Today women make up 47% of the UK workforce but only hold 23.5% of non-executive directorships in FTSE 100 businesses.
While men still dominate senior and board-level positions, it is important to remember that these men are also part of the fight for equality. Men can play an important role in empowering women within the workplace: this shouldn’t just be left to the traditional women’s network or the small number of senior women.
So what steps can men take to empower the women within their organisations and move towards a more equal future?
Let them speak
Last week I was watching an episode of one of my favourite American radio shows on YouTube. There are two hosts, a man and a woman. They were interviewing a popular musician and while I watched, it dawned on me how often the male co-host took over: the show is even named after him. He sits on one side by himself, while his co-host sits opposite him alongside their guests. He asks the majority of the questions, while the female host is left to ask stereotypical questions such as “Do you have a girlfriend?”
Men should not be threatened by a female colleague. Instead they should learn to embrace their differences and use them to their advantage. According to a recent report by Caliper, female employees are persuasive leaders within the workplace because they tend to be empathic listeners. As a result, women understand any objections or concerns others may have and know how to effectively formulate a response. So if you bring your female colleague to a meeting or allow her to lead the conversation she may be able to help close a deal or resolve conflict.
Be flexible and provide opportunities for development
The way we work has changed dramatically over the last 10 years and the advancement of technology means it will continue to evolve. A business might have employees who are part of the same team but are based in different offices, or who work from home full-time. This flexibility could encourage more women to advance further up the corporate ladder, because they know that there is a way to balance family commitments later on in their careers. Having a supportive manager who understands this and is sympathetic to the challenges women face can really make a difference to the progression of women within the workplace.
Speaking at a recent event, Feilim Mackle, sales and service director at O2, discussed ways in which men can empower women at work. Feilim manages a predominantly female team and explained: “If we’re to achieve sustainable and long-lasting change we all have a role to play in creating a strong pipeline of female talent across British businesses. At O2 we have some fantastic initiatives in place to do just that, such as dedicated women in leadership programmes, a women’s network and a culture which enables flexible working.”
Managers could also provide developmental opportunities for female staff. Tarai Makawa, an in-house solicitor at automotive engineering consultancy Horiba Mira, told me how her male boss “encouraged me to start my Master’s degree because he wanted me to develop within our department. He also supported me in attending the annual IFLR women in business law forum so that I could meet more women in my profession, as our industry is predominantly male. This has made me more confident and valued at work”.
Invite them to the table
If queen bee syndrome (where women who are in senior positions keep all the honey to themselves) really is a myth, this suggests that the men who sit on executive boards are simply hiring more men. The only way to truly empower women at work is to give them the chance to sit at the table where important business decisions are made. Men who sit on executive boards should encourage more women to apply for these positions and challenge the imbalance with their colleagues.
There are lots of things that men can do at work to empower women. These steps can be big or small, and you don’t have to be a manager to make a difference. You could simply join a women’s network within your company or sector to get engaged in the debate. If you hold a senior position, you could sponsor or mentor a female employee so that they can make the right connections and become visible throughout the business.
We should encourage men to champion women and to not be afraid to speak up and think outside the box. If we want women to advance within the workplace, the support of all their colleagues, male and female, is crucial. Only by working together can we achieve truly equal representation at the highest levels of business.
Blogged by Carol Ann Whitehead