Driving Gender Equality by Advocating for Women Leaders

By: Steve Dunmore
Mar 27, 2017 1:45 PM ET

Gender equality in the workplace isn’t just a women’s issue. Male leaders can drive gender equality in executive leadership roles by proactively advocating for female leaders in their organizations.  As recently noted in Sodexo’s 2016 Diversity report , women comprise 45 percent of the S&P 500 labor force, yet still only represent about 25 percent of executive or senior-level managers, and only 4 percent of CEOs.  Here’s another important statistic: McKinsey & Company compared the financial performance of companies with a significant number of women in top management to those without women in top roles. The companies with the highest number of women leaders had the best performance, averaging 41 percent higher return on equity.

These numbers make a compelling case for more: more gender equality, more focus on recruiting and retaining women, and – most importantly – more understanding and recognition of the unique capabilities women bring to the table.

I think back to my key early career experiences at a Fortune 500 company, where female representation was low overall, and the higher the managerial positions, the fewer number of women were represented. There was also a lack of cultural diversity, which, in my view, adversely impacted the results and performance culture of the company.

Importance of Gender Balance

A key factor in recruiting, retaining and ultimately advancing women into leadership roles is creating an inclusive culture. At Sodexo, we’ve found that an inclusive culture helps not just women but all employees  reach their full potential. To achieve this, companies must provide the tools that allow all employees, particularly women, to enjoy equal access at every step of their advancement.

Another key to success is achieving the right gender balance in teams at all levels throughout your organization.

It’s vital for an organization to nurture an inclusive environment and continuously strive for that optimal gender balance. A company’s success depends on it. It is critical that a diverse and inclusive team mirrors the clients it serves. This gives the organization a unique advantage in the marketplace and which leads to key innovations for the business.

Here are a few ways male leaders can drive gender balance in senior leadership roles and advocate for female leaders:

  • Proactively seek opportunities to advocate for change and break down barriers for the women in your organization. My goal throughout my career, and especially as CEO, has been to identify women leaders and advocate for them by articulating their unique skills and capabilities to key decision makers. It’s human nature to gravitate towards individuals who are similar to you–and in certain male dominated industries it’s particularly easy – but we have to be aware of that tendency if we’re going to increase the number of women of in leadership.
  • Sponsor qualified women leaders in your organization and networks. It’s important for male decision makers to endorse women and put a spotlight on their contributions to help give them a voice. Bring the conversation back to those female contributors.
  • Support organizations focused on developing women leaders, both internal and external to your organization. For example I’m an active board member of the Women’s Food Service Forum, focused on leadership development of women in the food service industry.

In sum, here’s a great quote from Ban Ki-moon: “Achieving gender equality requires the engagement of women and men, girls and boys. It is everyone’s responsibility.”