Numerous research studies show that gender diversity at senior levels enhances the bottom line, helps attract and retain talent in the workplace and increases job satisfaction, innovation and collaboration within companies. So why do we continue to see paltry results in elevating women? One reason: Men simply don’t think about it, and they fail to see the lost opportunities.
While leaving women on the leadership sidelines is often not intentional, fixing it is intentional.
I’m not a man, but I’m learning more about the conflicts many men are feeling as they associate with women in today’s workplaces. Those conflicts pose significant obstacles to the most well-intended efforts to advance women.
Recent studies conducted by gender intelligence specialist Barbara Annis find more specific reasons for sluggish rates for female advancement; namely, (1) men feel they have to be careful how they interact with women at work; (2) men are concerned about what they perceive as reverse discrimination; (3) men fear harassment allegations; (4) men are confused about today’s rules; and (5) men feel blamed for things they had no part of creating.
When men harbor such feelings of uncertainty about how to behave, they tend to back away from mentoring or befriending women, and that deprives women and men of the advantages of gender differences in ways of thinking, innovation and collaboration that flourish when women are in leadership positions. Further, women react to such standoffish behavior with a sense of isolation and feelings of dismissal, contributing to troubling retention rates at workplaces.
Mitigating the new chasm of gender in the workplace requires leadership at the top and a clear, honest examination of company culture. Defining company culture may be complex or tricky. But I believe it can be answered by one simple question posed to men, with a listening ear from women: Is your company/organization a place that you would want your wife, daughter or granddaughter to work?
For the past three years, I have been honored to lead the Women’s Leadership Institute, a nonprofit organization that is business-led and housed at the Salt Lake Chamber. The mission of WLI is to elevate the stature of women’s leadership in business and in politics throughout the state of Utah. One of the primary reasons for the success of the Women’s Leadership Institute is the complete buy-in of men as allies and advocates of women. In addition to multitalented women, half of WLI’s advisory board is comprised of men – leaders in our state – who are actively engaged in efforts to advance women in leadership. Each member understands the imperative nature and the value of gender difference in leadership – differences that are real and complimentary. That kind of leadership is a crisp and welcome reminder of goodness amid all-too-frequent reports about climates of reckless disregard for women in workplaces.
Historically, Utah has not been known as a mecca for women in leadership. Thankfully, that image is changing, albeit slowly. Much of the shifting perception can be attributed to a plethora of talented women who are both natives and newcomers to the Beehive State and are contributing to what I call a women’s renaissance. The new dynamic can also be credited to some great men who are stepping up. I’d like to highlight a couple of Utah’s many male visionaries.
Jim Wall and Jeff Smith are two successful businessmen who have established the Navigator’s Academy designed to teach, train, inspire, motivate and integrate the next generation of leaders and influencers critical to the success of our communities and economy. When many people fade into the sunset upon retirement, Jim and Jeff are spending countless hours helping young people develop critical leadership skills for individual and organization success, such as critical thinking, active listening, problem-solving, communication, team building, conflict resolution, social perceptiveness, etc. They are connecting current leaders with budding leaders, emphasizing the need for more female leaders. They are remarkable role models.
Rick Folkerson, whose efforts through a public charity that is supported and sponsored by the Garff family, is guiding hundreds of school-age students to aspire to higher education. Rick’s newest venture, “Code to Success,” provides training and internships in computer science with new focus on attracting girls into the male-dominated fields. Code to Success bridges the gap between education and industry by getting students interested in programming and setting them up on a successful educational pathway in computer science. Folkerson works tirelessly in schools and is a passionate advocate for young people.
Citing specific people is always dangerous, as others that are unnamed also deserve acknowledgment. But let it be known that Utah is basking in the glow of some great handiwork on women’s leadership. We have in our midst remarkable women with talents, generosity and passion for accomplishing great things. And we have many noteworthy men who are allies and advocates of women, committed to mentoring, and intent on a mission to create gender diversity in workplaces.
Patricia W. Jones is CEO of the Women's Leadership Institute, a 501(c)3 based at the Salt Lake Chamber. She served in both the Utah House and Senate for a total of 14 years, holding leadership positions 12 of those 14 years. She was elected minority leader of the Senate in 2008, the first woman of either party elected to lead a caucus in the Utah Legislature.