How can men play their part on International Women’s Day?
By taking advantage of flexible work arrangements, sponsoring female colleagues and speaking out against bias, men can help to build more equal workplaces, says EY Global Chairman and CEO Mark Weinberger
Back in 2012, before I took my position as CEO of EY, I asked my children how they felt about me accepting the job. They all had a lot to say, but two questions from my daughter have always stuck with me. “Will you still be there for me?” she asked. “And will you prioritize us?”
To me, these are critical questions. And for my entire career, I’ve been committed to answering them with a resounding ‘yes’ – whether that meant leaving an EY partners event in China early to be at my daughter’s first driving test, or missing a World Economic Forum event to move her into her college dorm. And just as importantly, I’ve made sure that all 250,000 of EY’s people know that these values are fundamental to me – and to our entire organization.
In that spirit, as we celebrate International Women’s Day this year, I think it’s also important for men to reflect on how we can help advance gender equality. This year’s motto is #BeBoldForChange – and I hope men will join me in stepping up to answer that call. No matter what industry you work in, here are three concrete ways men can work to effect change and build better, more equal workplaces:
Take advantage of parental leave and flexible work arrangements
Consider this: almost three-quarters of families in America are supported by either two working parents or a single parent. When people quit their jobs, three of the top six reasons they cite are work-life management challenges. And most of the time, when a parent has to drop out of the workforce to take care of their family, it’s the mother.
That’s why, at EY, we are proud of our industry-leading parental leave and flexible work programs. In the US we offer16 weeks of fully paid leave for both women and men who welcome a child into their lives. (In the US, only 21% of companies offer paid maternity leave – and the average benefit is just 6 weeks.) Importantly, we encourage men to take full advantage of these benefits, because when they do, they send a powerful message that familial responsibilities should be shared equally. And just as importantly, they are saying to their colleagues – male and female – that there should be no stigma for anyone who takes their full leave.
That concept also extends to flexible work arrangements. When a male partner telecommutes because of a sick child, he shows other men that childcare, especially in last-minute situations, shouldn’t by default fall to women. Every time a man is vocal about and committed to caregiving, he shows that it’s a quality he values, in himself and others.
In other words, this equation can’t be one-sided; when men take advantage of these benefits in equal numbers, it makes it easier for everyone to balance their lives – and advance in their careers at the same time.
Step up to sponsor female colleagues
When it comes to advancing in the workplace, many of us have benefited from mentors and sponsors in our lives; people who didn’t just provide advice and feedback – but went one step further and used their position and influence to create opportunities for advancement. Sponsors are the ones who help lay the groundwork for success, so when promotions come up, their protégé has the experience and visibility to be positioned as the right choice for the job.
Unfortunately, right now, high-ranking men are much more likely to sponsor other men. As a result, men are 46% more likely than women to have a sponsor at work. If we want that to change, many more men will have to step up – after all, as Sheryl Sandberg notes in Lean In, “It should be a badge of honor for men to sponsor women.”
Men are 46% more likely than women to have a sponsor at work. If we want that to change, many more men will have to step up.
At EY, we couldn’t agree more. We think that formal sponsorship initiatives are some of the most important steps toward making equality commonplace. That’s why we created our Inclusiveness Leadership Program to move more women into the pipeline for management positions. We pair high-potential women with executive sponsors who help them get ahead – and the numbers show the program is moving the needle. Last year, 29% of our new partners around the world were women. In 1996, women comprised 4-6% of EY’s US partnership – today that number is up to 23%.
We’ve also been focused on retaining women. If we don’t retain talented women there won’t be a strong pipeline of women for senior leadership roles. Fifteen years ago we had a nearly 15% gap in our retention rates between women and men. Our mentorship and flexibility efforts have collectively helped to close that gap and today we retain women at a slightly higher rate than men. We still have a long way to go on this journey to full equality, but we’re proud of the progress we’ve made and confident those numbers will continue to rise.
When you see bias, speak up
Unconscious bias can creep into an organization easily – so it’s important for all of us to be vigilant in looking out for unfair treatment, and to speak up when we see it. At EY, for instance, we require all new managers to undergo training that addresses the ways unconscious bias can affect our everyday actions and behaviors. Additionally, throughout our business processes, we look out for biases and work to overcome them.
But we don’t have to wait for formal mechanisms to combat the subtle ways that bias finds its way into the workplace. When a woman is interrupted by male colleagues, jump in and ask for her opinion. When a meeting is scheduled very late in the day and it’s going to burden a working mom who needs to pick up her child, propose an earlier time. Go to your supervisor and ask what safeguards are in place at your organization to combat bias.
When you look at the research, there are countless documented, data-supported reasons to strive for gender equality in the workplace: gender balanced teams make businesses more profitable, respected and innovative. That should be evidence enough. But of course, this issue isn’t just one of good business sense. It comes down to a question of our values – and what kind of world we want to build for our daughters and our sons.
This International Women’s Day, let’s commit to being bold for change. It’s up to all of us, men and women, to take action now. Because in the end, achieving real gender equality has to be a finish line we cross together.