With so few women in the C-suite and upper management, many women say their best mentors and allies have been men. New research shows that their mentorship can help, and the prospects for female CEOs are greatly improved by an assist from the outgoing CEO. The authors of the research studied every large company CEO succession between 1989 and 2009 in which a woman was named to the top spot and found that women CEOs do well when they are promoted from within, following a long period of grooming by their predecessors, who are mostly male.
Leigh Buchanan writes in Inc. Magazine that the actions of the predecessor CEO have an impact on women leaders for two reasons, “First, the predecessor has an unmatched opportunity to mentor and sponsor female high-potentials. Second, the predecessor sets the context for a woman’s elevation.” This grooming and support is the ultimate vote of confidence and not only serves to downplay concerns, but also demonstrates the company’s willingness to embrace an inclusive culture.
Actions like that aren’t limited to the top levels. In fact, a recent Catalyst report, Engaging Men in Gender Initiatives: What Change Agents Need to Know, states, “Men are a great and necessary resource in advancing leadership opportunities for women in the workplace. From potential business success to growth for both women and men, everyone benefits when men are brought in as partners in creating a gender-inclusive workplace.”
Why should men want to step up and help us succeed? Well, today men have a bigger stake in women’s equality than in the past. They count on the financial contribution their wives make to the family economy, and they were likely raised by women who worked. They also want their daughters to succeed and will express outrage when the women in their lives encounter discrimination or barriers at work.
The actions that men can take to help women advance at every level start with looking at how women are treated, and help them better be seen, heard and recognized. Men can help women:
Be Heard – if a woman is interrupted, interject, ask them to finish, and further contribute to the conversation.
Lead – give them chances to lead projects or manage others.
Take Credit – make sure credit is given where credit is due, and don’t let women push their accomplishments to the side, or let someone else claim it.
Combat Bias – whether it’s blatant sexism or unintentional bias, when you notice an injustice, call it out.
Advance – recognize the competence, legitimacy, and status of female colleagues, look for ways to mentor or sponsor them, and help them advance.
Women have a lot of momentum right now, and we can use that in our work towards equality and advancement at all levels, especially when we have the help of our male counterparts. And men do not have to give something up for women to gain visibility at work. In fact, many of them will benefit. We all know that the data is showing that today’s businesses gain when women join the top levels of the organization. It’s in all our best interests to make our companies as productive and profitable as we can. That’s why we all need to work together to change the status quo and make a real, daily commitment to a more balanced diverse management and workforce.