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leadership lab

Incoming president of the University of Ontario Institute of Technology; currently dean of the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University (@DrStevenMurphy).

"Gender inequality is not a women's issue, it's society's issue," Tanya van Biesen, executive director of Catalyst Canada, told MBA students at the Ted Rogers School of Management last month.

I couldn't agree more. The gender gap is everyone's problem.

So far, progress has been slow at best. The World Economic Forum reports that of 142 countries, 68 increased their gender gap score over the past year while 74 countries went backward.

A wide range of grassroots and corporate organizations provide commendable programs and initiatives to help women advance in the workplace.

But engaging women alone is not enough. To make substantial progress, we need to engage men as well.

This is especially important because some men continue to resist diversity initiatives despite the mounting evidence that diversity is an economic imperative. A recent survey of nearly 900 directors reports that 16 per cent said that gender and racial diversity had no benefits at all, while 27 per cent said there was too much attention on gender diversity (of the latter, 97 per cent were men).

This is worrisome considering women hold only 21 per cent of S&P 500 board seats. In Canada, that number falls to 19 per cent. Also, 10 per cent of companies listed to the TSX have no female representation on their boards.

HeForShe, an initiative launched by UN Women three years ago, is enlisting men to join the fight in bridging the gender gap. Engaging men – and women – at the top, sets the tone and sends a strong message across the whole organization.

One organization that mobilized men to make diversity a priority is PwC, reportedly increasing the number of women on their global leadership team from 8 per cent to 47 per cent.

To understand why women were underrepresented at the firm, PwC took a data-driven approach. Even though women made up 50 per cent of graduate hires, they accounted for only 13 per cent of partners globally and 8 per cent of the firm's global leadership team. When they dug into the numbers, they found that women departed at the same rate as men but were replaced by male hires, which contributed to creating predominantly male teams.

To secure buy-in at the top, the firm rolled out unconscious bias training for their global leadership team. In addition to having annual diversity plans at the local level, they created succession plans for key leadership roles throughout their global network with the guidance that a third of candidates should be diverse.

Educating leaders on implicit and explicit bias is key to cracking the diversity nut. As my colleague Imogen Coe, dean of Ryerson University's Faculty of Science, told CBC, we need to be comfortable about facing our own implicit biases – we all have implicit biases due to entrenched social conditioning.

That was recently demonstrated by a BBC social experiment. For example, when boys wore girls' clothes, unknowing adults gave them dolls to play with – and when girls wore boys' clothes, they were encouraged to ride bikes. Talking about implicit bias and how it creeps into everyday life is a crucial first step in changing the status quo.

We all have a part to play in closing the gender gap. Not only is the business case compelling, it's also the right thing to do. Men, take the HeforShe pledge. Be a game changer at your organization.

Executives, educators and human resources experts contribute to the ongoing Leadership Lab series.

Karl Moore sits down with Michele Rigolizzo from the Harvard Business School

Special to Globe and Mail Update