Ernst and Young recently conducted a study of corporate boards in the United States that revealed a shocking and unsettling reality. Of the 1,500 companies surveyed, there are more board members named John, Robert, William, or James than there are women on boards.
The lack of gender diversity across American industries is nothing new. However, with political leaders, corporate executives, and tech giants like Sheryl Sandberg, Marissa Mayer, Hillary Clinton, and Ursula Burnes smashing through glass ceilings, the topic has been especially relevant in recent years.
The heightened attention to the lack of gender diversity in leadership roles has forced us to pause and try to understand the critical issue at hand – why are smart, powerful, and capable women not holding more leadership roles in some of society’s most influential sectors—politics, tech, and corporate America?
Sheryl Sandberg’s eloquent, honest, and evocative book, Lean In served as a call-to-action for women in today’s workforce, but this wasn’t the only demographic that it challenged – a key part of Lean In’s manifesto involves men, and the actions that they need to take in order to facilitate this paradigm shift.
Female leaders in every industry can continue to work tirelessly toward gender equality, but unless men truly understand their role in this ecosystem, a sustainable solution is out of reach.
Growing up, the ratio of women to men in my family was 4:1.
I was raised by a single mother who was both an ambitious career woman and a force to be reckoned with at home.
In school, an overwhelming majority of my teachers were women—and as we all know, in the classroom, the teacher is the CEO. One of the best courses I took in college was called Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership, and I was a member of the GW Women in Business student organization.
The concept of female leaders is neither foreign nor threatening to me. All of this aside, women make up 50% of the population, many spend their lives raising a significant part of the population, and they arguably have more purchasing power than any other demographic.
There is no reason why they should be disproportionately represented in tech, business, and politics. Now, I’ll be clear – I am no expert in women’s studies, anthropology, or human resources, but I am a guy “who gets it”.
Women and legislators can’t do it alone, and we can’t count on the old guard that is predominantly pale, male, and stale to fix this problem. Young men have a responsibility to be part of the solution and to adopt the mentality that having more female leaders is a win-win solution for all.
Change can’t happen in the absence of learning. We can’t help effectively improve a situation if we don’t know learn the why, what, or how. It’s also impossible to successfully collaborate with people if you don’t know how to work with them.
While, we’re all individuals, there are countless studies showing the difference between the sexes are not hard-wired but are result of society’s expectation. For example, men and women evaluate success differently.
Women are more likely than men to base their personal success on the collective success of those around them. Women, more so than men, are also known to be more risk-averse.
It’s also shown that women are less likely to brag about their success than man—something that many argue women hold back when negotiating for equal compensation. However, when women toot their own horn or act in more assertive ways, they risk damaging their professional reputation. These are valuable nuances for men who will inevitably work on teams with women.
If we as men are oblivious to these differences, then there’s no way that we can work with women successfully, even if they are present in equal numbers. In learning about women, we as men will learn more about ourselves and the biases we rely on to make decisions.
Men are very good at taking our younger counterparts under our wing in the hopes of molding a protégé.
While this is not always the case, in my experience, women have been more egalitarian in this arena and we should look to emulate them in this manner. One of the most important variables that contribute to professional success is access to advocates and high-powered mentors.
Many of these relationships come as a result of nepotism. Men still dominate a majority of the circles of leadership in power that preside over many sectors in this country, making it hard for women to crack into these networks. We need to do our part and actively seek out mentees that are both male and female.
One of the most commonly used excuses for why women are not tapped for leadership roles is because “there aren’t enough qualified women to choose from.” This is a poor excuse. If there aren’t enough qualified women to compete for leadership roles, it’s on us to create a pipeline to change that.
Effectively Build Teams
Learning about women and mentoring women are a big part of the responsibility that men need to take on if they are committed to leveling the playing field, but they go in vain if we don’t intentionally build teams that include women.
Throughout high school and especially at GW, I participated in my share of group projects. By my sophomore year, I realized that I preferred working in teams with both male and female students represented.
The few instances that I worked on group projects where women were absent, I noticed organization, attention to detail, and urgency went missing as well. From these experiences I learned the importance of gender diversity firsthand.
Women and men each have different sets of strengths and weaknesses that balance each other out. When we eliminate women from teams, we prevent ourselves from tapping into the strengths and talents of half of the population.
I’ll admit that doing our part to fix the gender gap is much easier said than done, but it is not impossible. It requires us to eliminate excuses and hold ourselves accountable. These steps may not remove all of the obstacles that stand in the way of gender equality, but they are a bold step in the right direction.
About the Author
Alix Montes acts as Startups Editor for TAOP. Those who know him well call him Alix or Montes for short. When he’s not putting in hours at LMO Advertising, Alix can be found writing about career advice for young professionals through Levo League, swimming, teaching yoga, or traveling. Connect: Twitter | Instagram | Linkedin