A few months ago, I was speaking at an event in Toronto on a topic about which I tend to present fairly regularly: advancing women in business.
As an expert in personal branding and marketing, I am often asked to speak to groups of women, either at conferences, or internally at various organizations, about strategies to help them build their professional brands, and ultimately take more active control of their careers.
At this particular conference, the audience, as usual, was mostly female. However, once I'd concluded my speech and began taking questions from the audience, the few men in the room were the ones raising their hands. And they all had the same question:
"What can we, as men, do to help support the women on our teams?"
For so long we have been talking to women about how to grow as professionals and advance their careers, but we often forget to speak to the gatekeepers of many of the corporate opportunities women seek: men.
It dawned on me that if we actually want to ensure more women make it into the C-suite and hold the top jobs in this country – to transform the idea into a tangible reality – we can't keep the men out of the conversation. We need to stop talking solely to women about career growth and professional development and start also talking to men about their role in the process. And I'm not talking about quotas.
Because the sad reality is that what we've been doing so far, hasn't been working.
Even though women make up roughly 47 per cent of the Canadian workforce, only three of the top 100 CEOs in Canada are women. What's more, female executives represented only 20.8 per cent of the board directors of companies on Canada's S&P/TSX 60 stock index, as of October 2014.
A recent study from Catalyst Canada showed that while the average salary gap between men and women is $4,000 globally, it's closer to $8,000 in Canada. And this pay gap keeps growing as women enter their thirties and forties.
Don't get me wrong, I still fully believe in the value of women working with one another, through mentorship and sponsorship, to help build one another up and advance their careers. There are a number of companies that do great work helping women in business to grow professionally, take on new challenges, and shatter the so-called glass ceiling.
But I think more senior leaders – which today are largely men – can play a more active role. My question back to the gentleman at my talk was 'when was the last time you nominated a high performing female executive for an award? Advocated on her behalf at the senior leadership meeting?' It must always be based on merit and performance, but sometimes women need an active sponsor to help reinforce they are worthy of that kind of recognition.
Because, for whatever reason, women are not good at taking credit where credit is due. Women tend to take more of a back seat position, stay out of the limelight, and focus on the work of the team versus them as the leader. In some ways women think of self-promotion as a dirty word, or something that should not be part of their job.
But the reality is it's not good enough to be good at your job, you need to be seen as being good to advance. Not unlike successful companies and brands, press coverage and external recognition is important. And that comes with award wins, thought leadership, and in many cases, lots and lots of ink.
In the same way women don't feel justified in asking for a raise, women also shy away from self-promotion, something I believe executive sponsors can help change.
So, men: you ask what you can do to help? Don't subconsciously stand by and let only the guys take the limelight. Recognize that not all high performers are equally as good at self-promotion – even though they may be as good or even better than the other candidate. Help shine a light on the great work women are doing and give them a little help by ensuring all great work is getting the notice it deserves.