How men can help women flourish in the workplace

Organisations that don’t have women on the leadership team are plain and simply leaving money on the table and yet many women still struggle to make it through the talent pipeline to the top. Male managers can help but many don't know what to do differently while avoiding criticism from others and having their own career penalised.

As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others
— Bill Gates

If men are interested in helping female talent to flourish more effectively, there are some easy practices to champion and adopt that will help.  Here are six ideas to keep handy, that truly make a difference.

1. Ensure that women get a voice at the table, instead of being spoken over, dismissed or bypassed.    In a 2014 study from George Washington University we learned that when men were talking with women, they interrupted 33% more often than when they were talking with men. So instead of being part of the problem, establish systems that break the cycle. Why not deploy a fair airtime to share in meetings policy so everyone has a voice? And if a woman does speak up, but her idea is dismissed or brushed over, systematically draw attention back to the idea with a "Great idea Gloria, could you explain more?"  Note to female readers: you can do this for each other too (Julie Bishop style).

2. Don't be afraid of mentoring women. Did you know that women are 54% less likely to have a sponsor and 24% less likely to get advice from senior leaders?  The latest research from LeanIn and McKinsey sheds quite a bit of light on informal mentoring. 

According the WSJ article Don't Avoid Women, Mentor Them "Mentors show women the ropes and help us navigate office politics. They introduce us to decision-makers who help us get high-profile assignments. So much of what gets you noticed at work is who you know and who sings your praises." 

If you are worried about taking a female colleague to drinks or dinner, suggest a breakfast or coffee meeting instead. 

3. Include women in informal networking situations - one of the biggest issues I'm asked about by women in masculine dominated industries is "What should I do when all the guys do is want to go to the football, play golf, go cycling or to the bar after work?"  

Never assume that women don't want to do those things, or that all men want to do those things either. Make sure that there are a range of informal networkings situations where everyone is included.

One of my female clients who works in a male dominated industry sometimes finds out AFTER the fact that the guys all went to the football on Saturday and she didn't get an invite. She loves football and also knows they talk about work at those events. Make sure everyone gets the invite and knows they are truly welcome.

4. Never assume - there is an old saying that "assumption make an ass out of UME".  As per the above, never assume that someone wouldn't want to travel due to family reasons or responsibilities. Never assume that someone wouldn't want to commute.  Just because you wouldn't want something doesn't mean that others wouldn't want it. You never know what's going on in someone's life and they may just have a work around that's a better solution.  Ask or offer anyway.

5. Don't be afraid to question practices that do lead to exclusion - such as business travel. Australians have a love affair with business travel. We're addicted to it. But does it drive better performance? During the GFC many organisations in Australia put severe limitations on travel with great effect.  It's not just women who may have problems being away from home when they have child care or family responsibilities. Many men want to participate more in this as well.  While your frequent flyer balance might not look so good, your workplace and business results are likely to be better with more inclusive policies anyway.

6. Stand up for what's right - If a visiting speaker or consultant cracks a sexist joke - don't feel obliged to laugh and be sure to let them know the those sorts of comments are not appropriate in this workplace. 

In summary, the practices suggested above are good for all. Women are equally as socialised, biased and prone to stereotyped assumptions as men. I encourage female managers and leaders to implement some or all of these ideas as well.


There is no Mars and Venus, but in fact we are allies here on planet earth and our interests are the same.
— Michael Kimmel

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