By: Demetriouse Russel, Director of Client Solutions

Not too long ago I agreed to attend a fitness class with my wife. The predominantly women’s class is one she takes regularly and often remarks how tough it is. Walking into the room, I had the mindset of “How hard can this be”? If these women can do it, so can I. As a former college basketball player and generally athletic guy, I didn’t imagine it would be much of a challenge. The class was a combination of cardio, yoga and core strength training that admittedly, 60 minutes later kicked my butt. I left, sweaty, exhausted and blown away by the fitness level of the women. I’m a huge admirer of women athletes, and this class only reinforced what I thought. Muscles come easier for men, but I remarked “pound for pound” I think women are tougher, had more stamina and could endure much more pain.

Participating in the class was a huge eye opener for me. In a way, I think it is helpful for other men to consider taking a fitness class with women, when thinking about their role of supporting women to advance in leadership.

I had an equally compelling experience when I asked a CEO of a Fortune 500 company about their decision-making process related to their succession planning process.  Much to my surprise, he answered by stating, “we use the FCT Model.” I thought, OK, I’ll bite.  Tell me more, I asked.  “The FCT Model is quite simple, we think of Familiarity, Comfort and Trust when we promote within the C-Suite.” He continued to say that they don’t have many opportunities to build FCT with women.  Here in lies part of the problem and why many leading organizations suffer from what I like to call, ‘regrettable attrition.’ Studies show (Catalyst publication) that having women serve on boards leads to greater profitability. Direct causation has been proven and demonstrated. Per Ilene H. Lang, President of Catalyst, “Clearly, financial measures excel where women serve on corporate boards.”

In a recent Bates study, we examined the history of women in the workplace, and the rise of women to roles in corporate America.  The piece points out the lack of progress for women in the C-suite, despite their many years of participation in the work force, and this is something I see men as taking on a sponsorship role in helping to shift.

Why advancing women in leadership roles matters now

There is a lot of research out there that attempts to answer the question: Are there differences in the leadership styles of men and women? And is either style more effective than the other? In his book Leadership Theory and Practice, author Peter Northouse acknowledges that many experts in the field today are saying that female leadership styles might possibly be more effective for today’s workforce. Northouse suggests that they lead in a more democratic way and that women tend to be more transformational and inclusive than men.

Our research here at Bates shows that women rate higher in 7 out of 15 facets of executive presence, including interactivity, inclusiveness, resonance and concern. This plays well in today’s workforce which is becoming increasingly millennial-heavy and generally responds better to leaders who include others when it comes to decision-making.

What’s the case for men to help women advance

The case for men to help women advance in my view is threefold.  First is the business case: it’s clear that having women in leadership roles helps companies make more money (as also evidenced in part by research by).  Then there is the moral case: most decent-minded people care about integrity.  And third is the personal case:  most men have spouses, daughters, mothers and sisters, and few of us want to look our daughters or other female loved ones in the eye and tell them that they don’t deserve as much as we do. Reshma Saujani, says it best in her Ted Talk Teach Girls Bravery Not Perfection, “we’re raising our girls to be perfect and we’re raising our boys to brave.”  I’m often asked, ”OK, I get it now, so how do I do it?

How to engage men to help unlock the opportunities

Here are some actions to consider to shift your thinking:

Recognize the need for change because the demographics of who’s entering the workforce favors highly educated women

Most men I’ve come across in my personal and professional life aren’t actively trying to hold women back. The tipping point, or the shift, is that men are beginning to recognize that we are part of the problem. In today’s business environment, where more women are becoming college educated than men, you cannot be a leader of a fortune 500 company and not have an awareness of these issues. Without men’s support and advocacy, not only will it take longer for women to rise to the top, but the innovation within our companies will suffer, and the bottom line results will tell the tale. What will your legacy be when your wife, daughter or sister asks you, “what did you do to improve your world for the advancement of women?"

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