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Rebecca Shambaugh Headshot

Moving From Conversation to Action

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Are you just giving "lip service" to the issue of women's advancement?

There has been a great deal of debate recently about Sheryl Sandberg's book, Lean In (Knopf). Kudos to Sheryl for reigniting the conversation about the shortage of women in senior leadership and for drawing national attention to this incredibly important topic. Now that we have debated the whos, the whys and the hows, it's time to move forward. It's time to move from conversation to action -- to stop talking about advancing more women into senior leadership and start doing something about it.

If we want to make real progress in advancing women, we are going to have to rethink the methods we've been using. Why? Because the evidence clearly shows that these traditional approaches -- such as diversity quotas, leadership development programs for women, women's networks and forums, etc. -- simply aren't working. These initiatives have been around for decades, yet women still only comprise about 15 percent of executive leadership and corporate boards.

I believe traditional approaches are missing a key piece of the puzzle: MEN. Conventional methods for advancing women involve women of course, as well as organizations. However, they leave out the other key players -- the men who make up 80 percent of senior leadership. If we are serious about advancing women, we must engage men in the process. Through my work at SHAMBAUGH, I have the opportunity to talk with male leaders all over the country. When the conversation turns to the topic of how to advance more women into senior leadership, this is typical of what I hear:

  • I'm willing to help, but quite frankly, no one has invited me in or seems interested in having me help.
  • I've thought about giving some of the women in our organization some constructive feedback, but I'm concerned I might say the wrong thing or offend them.
  • I always here that it's a man's world or "old boys" network and sometimes I feel I have to apologize for being a man.

Ironically, in trying to resolve this problem of excluding women from leadership, we have excluded men as part of the solution. Real change will only come from a cohesive, united effort that includes women, organizations and, yes, men:

  1. Women must be receptive to the unique value men have to offer. Since they represent the vast majority of leadership, men can be excellent coaches, mentors and sponsors. Furthermore, many of women's Sticky Floors (self-limiting beliefs and behaviors) happen to be men's strengths, such as developing strategic relationships, asking for what you want, taking risks, getting out of your comfort zone and managing organizational dynamics. This creates an optimal coaching dynamic.
  2. Organizations need to invite men to be part of the process and be intentional about engaging them. For example, when included, men are often the most valuable speakers in women's leadership forums and panels. Organizations should also provide men with coaching in how to appropriately give women feedback and help them apply it.
  3. Men must see themselves as part of the solution, as champions of developing and advancing the next generation of leaders. They need to be willing to step up and play an active role in sponsoring top talent by seeking out aspiring, high-performing women who don't have the access and visibility to be considered for leadership and growth opportunities. If organizations desire to thrive rather than merely survive, they must have integrated, gender-balanced leadership teams, and building these teams is everyone's responsibility. If we want to Make Room for Her, we must also make room for him.