As we celebrate Women’s History month and the recent International Women’s Day—with my company, Sodexo, making the courageous decision to celebrate every day as International Women’s Day—I’ve thought a lot about the role and responsibilities men have in advancing gender equality. As the father of two young daughters, I want to make sure my girls have the same opportunities I’ve had coming up in my career. Unfortunately, that’s not the case today and at our current pace, gender equality may not be realized for another 200+ years. This simply isn’t acceptable.
Men are just as responsible for promoting gender balance as women are, and given the privilege we’ve had throughout history, we should be using our platform to advance change more quickly. Studies have shown that men also benefit from gender equality. Sodexo recently published research proving that gender balanced teams (40-60% of leaders being women) achieve greater results, both financial and non-financial, than teams that are not balanced.
We must bring greater awareness to the issue of inequality and promote education around the facts for our employees and teams. Just as importantly, we need to educate ourselves on the benefits that gender balanced teams bring to our organizations and society. I recently heard Dr. Rohini Anand explain it like this: “We must be aware of our unconscious bias and move toward conscious competence to best prepare ourselves to overcome this challenge.”
For men in leadership positions, we need to be providing sponsorship, mentoring and greater development opportunities for women that will allow them to grow in their careers. Research from Harvard Business Review and the Center for Talent Innovation has shown that employees benefiting from sponsorship are significantly more likely to advance their careers than those without. This is access many women still don’t have today and we must change that.
During my time with Sodexo, I’ve been fortunate to work for women seven out of nine years. I share this not to say we’ve hit the mark for gender balance, but to say to women that I know it can be done and we need more female leaders like the ones I’ve had. I am a stronger leader today because of the diversity of leadership I’ve been influenced by, and am convinced that others can benefit from more balanced leadership experiences in their own career.
I believe that we [men] shouldn’t feel threatened or be falsely concerned about gender equality— we should feel empowered to support and help women achieve their fullest potential, be understanding of how their needs and ways of working may be different from our own, and champion the need for greater balance in the pursuit of equality and improved quality of life for all. It’s not just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do and it’s really the only thing to do.