Recently I was asked to conduct a Fireside Chat with two male senior executives of a Fortune 500 company. These Fireside Chats are designed to bring men into the Integrated Leadership conversation and explore how men and women can work in partnership to break down barriers, address gender-related stereotypes and help each other realize their roles in closing the gender gap.
The forum drew the organization's 200 top women leaders, as well as a critical mass of male executives. With the purpose of engaging these two men in a dialogue about inclusion and diversity and why both are important, I took a deep breath and began to ask them questions. The conversation was amazing! These two men shared their perspectives about why it's important for women to be in the leadership ranks at all levels of the organization and how having them there actually impacts bottom-line growth.
Finally, I asked the politically charged question: "Why aren't there more women in senior positions at this company?" The room got very quiet. Did these men know the answer? Would they be willing to say what they thought in front of this crowd? It was not surprising to me that each waited for the other to respond! They gave a few plausible reasons - the nature of the industry, the possibility that many women were not well known throughout the organization, and so on. What became obvious was that neither man had a response they were confident about. What was important is that both men walked away determined to find the answer!
This forum was a significant step forward for our client. First, it got men and women in one room talking about the what, why and how of developing and advancing talented women leaders. However, this was not a conversation about women getting promoted. It was a discussion about how men and women working together could enhance the leadership of the company. Second, the forum provided a safe and constructive environment for men to participate in this leadership challenge and to have their ideas become part of the solution. This increases their awareness and decreases their discomfort.
One of the great aspects of this forum was the free flow of ideas among the male executives and the women in the audience. When I asked the men what advice they had for women, they shared some valuable insights. Here are a few of their suggestions:
- Take time to get clear about what you want in life and to identify what success looks like for you.
- Be yourself. There is no common "mold" for an executive in today's work environment. Successful organizations are looking for top talent who bring a unique perspective and considerable thought leadership to the table.
- Network with purpose, because it's an important part of your job. Get in front of key people who can help you and your team be successful.
- Develop relationships with sponsors who recognize your value and unique contributions. Reach out to men for sponsorship since they hold a number of influential roles in most organizations.
- Accept positions and roles that broaden and deepen your business experience. You might even consider taking a job you are under qualified for, as this will allow you to become stronger and more confident.
- Take prudent risks and keep any self-doubt to yourself.
- Be open to feedback from those you trust and respect. Feedback is a gift that every successful leader needs and values. Remember that the higher your level in an organization, the harder it is to get feedback, so learn now to seek it out.
The Fireside Chat is just one example of how organizations today are moving the needle for women and other underrepresented groups. I recently interviewed a F50 Executive regarding their view on the importance of Integrated Leadership and what they see as the biggest obstacle but what they are doing to address it. Learn more by listening to the podcast, Integrated Leadership - The Formula for Better Business. I believe there will be many more of these types of events in the future, because there is no doubt that it's time for men and women to have these smart conversations. The question is...who will step up and start these smart conversations in your organization? I hope it will be you!
Learn more about SHAMBAUGH's Fireside Chats, as well as executive coaching, leadership programs, keynote offerings, sponsorship consulting and our signature Women In Leadership and Learning Program (WILL) by visiting www.shambaughleadership.com
Becky's talk at TEDx: It's Not a Glass Ceiling, It's a Sticky Floor