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How men can make a difference in corporate Canada’s gender diversity challenge

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

A couple of years ago, I began to notice a change in the demographic of the groups that I was speaking to about the importance of achieving gender diversity in leadership in the corporate world. My audience had gone from entirely female to an increasing proportion of men in the room.

Frankly, the first few times I walked into rooms populated by men, I found myself double checking my calendar to make sure I had the right place. As the head of an advocacy group dedicated to increasing the representation of women in the leadership of Canada's economy, this shift in the dialogue was a welcome change to say the least.

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The talk of the lack of gender diversity in Canada's corporate leadership teams has increasingly been in the media and on the public agenda. Most importantly, some influential male leaders in our economy are now speaking out on why this issue needs to be on the corporate agenda as an imperative for developing the highest-quality talent pool in this country. The challenge today for achieving gender diversity in our economy's leadership teams is creating a role for men in this mission.

Senior leadership is no doubt the cornerstone of any successful initiative to address the lack of women in executive positions. The signal that it is time to change the culture, time to demand a different outcome from the management of the talent pipeline for leadership, comes from the top. However, the hard work of making that cultural change happen comes from the engagement of every employee in the organization. For decades, women have been given roles in the drive for change, yet the role for men has been undefined. To fill Canada's executive ranks with more women, we need men to have a well-defined and valued role in making that happen.

Where men can make the difference:

Engage men in selling the business case for women in leadership

To move past lip service to diversity initiatives, everyone in the organization needs to be convinced that investing in change will drive better performance. Men can be the best advocates for the business case and educating their peers on why they need to get involved.

Include senior male executives in the leadership and execution of diversity initiatives

Men occupy more than 80 per cent of executive positions in Canada and those senior leaders are integral to driving cultural change in an organization. Research shows that the visible commitment of senior male leaders in the organization to this issue is a key influencer in the engagement of men at more junior levels in the organization.

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Focus on talent management skills

Send the message loud and clear that management's evaluation includes the development of a diverse pipeline for succession at all levels. Provide your male and female leaders with the training they need to acquire the skills to manage and develop diverse talent and get the best out of everyone on the bench.

Include men in the dialogue on managing work and parental responsibilities

Men face significant stigmas in the corporate world when they utilize flexible work policies or take parental leave. The often-forgotten barrier women face in balancing work and parental obligations is the lack of support in the corporate world for men taking on these responsibilities.

Give junior men a role in gender diversity initiatives

Men at all levels of the organization must have a role in creating cultures that value diversity of thought. All employees need to be educated on the unconscious biases we bring to work and our propensity to gravitate towards those most like us. Encourage your junior employees to come up with initiatives to challenge biases and create diverse teams. In my experience, those employees who are new to the corporate world have some of the best ideas on changing corporate culture and fostering innovation.

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The good news is that I have seen a growing number of men raise their hand to be involved and ask what their role is in removing barriers and driving progress on gender diversity in corporate leadership. In my work with financial institutions, men are beginning to step up to lead diversity initiatives and engage their peers in efforts to drive change. Men increasingly ask the question, "What should I be doing?" "How do I get involved?"

If you are fortunate enough to have those men in your organization, make sure you take them up on their offer and find a role for them to play – that will be the defining factor in your success in increasing the number of women in your leadership ranks.

Jennifer Reynolds is chief executive officer of Toronto-based Women in Capital Markets.

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