The Important Topic of Women in Business: What Men Can Do

03/06/2015 01:25 pm ET | Updated May 06, 2015

Gender equality is one of the most complex topics in business. Despite years of discussion and much progress on this topic, there is still much work to do - so in this article, supporting and the #LeanInTogether campaign focused on men's role in reaching gender equality, I'd like to share some new research and give you some new ideas to consider.

As many studies have shown, gender equality in business is improving but still has a way to go.

The whole issue of diversity and inclusion is a hot topic, and one which still demands ongoing effort. Believe it or not, our research shows that 71% of companies "aspire to be fully inclusive" yet when we really look at behavior, only 11% truly demonstrate an inclusive culture. And in our model by "inclusive" we mean you can be yourself and really bring your "authentic self" to work every day.

In the case of gender equality, one of the biggest parts of the diversity puzzle, we've made much progress but there's more to do. Consider the following data from Catalyst research. The higher you look into the corporate pyramid, the lower the percentage of women.

In technology (one of the fastest growing parts of the workforce), the problem is even worse. The Catalyst research shows that while 75% of women MBA graduates have technical backgrounds, only a third of them stay in technology, and 53% of women leave the technology industry after their first post-MBA job.

Leading companies are now exposing this issue: Google shows that 21% of their leadership and 17% of their tech workforce are women, and Facebook shows that 23% of their leadership and 15% of their tech workforce are women . These are all lower percentages than the general S&P statistics shown above. Silicon Valley in general is very focused on this issue - but it may take generations for engineers, computer scientists, and other minority and women professionals to make their way into the leadership pipeline.

At Deloitte, the world's largest professional services firm (216,000+ employees around the world), 21% of new partners and principals are women (women make up 18% of existing partners and principals, so the trend is way up) and across the organization 44% of the company are women. The new US CEO Cathy Engelbert is a woman and the company has a very active "lean in" approach to supporting gender equality and all forms of diversity throughout the company. But even with this effort, the statistics are similar to those shown above.

Why does gender inequality still exist? History and unconscious bias remain issues.

There are many historic reasons for the inequality - the historic role of women in families, skills and educational differences, and a lot of "male-oriented" professions that continue to practice unconscious bias (or conscious bias). Sheryl Sandberg's book LeanIn also points out by example that often women do not have the confidence to push for the higher level jobs and pay they deserve. (Read the article "Is Fear Your Only Restraint."

Interestingly, women today make up a tremendously powerful force in the business world. Women are now a more educated part of the workforce (see the data below from the White House Council on Economic Advisors) even though they only earn 78% of the salaries of their male counterparts.

Things are improving - this historic earnings gap is slowly starting to narrow.

The chart below shows that men's earnings have been stagnant over the last fifteen years while women's earnings are increasing, so the inequality is slowly being reduced.

Do women have what it takes to be great leaders? Absolutely yes.

Research by Gallup shows that women leaders tend to have significantly happier, more highly engaged teams (25%-35% higher). Companies with women on their boards outperform those without (Catalyst) and diverse teams outperform non-diverse teams (Deloitte). So throw away any old ideas that women can't lead, build teams, or drive business success.

While the statistics aren't what they should be, doors are opening. Role models like Ginny Rometty at IBM, Mary Barra at GM, Ursula Burns at Xerox, Safra Catz at Oracle, Sheryl Sandberg at Facebook, Marissa Mayer at Yahoo, Indra Nooyi at PepsiCo, and Meg Whitman at HP are all helping us redefine the role of women in our minds. I am sure that Hilary Clinton's impending candidacy for President will further pave the way as well.

Despite this progress, we still have work to do. I spend much of my time with Human Resources leaders and professionals (nearly 70% are women) and I am constantly inspired and impressed by the leadership I see in this profession. Yet often I am told by HR leaders that "we are just not considered part of the senior management team" or "we are not able to stand toe to toe with CEOs" and I often wonder if gender is part of the problem. (We are starting a campaign called BoldHR to help HR professionals be more innovative.)

What can each of us do to further address this issue? And in particular what can men do to help? Here are some things to think about:

1. Check your unconscious bias. The Harvard Implicit Association Test will open your eyes.

Each and every one of us need to think about this topic and be aware of our own unconscious bias. If you don't think you have unconscious bias, I dare you to take the Harvard Implicit Association Test, which will blow your mind. You'll probably find that you're stereotyping women (and possibly yourself) more than you ever realized.

Part of the problem is that women have been found to have less self-confidence than men, leading to unconscious bias on both sides. Katy Kay and Claire Shipman's book "The Confidence Code" is explained well in The Atlantic, convincing me that men are raised to think about ourselves differently than women.

It's amazing to Google "women, intimidation, and confidence" and you find more articles about how strong women intimidate men than the opposite. This is a strong case of unconscious bias.

2. Men, support the women in your family or community. You'll be happier as a result.

Women, like men, often have dual responsibilities between work and home. Much research shows that men who support gender equality are happier, have a greater sense of well-being, and have less depression!

And it gets even better. Couples who express more gender equality (by sharing housework and childcare and work) have stronger marriages and have more sex! (see footnote 1)

3. As a business or team leader, consider diversity (of all types) a way to make your team perform better.

Research by Credit Suisse, Deloitte, and Executive Board shows that diverse teams outperform non-diverse teams (see footnote 2). Why? Varied points of view, an open environment, and new ideas drive performance and innovation.

A large aerospace client of ours studied the impact of diversity on safety and innovation in their engineering and manufacturing teams and found that diversity was one of the biggest drivers of new ideas, safety, and innovation. They now benchmark every team for gender and other dimensions of diversity to drive culture and performance.

4. Think about making trade-offs in your own family, career, and personal life and work will be a better place.

Gender equality and the role of women in the workforce is like Karma - when you give you receive.

In my case, my wife was a successful telecommunications business executive for many years. When our children were young my career was quite unexciting while she traveled around the world and commuted to Silicon Valley. I picked up the kids at school, dropped them off in the morning, coached soccer, and tried to show up wherever they needed me.

It never even occurred to me that I was making any sacrifices, because our family as a unit was all that mattered - and as long as we were both fulfilled and our kids were happy, all was well. Over time she decided that the 80 hour work-week was enough, and she stopped her business career, giving me the freedom to go a bit crazy with my career. In many respects I was a late bloomer, but it all worked out and now we have a wonderful family and we both feel that we've given a lot to each other and the family.

I suggest that we can all think this way. When we honor women and our partners (at home and in the workplace) as individuals who have their own careers and aspirations, and we just give to them as we'd like them to give to us, the world of work is a better place.

And one more small point. Work today is demanding. We call it the "overwhelmed employee" problem. When you consider women an equal partner in work, home life, and business in general, we can all make work more enjoyable and fun. I applaud,, Maria Shriver, and the dozens of other organizations that have helped us all learn how to reduce gender inequality and give everyone the opportunities they strive for at work.

In for equality? Pass it on – #LeanInTogether


About the Author: Josh Bersin is the founder and Principal of Bersin by Deloitte, Deloitte Consulting LLP, a leading research and advisory firm focused on corporate leadership, talent, learning, and the intersection between work and life. Josh is a published author on Forbes, a LinkedIn Influencer, and has appeared on Bloomberg, NPR, and the Wall Street Journal, and speaks at industry conferences and to corporate HR departments around the world. You can contact Josh on twitter at@josh_bersin and follow him at Josh's personal blog is at

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LinkedIn Influencer Josh Bersin published this post originally on LinkedIn.