This morning I had the pleasure of attending a Women’s Executive Network presentation where Dr. Elizabeth Croft, an accomplished mechanical engineer and robotics professor at UBC shared the lessons from her personal journey. She made a compelling case for engaging male leadership as a key component of encouraging gender diversity, particularly in engineering. In less than ten minutes, she mentioned at least four men who had helped her succeed specifically because they challenged and supported her at a time when women were in short supply in the field.
This message landed strongly with me primarily because I’ve been working with some strong alpha male leaders in these types of male dominated industries on their leadership presence and have been encouraging them to broaden their perspective on what leadership looks like. I firmly believe that it’s time for male leaders to step up and become champions so we can advance the pace when it comes to achieving gender parity. Here, from Dr. Croft’s talk, were my top ten takeaway tips for male leaders who would like to step up, but aren’t sure how (and are, frankly, getting left behind). Want to be ahead of the game? Try some of these:
- Explicitly tell women they can succeed, that they are capable and that they belong in the field. These words, spoken aloud to young women especially, have a big impact on their belief in themselves.
- Actively engage and sponsor women into different roles and activities.
- Talk about their capabilities to others and give them explicit credit for their roles/experience.
- Suggest possibilities to them for further work/study/engagement opportunities.
- Realize women don’t always step up, speak up or put up their hand – call on them.
- Participate in women’s diversity programs to recruit young women for your field. Create them if they don’t exist.
- If you hear gendered messaging, jokes or notice the work culture isn’t welcoming to women, call it out/work to change it.
- Be aware of the study results on negative effects of bias. Educate yourself on unconscious bias and how people engage.
- The negative talk/challenging/competitive nature/macho style of interaction in STEM (and elsewhere) is bad for both men and women, but particularly for decreasing engagement with women. Watch yourself and be intentional with your communication.
- Stop treating pregnancy like an illness – challenge policies where maternity leave/return to work isn’t flexible and where men don’t get to participate in paternity leave/early involvement with their children.
Ultimately, we are all better when we are able to bring our full selves to work. Gender parity will help us get there. As Tony Porter says in his amazing TED talk “A Call to Men”, “The liberation of men is connected to the liberation of women.”