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How Men Can Support Women and Empower Female Leadership

When we open our minds and our hearts to the experiences of others with curiosity and compassion, not only do we learn, but we make it safer for them to speak up and more likely that we can find common ground.

Like millions of people around the world, I was deeply moved and inspired by the recent speech Oprah Winfrey gave at the Golden Globe awards. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend checking out the video.

Oprah touched on, among other things, the cultural moment we’re in right now with respect to sexual harassment and gender equality. Over the past few months, I’ve been reflecting on my own thoughts, beliefs, words, and actions, and challenging myself to be even more aware, understanding, and inclusive. I’ve also been trying to figure out what I can do as a man to advocate for and support women – those whom I know personally and in our society at large.

Issues of gender inequality run deep in our country and our world. And while we’ve made a lot of progress, we clearly have more work to do. There are also layers of complexity and emotion to this issue that make it tricky, especially for us men, to fully understand and to address openly and effectively.

On this week’s episode of my podcast, I interviewed Will Marre, co-founder of the Covey Leadership Institute, who recently founded an organization called A Million SMART Women. He’s worked for the past thirty years creating breakthroughs at some the world’s top organizations including, Johnson & Johnson, Nike and Gap. He’s a thought-leader and trusted advisor on corporate transformation and the competitive advantage of female leaders.

Will and I talked about some of the dynamics of gender issues in today’s business world, how men can advocate for and support women in leadership, and how we can all remember that we’re in this together.

Some of the key things men can do to support women and empower female leadership are:

1) Listen. Listening is always important – it’s the key to communication and fundamental to connection. Now more than ever, it’s important for us men to really listen to women, hear their stories, and try to understand their experience at a deeper level. When we open our minds and our hearts to the experiences of others with curiosity and compassion, not only do we learn, but we make it safer for them to speak up and more likely that we can find common ground.

2) Advocate. Research shows that when women advocate for others in business it’s seen as a positive quality, but when they advocate for themselves it’s seen as a negative one. However, when men advocate for themselves, it’s seen much more positively. We all need advocates if we’re going to succeed and move forward in our careers. Given many of the gender-based double standards that still exist, male advocacy for female leadership is essential and valuable.

3) Engage. Thinking about and talking about gender can be challenging for us men for two main reasons. First of all, we aren’t always paying attention to it. Second of all, we worry that if we do engage about gender, we’ll say something wrong, offend some of the women around us, or be seen as sexist. Because of these things (and others), we sometimes shy away from doing or saying anything about gender at all. Even though we may be uncomfortable, it’s important for us to engage and to remember that gender equality and the empowerment of female leadership is not just a women’s issue, it’s a human issue that impacts all of us

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