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The Men Who Mentor Women

Source | Harvard Business Review : By Anna Marie Valerio & Katina Sawyer

While women make up 51.5% of all managers, much fewer women rise to the C-suite. A survey of 25,000 Harvard Business School graduates found that although male and female graduates had similar levels of ambition, men were significantly more likely to have positions in senior management, direct reports, and profit-and-loss responsibility.

We know having a sponsor who supports your career can help level the playing field for women. So who are the men in your organization known as informal champions of women, for the way that their behaviors advance female leaders? And what do they have in common?

From previous research, we already know that these “male champions” genuinely believe in fairness, gender equity, and the development of talent in their organizations, and that they are easily identified by female leaders for the critical role they play advancing women’s careers.

But we wanted to know more about what these men do differently. How do they stand up to pressure from peers or the expectations of outmoded organizational cultures? How do they use their power to create diverse, inclusive organizations?

We asked senior male and female leaders in Fortune 500 companies and non-profit organizations to tell us about the behaviors of these “male champions.” We conducted 75 semi-structured confidential interviews with leaders in the C-suite or one to three levels below C-suite in both Fortune 500 companies and non-profit organizations. After subjecting these interviews to a rigorous qualitative analysis, we saw several themes emerge.

Generally, we saw that “male champions” have learned that gender inclusiveness means involving both men and women in advancing women’s leadership. Although many organizations have attempted to fight gender bias by focusing on women – offering training programs or networking groups specifically for them — the leaders we interviewed realized that any solutions that involve only 50% of the human population are likely to have limited success.

More specifically, we found that some of the key behavioral themes associated with gender inclusive leadership that support women’s career advancement are:

  • using their authority to push workplace culture toward gender equality
  • thinking of gender inclusiveness as part of effective talent management
  • providing gender-aware mentoring and coaching
  • practicing other-focused leadership, not self-focused leadership

Using their authority to change workplace culture

As researchers, we know that gender parity in the workplace is associated with improved profitability. Companies with female board representation have been found to outperform those with no women on their boards. Gender parity has been found to correlate with increased sales revenue, more customers, and greater relative profits.  Companies in the top quartile for gender diversity were found to be 15% more likely to outperform those in the bottom quartile.

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