Many years ago, I attended my first national diversity conference, and I heard a company’s chief diversity officer discuss his company’s progress regarding gender diversity. He said the company was on a diversity “journey.” Ten years after setting a strategy to advance and retain women, the company was beginning to see progress. The number of women in the firm had grown by almost 40 percent, and women represented nearly 18 percent of its executive leadership. When I heard those words, I was at first encouraged. It was good to know that companies were making progress, setting strategies, and measuring success.
Yet as I listened, I became more and more disheartened. It had taken that company a decade to drive a 40 percent increase, and women still made up less than 25 percent of the leadership. Something else dawned on me that day: the diversity officer’s use of the word “journey.” When I hear that word now—and it’s in frequent use today—I remember my days in sales and how companies approached their goals and initiatives. Frankly, I’ve never been on a “sales journey.” If you don’t hit your sales goals for two quarters, you’re probably going to get fired. To use the word more accurately, people go on journeys; organizations implement long-term strategic plans.
It Takes Leadership to Advance Women
In my corporate gender-consulting practice, I work with diversity practitioners, HR professionals, and organizations to make the dialogue on diversity more powerful. Here are my two most important messages: First, senior leaders must stop saying “journey” and instead say, “We are on year two of our five-year strategic diversity plan …” This immediately powers up the dialogue and demonstrates action and accountability. Second, to infuse urgency in diversity initiatives and drive palpable change, you must use more urgent words, like “imperative.”
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Why Advance Women?
Today there are three critical reasons to implement a women’s leadership strategy, and everything you do must fall under one of these drivers:
Women help grow revenue: With an incredible $7 trillion in national purchasing power, according to sheconomy.com, women drive or influence purchasing decisions in every household. From groceries to dining out to new cars, women hold the purse strings. And it’s important to realize that women’s influence extends far beyond their purchasing power. According to The International Wine & Food Society, women buy or influence 59 percent of all wine purchases.
Women improve operating profits: Externally, increased revenues mean better operating profits for companies. Internally, operating profits can be boosted through getting talent right. This includes the mix of talent as well as worker productivity. Studies consistently show that women tend to be more engaged workers than men and that employees who work under female managers tend to be more productive. This evidence should provide any company the impetus it needs to throw its weight behind programs to advance women.
Women enhance a company’s reputation: In an increasingly interconnected world, your company has to build trust and operate with transparency to maintain a strong reputation. And with 85 percent of consumption being driven by women, it’s fair to extrapolate that 85 percent of your company’s reputation is in their hands (and heads) as well.
Given these stark realities, your company’s Women’s Advancement Plan needs to start today. And for any such program to be successful, you must engage men as visible allies, champions, and advocates who recognize the value of women as true partners in organizational success.
Jeffery Tobias Halter is the country’s leading male expert on advancing women and engaging men. He is the president of YWomen, a strategic consulting company focused on engaging men in women’s leadership issues. Halter is a two-time TEDx speaker, a HuffPost contributor, and the author of two books, Why Women: The Leadership Imperative to Advancing Women and Engaging Men and Selling to Men, Selling to Women. Follow him on Twitter at @YWomen.