs that attempt to deal with gender bias, such as women's networking groups, coaching and mentoring programs, women's leadership programs, flexible work arrangements, and external stretch assignments, along with other initiatives that have led to positive changes within organizations.

Valerio and Sawyer’s research promotes the next step in this evolving gender equity process, which is to have greater buy-in from men. 

“We are suggesting that improving gender inclusiveness may be more effective in organizations by involving both men and women leaders rather than focusing just on women,” Sawyer said.  

For more information, contact Valerio at 203-438-5683 or email at annamarievalerio@gmail.com   Sawyer can be reached at 215-850-9861 or by email at katina.sawyer@villanova.edu.