A number of years ago, I stepped up to use my influence as an executive in the tech sector to advocate for gender diversity. It was awkward at first, but the generosity and passion from this community from women of all generations underscores why closing the gender gap is the worthiest cause I’ve supported in my career.
I’ve achieved business success far beyond my wildest dreams for someone who was raised by a hard-working single mum in a small village in Ontario. Yet no achievement can match the satisfaction of demonstrating my commitment to gender equality through concrete action. I’ve aligned my business goals to attract women to tech by changing my hiring processes, created programs for high performing women to coach and sponsor them for success, and launched an annual event to support next generation female leaders. I’m so proud to have accelerated my daughter Stefania’s career in tech sales through coaching and by introducing her to others who can open doors and help hone her talents. You can also count on me to call out bad behaviour at work because sexism exists.
As we celebrate this International Women’s Day, I feel so empowered by global movements like #metoo, #timesup and #equalitycantwait. They have mobilized even more female leaders of all generations to be out front pushing this agenda.
But this is still the perennial question I ask myself – where are my fellow male allies? When I attend gender diversity events, I can count the men on one hand – even when I’m hosting the event. I know male tech leaders fundamentally believe equality is morally right and good for business and they know successful organizational change requires leaders to be out front.
The reality is, male leaders have never had to deal with a challenge quite like this. I will be the first to attest that it’s not easy. They are struggling to determine their role, and many have chosen to default to managing business issues they understand. They delegate gender diversity to talented people – in most cases women – who have full accountability but lack the powerful position on the org chart to motivate and incentivize people.
Taking this stance places organizations at risk and may compromise their ability to compete in the future.
I believe this decade is going to be defined by equality. The corporate leaders we’ll be celebrating will be models of diversity and inclusion. Their success will be driven by committed leaders who take action and mobilize everyone’s talents to support change. These champions will create the successful blueprint for success, will be lauded for their pioneering leadership and everyone will flock to their companies for jobs.
If you are a male leader and you want to be more involved and take action but aren’t sure how, maybe you need to do some self-reflection:
1. Why are you not involved? What is holding you back from lending your support? Does it make you feel uncomfortable? Are you threatened by what equality might usher in? Do you believe everyone should progress on their merit in the work force, despite a respected body of evidence outlining the inherent barriers that stall women’s success?
2. Why are others not engaging you? Do others see you as an accessible leader who can help drive change? Or, do they view you as someone who represents ‘old school’ values? Is it time to conduct a 360-degree assessment of your leadership style that includes balanced feedback from an equal number of men and women?
3. What action have you taken to support women? How many women did you mentor or sponsor last year? How many women are in your High Performers (HiPo) program? Are you helping break down barriers to their success? Do you call out bad behaviour in meetings and the boardroom that don’t align with corporate values?
4. Who are your most trusted advisers? Can they provide you with diverse perspectives to stay innovative and support your growth as a leader? What does your professional network look like? How many women are in your LinkedIn network? I did this test. I was shocked how narrow my network was. I decided to invest time in growing my network to include women and those who provide fascinating diverse perspectives.
6. What does your hiring process look like? When was the last time you reviewed it? Do you insist on gender balanced short lists? Do you push for better when your team insists there are no women qualified for the role?
I encourage men to make gender parity a professional development goal this year. If anyone is struggling on how to take the first step, please reach out to me on LinkedIn.
Luc Villeneuve is president of Benchmark Corp., a software solutions provider focused on open source technology to optimize operations, boost productivity and support scalable growth.
This column is part of Globe Careers’ Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab.
Stay ahead in your career. We have a weekly Careers newsletter to give you guidance and tips on career management, leadership, business education and more. Sign up today.