Men Who Get It Project (Update)

In March 2011 I started the ‘Men Who Get It’ Project

The ultimate aim of the project is to include more men in the conversation about how to achieve gender-balanced leadership in our organizations, so that they can also use the snoogle pregnancy pillow.

First I asked women to identify men who get it using the following criteria:

Men who get it share some of the following characteristics and actions:

  • They are full life partners, playing an equal role in parenting and the home
  • They speak out against sexism
  • They are aware of gender stereotypes and are not constrained by them
  • They mentor and advocate for women
  • They promote women to join men in leadership positions because they know it makes good business sense
  • They intentionally create gender-balanced teams and workplaces for better performance
  • They find creative ways to keep and promote women who take career breaks
  • They are prepared to step off the career ladder and take the lead in parenting
  • They want to be included in the conversation about gender equity
  • They are cool, 21st century men who want women to be themselves and bring something additive and different to the table.

Based on these criteria I asked women to nominate suitable candidates for interview. I wanted to discover how and why these men supported women, and how we might encourage more men to do the same.

The men I’ve interviewed to date are aged between 26 and 80 years old, from varied professions and from different countries, including the UK, Sweden, Australia, Canada, USA, Switzerland and Dubai.

Here are some revelations and insights from the interviews so far:

They Do Exist

When my female friends learned about the project many predicted I would have very few nominations (implication – there aren’t many men out there who ‘get it’). In fact, although many women could only think of one or two men in their network who fit some of the criteria, most could nominate someone.


Insight: ‘Men who get it’ do exist, even if they are in the minority, and many want to be supportive and be included in the conversation on gender balance and equality.

They Are Influential And Have Good Ideas

Men are finding creative ways to support women, for example:  Carl Otto in Canada created a measurement tool that shows how women tend to be better investment managers (and as a result has promoted more women than men in his organization); David Solomon in Australia and Eric Shoars in the USA both coach, publish and present on the merits of promoting more women into leadership positions; and Joe Keefe, CEO of Pax World Investments lobbies shareholders on board diversity and women’s empowerment.

Insight: If we include and encourage men who understand the merits of gender-balanced leadership they will find influential ways to join with us and bring about change.


Men Speaking To Men Might Work Better

Some interviewees suggested that men talking to other men could be more influential because “men might be seen as more credible because it is not seen as women pushing their own interests” and “men who are guilty of sexism are the ones less likely to take challenge from strong women.” Spotlighting men who are walking the talk on gender balance, particularly those with high positional authority, could be especially influential with other men.


Insight: we can continue to exclude men and make gender balance a women’s issue. Or, we can intentionally include men who are already on our side and make it an organizational and human issue.


Gender Equality Fatigue Requires A Different Approach

Many men are not against gender-balanced leadership; they are simply passive, “like they are waiting for someone else to do something about it – they feel it’s somehow beyond personal action.” In fact many men (and some women) don’t understand why we are still talking about this at all – hasn’t the issue been solved?

Insight: there is evident fatigue, particularly in the western world, around gender equality. We need to take a different approach if we want to influence change in the near future. Intentionally identifying and collaborating with ‘men who get it’ could provide added impetus for change.


Values Are As Important As The Business Case

Most of the men interviewed were motivated to action more by their personal values than by the business case for more women leaders. It wasn’t that they disbelieved the business case, quite the opposite. But it was personal values such as fairness, tolerance, respect and equality that really compelled these men to act.

Insight: It makes sense to influence change through research and facts. At the same time, let’s not forget that values and emotional engagement are essential components in bringing about change.



In this blog I can’t tell you all of good stories I heard about how and why these men who get it support women. But to give you a taste, here are a few priceless quotes from my interviews:

“In my experience the brightest and most searching minds just happen to have been carrying handbags”

Alex McNabb, Director, Public Relations, Dubai

“I think about gender when I’m recruiting because I don’t want 100% male population” Anders Karlstrom, Founder & co-owner, Leadership in Life Science, Sweden

“I’m a proud feminist”

Bruno Mital, Director General, Nonprofit, Canada

We are leaving half of our best and brightest minds on the sidelines.”

Eric Shoars, Management Consultant, USA

“When I read the list of men who get it qualities I was really interested and inspired to be on it…I thought, that’s really not that hard, it’s really not beyond everyday action.”

Hugh Todd, Executive Coach, Australia

Do you know any men who get it? If you do, why not send them this blog and start a conversation about getting more gender-balance at the top of our organizations. Let’s be intentionally collaborative – after all, isn’t that supposed to be one of our great strengths?

And if you have any positive suggestions about how to further the work of the Men Who Get It Project I will be glad to hear from you. Also, you may visit if you are searching for some tips and advice on how to boost and increase sales through marketing technique.

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Authenticity: How Women Leaders Can Be True To Themselves

First published in The Glass Hammer 22 March 2010

It seems obvious to many of us that a diverse group of men and women leaders are more likely to be creative and make better decisions than a homogenous group of men.

If we manage to achieve gender-balanced leadership in our organizations we will, however, only reap the rewards if women leaders are able to be true to themselves. If women have to behave like men to succeed, the benefits of gender diversity remain unrealized and we might as well not bother.

But can women leaders really be authentically themselves within the structure of our current male leadership model, or must they conform to traditional male leadership values and behaviors in order to progress their careers?

Authenticity in this context refers to our capacity to align our behavior with our core values; to know what is most important to us and act accordingly. Most would agree that this is a quality fundamental to all good leaders.

Classic Dilemmas

The question of being true to yourself within any organizational culture is one to be wrestled with by all leaders, male and female. For women the unwritten rules of leadership within today’s organizations create conflicts in values that result in classic dilemmas.


I value my career and I value family I want children and I need to stay on track to be a leader
I value my career and I value my family I want to be with my family and I need to be physically present at work for long hours
I value my career and I value my family I want stability for my family and I need to be geographically mobile to take advantage of career opportunities
I value good relationships and being liked I need to be tough, strong and assertive and I need to be warm, caring and collaborative
I value being judged by my results I want my work to speak for itself and I need to promote myself
I value being rewarded on merit rather than who I know I want my work to speak for itself and I need to network and influence people to get ahead
I value being true to myself and I value being a leader I want to behave in alignment with my values and I need to conform to the unwritten rules of the male leadership model

What is distressing or painful about a dilemma is having to make a choice we don’t want to make, particularly when that choice involves a values conflict. These conflicts certainly account for some of the angst I encounter when coaching women leaders in traditional organizations.

This seems like an impossible situation. How can women achieve positions of  leadership within the structure of a male leadership model and at the same time live in alignment with their values and be true to themselves?

There is no easy answer, but from experience I know that understanding your hierarchy of values in any given situation will help you to retain your authenticity and make choices that enable you to stay true to yourself.

Choice and values

Our core values tend to stay pretty consistent for all of our lives. They are part of who we are, what we believe in, the assumptions we make and they inform how we behave. In any given situation we may find that we have more than one of our values in play and that we have to make a choice about how to behave.

For example, my good friend models the dress she has bought for a function we are attending that evening and asks me if I like it. I don’t particularly like the dress and I am confronted with a choice between two of my values: kindness and honesty. If I am true to my value of kindness I will tell her that I like the dress because there is no time to change it and I don’t want to risk spoiling her evening; or I can be true to my value of honesty and tell her I don’t like the dress. What do I do?

The answer is that I have to decide my hierarchy of values in this specific situation. I need to decide in the moment if honesty is more important to me than kindness, or if kindness is more important to me than honesty. It’s not that I am changing my values –  both are still important. But in any situation where my values are in conflict I need to decide which value is senior right now. My values stay the same, but the hierarchy or what is most important will change in different situations and at different times of my life.

At work, we are confronted with value conflicts every day and it helps to be conscious of  the fact that we always have a choice.

Situation Values Conflict Potential Choices

To progress my career I need to take an oversees appointment but my family refuses to move I value being with my family and I value career progression At this time in my life and my career what is more important to me: more time with my family or progressing my career?
To improve my prospects for promotion I need to build relationships with the right people in my organization but I would rather spend the time just doing a good job I value progressing my career and I value doing my best in my current role Is it more important in this organization and at this point in my career to devote all of my time to my current role, or to take some of my time to building important relationships?
I want to exercise so that I am fit and healthy but my job and my family take all of my time I value my health and I value my job and my family Will I put my job and my family before my health and fitness; or is my health important enough to take some time to exercise regularly?
I am naturally a collaborative and inclusive leader, but to get ahead in my organization I need to be more competitive and assertive I value being collaborative and inclusive and I value becoming a leader in this company Do I learn to become more competitive and assertive or do I try to find a different environment in which to express my leadership potential?
I prefer to be understated and let my work speak for itself, but the people who get ahead around here seem to be good at self-promotion I value modesty and I value getting promoted Do I learn how to promote myself or do I remain modest and hope for the best?

Aspiring to become a leader in traditional organizations within the structure of a male leadership model creates a certain inevitability that you will frequently be confronted with choices such as these.

If you want to stay true to yourself as a leader and as a woman, the important point is to recognize that you always have a choice. The choice might be a difficult one, but if you know what you stand for and make your choices based on your hierarchy of values in any given situation, you are more likely to be a successful leader. And the world needs more successful women leaders!

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The “Men Who Get It” Project

First published in The Glass Hammer 11 January 2011

Since publishing Unwritten Rules, I’ve worked with others to try to get more women in positions of senior leadership.

Basically all change efforts boil down to the same thing – can we get people to behave differently.

In this case, can we get shareholders to appoint more women to their boards?

Can we get CEO’s to create gender-balanced teams to lead their organizations?

Can we get professional services firms to operate differently so that more women stay and make partner?

Can we get political parties to field equal numbers of men and women candidates, and then get journalists and voters to give women a fair chance?

So far, the answer in all cases has been “no” or “rarely”. Women achieving senior levels of leadership still make the news.

Along with countless other women, I will continue to bang my head against these particular brick walls, trying to convince men who hold most of the power at the top of organizations and governments to accept the business case that gender-balanced teams are better for business and governance.

But the uncomfortable reality is that, no matter how many studies indicate that companies with more female senior leaders outperform those with the least in return on equity, return on sales and return on invested capital – the guys at the top aren’t buying it.

No matter how often we state the case that women and men working together are likely to make better and less risky governance decisions, we still see predominantly male governments and boards.

In 2011, let’s plan to take a different approach in our quest for gender-balanced leadership.


Bright Spots


In their book, Switch: How To Change Things When Change Is Hard, Chip and Dan Heath talk about the importance of finding and using “bright spots” to bring about change.

A “bright spot” is where the change you want is already working. If we want to effect change it makes sense to search out the bright spots, find out why they are successful, spread the good news and attract others to want to join it or clone it.

It’s about creating or highlighting positive results that others then want to be a part of.


Men Who Get It


So where are our bright spots in gender-balanced leadership?

There are men who don’t just talk about believing in women – they challenge their own gender stereotypes by taking action to support, advocate and promote women.

They are the new role models for 21st century men and we would do well to engage them in our conversations about how to achieve gender-balance in our organizations and governments.

In finding and highlighting these bright spots we might be able to attract other men to be curious and perhaps even to join them.

So how do you spot a “man who gets it”?

“Men who get it” share some of the following characteristics and actions:

  • They are full life partners, playing an equal role in parenting and the home
  • They speak out against sexism
  • They are aware of gender stereotypes and are not constrained by them
  • They mentor and advocate for women
  • They promote women to join men in leadership positions because they know it makes good business sense
  • They intentionally create gender-balanced teams and workplaces for better performance
  • They find creative ways to keep and promote women who take career breaks
  • They are prepared to step off the career ladder and take the lead in parenting
  • They want to be included in the conversation about gender equity
  • They are cool, 21st century men who want women to be themselves and bring something additive and different to the table.


The “Men Who Get It” Project


In 2011 I will interview “men who get it” to find out how and why they support and advocate for women, both inside and outside the workplace – in fact, I have already started.

I’ve interviewed Anders Karlstrom, a senior leader in the pharmaceutical industry in Sweden, who sees maternity leave as no barrier to recruiting and retaining the talented women he needs. He develops long-term working relationships with his women leaders and works with them to plan their career breaks and their re-entry.

I met with Carl Otto, a highly respected, international senior leader in financial services who has consistently recruited and promoted talented women in a traditionally male dominated industry. He also developed a measurement tool that, amongst other things, shows how and why women often make better investment decisions. Even when it comes to ensuring the safety of one’s home, such as considering home security systems, women have as strong an impact as men in the decision making process.

And I spoke with Josh Reiman, a graduate student at George Washington University, who firmly believes that both women and men would gain from increased collaboration. In his article, The Women’s Movement Needs Men he writes: Unfortunately, the women’s movement remains continuously unwilling to bring men into the fold; such concerted effort would transform their cause from one that is largely by and for women into an all-inclusive social movement.


These are three examples of “men who get it”, and there are many more out there, which is where you come in, if you’d like to get involved.



Get Involved – find the bright spots


Do you know any “men who get it” – men who live some of the ten characteristics listed above? If so, please send them this article and ask if they are willing to be interviewed. If you have a good candidate who is wiling to tell me his story, please e-mail me at

I’m convinced we can make great strides to achieve gender-balanced leadership, and I think we’ll achieve it much faster if we include rather than exclude men who are already our allies.

After all, isn’t a collaborative approach one of our great strengths as women? Let’s use this strength to accelerate the changes we want. I look forward to hearing from you.





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Women Are Not A Diversity Issue

Since I researched and published Unwritten Rules, I have become intrigued that the issue of women and leadership most often falls in the category of “diversity and inclusion.”

Why is that women are considered a “diversity” when they constitute 60% of university graduates in Europe and North America?

How do women come to be considered a “minority” when they now make the majority of spending decisions and  control about $20 trillion in consumer purchasing each year?

It’s time we changed our mind-set and stopped buying the “women are a diversity” propaganda. And it’s time that companies explained why their supposed meritocratic promotion systems continue to promote more men than women.

Rethink the business case

Despite a strong business case promoting the advantages of more women on boards of directors and executive teams, we’ve made very little progress towards gender balance at the top of organizations.

Current numbers of women on executive committees are 15% in the USA, 7% in Europe and only 3% in Asia.

Although studies show that women bring different and additive strategic viewpoints to men; and show a strong correlation between more women at the top and better financial performance – senior male leaders and shareholders don’t seem to believe it.

Instead, women are relegated to often patronizing “diversity and inclusion” initiatives that take a “fix the women” approach and do little to promote gender-balanced leadership where it really counts – on boards and executive teams.

4 actions we can take right now

  1. Change our orientation and stop thinking of ourselves as a “diversity” or a “minority.” There is nothing “diverse” about being a woman and in many cases, such as university degrees and buying power, we are the majority.
  2. Include men in the conversation – especially major shareholders, executives and board members – about why they continue to favor men, despite the business case for gender-balanced leadership. If we think we can achieve change without engaging men who hold most of the power, we are fooling ourselves.
  3. Influence organizations that gender balanced leadership needs to be a strategic business issue. If it remains a diversity issue or a women’s issue it is unlikely to result in more women at the top. Like all organizational change initiatives, unless it is part of a strong business case that’s led by the senior team, it’s likely to fail.
  4. Stop taking a “fix the women” approach and start looking at how we fix our organizations. Successful 21st century organizations will be those that can attract, promote and retain talented women leaders; and reap the benefits of men and women working together in gender balanced teams.

Women are not a “diversity” and so let’s stop acting like one.

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Fastest Way To Gender-Balanced Leadership – Appoint A Woman CEO

First published in The Glass Hammer September 2010

Corporations are now as powerful, or sometimes more powerful, than governments. It therefore matters a lot who sits on their boards and executive teams.  These are the people who set strategy and make decisions that affect all of our lives.

Some of these companies are smart enough to understand the importance and the competitive advantage of gender-balanced leadership. Men and women working together, using complimentary thinking and behaviors to understand customers, innovate, prevent groupthink and limit risk. Achieving gender balance also doubles the talent pool from which to draw our most talented leaders.

But many organizations, even those that set the strategic imperative to appoint more women leaders, struggle to make it happen.


Well-intentioned, but failed initiatives

For several years we’ve seen well motivated, but largely unsuccessful attempts to achieve more gender balance at the top.

Hiring more women to “fill the pipeline” doesn’t work if the numbers of women drastically reduce as we move up the organization (which is the case in most companies).

Retention strategies are ineffective if we fail to understand and address the real reasons why talented women leave and don’t return.

Women’s networks often have little impact because they are not part of a wider, more comprehensive strategy.

Senior men mentoring talented women should be effective, but often disappoints. Mentorship isn’t enough on its own. Women, like their male counterparts, need sponsorship for senior leadership positions – that’s the way it works in large organizations.

Training workshops for women leaders can be helpful, but often fail to have any significant impact on the numbers of women making it to the executive suite for three key reasons:

First, they are often stand-alone and are not part of a wider, strategic initiative.

Second, a “fix the women” approach usually tries to get women to conform to traditional, male leadership behaviors (totally missing the opportunity of women bringing something different and complimentary).

And third, they exclude men – it’s naive to imagine that we can effect change without involving men who usually make up 70 -100% of the current leadership.

All of these initiatives are well intentioned, but usually fail in their objective to achieve gender-balanced leadership.

So what’s the answer?

Perhaps the fastest solution is the simplest one – appoint a woman CEO.



In 2009, Avivah Wittenberg-Cox launched the WOMENOMICS 101 Survey. It highlights that the core metric that determines if an organization will achieve gender-balanced leadership is the balance of men and women on the Executive Committee.

In her survey she demonstrates that companies that achieve a gender-balance of senior leaders also achieve gender-balanced leadership pipelines. More women senior leaders results in more women leading throughout the organization.

Even more interesting, the 2009 survey highlights that companies with a woman CEO achieved some of the most gender-balanced leadership teams in the world. It compares 12 companies headed by progressive, male CEO’s – men who expressed strong support for promoting women to senior positions, with 12 companies run by women.

Three of the 12 male-run companies (J Sainsbury, Sodexo and National Grid) achieved the magic figure of three women on their Boards (the critical mass that has been shown to significantly impact decision-making at the top). But nine of the 12 had either a token woman executive or none at all. Only one company (J Sainsbury) had three women on its Executive Committee.

Compare this with the organizations led by women CEO’s (Wellpoint, Archer Daniels Midland, Sunoco, Pepsico, Kraft Foods, TJX Companies, Rite Aid, Xerox, Sara Lee, Avon, Reynolds American and Western Union Holdings). Eleven of the 12 had at least three women on the Board and many of them had more. Nine of the 12 had between three and eight women on their Executive Committee.

Most male CEO’s seem to find it hard to develop a culture that attracts, promotes and retains senior women leaders. The female CEO’s in this survey don’t seem to share this problem.

And so perhaps the simplest and fasted solution to achieving gender-balance at the top of organizations is to appoint more women CEO’s. I wonder what the men think about that idea?

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More Women Leaders – Time For A Different Approach

First published in The Glass Hammer July 7, 2010

One definition of insanity is to do the same thing again and again and expect a different result.

If we want more women in senior leadership positions we need to take a different approach. The current one isn’t working.

We’ve repeatedly called on Board Directors and C-suite executives to act on the strong business case for appointing more female colleagues, with minimal impact.

The 2009 Catalyst Census of Fortune 500 Women Board Directors revealed that less than one fifth of companies have three or more women on their boards, and more than 40 percent have no women directors whatsoever.

At the last count, women comprised only 15.2 and 13.5 percent of board directors and corporate officers respectively in Fortune 500 companies.

The United States is not alone in its boys club mentality.

Canada’s Financial Post 500 companies have only 14 percent female board directors, and 16.9 percent corporate officers.

Similarly, women hold only 9.7 percent board positions in Europe’s top 300 companies.

Research shows companies with at least three female board members, and more women in senior leadership roles, produce stronger-than average financial and organizational results. But the boys at the top just aren’t buying it.

It’s time to stop banging our heads against the same brick wall and instead, think more broadly about where we might influence change.

Mobilize shareholders

One fairly untapped area of influence is shareholders of publicly quoted companies. These people, whether they be individual investors, or fund managers, have the right to demand the best possible management of the organizations in which they invest.

Are shareholders aware that companies with three or more women on their board have stronger organizational performance and healthier bottom line results?

Do they know that a 2007 Catalyst report, The Bottom Line: Corporate Performance and Women’s Representation on Boards, shows companies with more female board members outperform those with the least on:

  • Return on equity (by 53%)
  • Return on sales (by 42%)
  • Return on invested capital (by 66%)

Might they be interested in research done by Professor Michel Ferrary (CERAM Business School, France) in 2009, showing companies with a higher ratio of women in management coped more successfully with the global financial crisis?

Ferrary’s study looked at 32 major companies in the CAC40, comparing the ranks of female managers to the performance of the company. Firms with high ranks of women managers all performed better than the CAC40 average.

Boards fail to take corrective action

Boards of directors are legally responsible to choose management teams and chief officers, oversee their performance and generally act prudently to increase share value.

If gender-balanced leadership is good for business (and it seems increasingly likely that it is), then directors should recruit more women to the boardroom, and ensure that CEOs have gender diverse senior management teams.

But are they? The short answer is no.

The good news is, we can do something about it.

Forward an open letter to every shareholder you know

I have a vision of shareholders demanding from their directors at least 40% women leaders on their boards and in their senior management teams.

To that end, I have written an Open Letter to Shareholders. It makes a strong case for gender balanced leadership at the top of the companies in which shareholders invest.

Read the letter. If you like it, please forward it to all the shareholders you know (and remember, if you invest in a pension you are a shareholder.)

Let’s join forces, take action, try a different approach and help create better leadership and better organizations.


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20 Reasons Why We Still Need The “F” Word

In our privileged world “Feminism” has become a dirty word. For most western young women, to be called a Feminist is an insult.

My son and his girlfriends associate Feminism with anti-men and women who wear unattractive clothes. To them the “F” word is, at best, dated and no longer relevant.

If we could perhaps change the name, I’m told, Feminism might become more palatable.

I don’t really care what it’s called.

What I do care about is that the job of Feminism is far from done. In fact, there are many urgent reasons why we need Feminism now, more than ever.

Here are 20 of them:

  1. Approximately once every ten seconds, a girl somewhere in the world is pinned down. Her legs are pulled apart, and a local woman with no medical training uses a knife or razor blade to slice off some or all of the girl’s genitals. In most cases, without anesthetic.
  2. Of the estimated 300,000 child soldiers around the world, about 40% are girls and most are sexually abused.
  3. An estimated one hundred million girls worldwide are involved in child labor.
  4. More than 900 million girls and women are living on less than a dollar a day.
  5. More girls have been killed in the last 50 years, precisely because they were girls, than men were killed in all the battles of the twentieth century. (Read this one again to make sure you really got it.)
  6. Female infanticide persists in many countries, and often it is mothers who kill their own daughters.
  7. One American-sponsored abstinence-only approach to controlling the spread of AIDS, consists of handing out heart-shaped lollipops inscribed with the message: DON’T BE A SUCKER! SAVE SEX FOR MARRIAGE. Then the session leader invites girls to suck on the lollipops and explains:  “Your body is a wrapped lollipop. When you have sex with a man, he unwraps your lollipop and sucks on it. It may feel great at the time, but, unfortunately, when he’s done with you, all you have left for your next partner is a poorly wrapped, saliva-fouled sucker.”
  8. Approximately 730,000 American teenage girls will get pregnant this year.
  9. When a group of girls were interviewed on 20/20, ABC’s primetime news magazine, and asked if they’d rather be fat or lose an arm, they unanimously answered that they’d rather lose an arm.
  10. The mortality rate associated with anorexia nervosa is twelve times as high as the death rate of all causes of death for American females aged fifteen to twenty-four.
  11. Far more women and girls are sold into brothels each year in the early twenty-first century than African slaves were sold into slave plantations each year in the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries.
  12. Approximately one third of women worldwide face beatings in the home. Women aged fifteen through forty four are more likely to be maimed or die from male violence than from cancer, malaria, traffic accidents, and war combined.
  13. A major study by the World Health Organization found that in most countries, between 30% and 60% of women had experienced physical or sexual violence by a husband or boyfriend.
  14. Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz, a leading religious authority in Saudi Arabia, declared in 2004: “Allowing women to mix with men is the root of every evil and catastrophe.”
  15. It is increasingly common for men in South Asia to hurl sulfuric acid into the faces of girls or women who have rejected them. The acid melts the skin and sometimes the bones underneath; when it strikes the eyes, the women are blinded.
  16. In South Africa, rape has become so endemic, that some women protect themselves by inserting a device called a Rapex. It’s a tube, with barbs inside. The woman inserts it like a tampon and any man who tries to rape her impales himself on the barbs and must go to an emergency room to have the Rapex removed.
  17. In 2008 the United Nations formally declared rape a “weapon of war.”  In one of its reports it claimed that in parts of Liberia during the civil war, 90% of girls and women over the age of three were sexually abused. Major General Patrick Cammaert, a former UN force commander, said: “It has probably become more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier in an armed conflict.”
  18. 122 million women around the world want contraception and can’t get it. Up to 40% of all pregnancies globally are unplanned or unwanted – and almost half of those result in induced abortions.
  19. The equivalent of five jumbo jets’ worth of women die in labor each day. The World Health Organization estimates that 536,000 women perished in pregnancy or childbirth in 2005, a toll that has hardly changed in 30 years.
  20. It would take an estimated $9 billion a year to provide all effective interventions for maternal and newborn health to 95% of the world’s population. In contrast, the world spends $40 billion per year on dog food.

Stand up and be counted

It’s not sexy to be a feminist; it never has been. You won’t be the most popular girl in the room if you have the courage to use the “F” word.

But Feminism, and what it stands for, is needed as much now as it was a hundred years ago when women fought for the right to vote.

In my work, I have the relative luxury of addressing such inequalities as 88% of all board appointments in the world’s 200 largest companies are still held by men.

From the safe confines of my Montreal office I can rant about the fact that Rwanda has 56.3% women in parliament, but Canada and UK have only 22% and the U.S. only 16.8%.

Of course we must continue to support women who want to lead governments and organizations – we still have our own battles to fight.

But even more important, we need to support our sisters worldwide who are fighting for their lives and their fundamental human rights.

5 things you can do right now:

  1. Start the discussion – forward this article and argue about it with others (women and men).
  2. Read “Half The Sky. Turning Oppression Into Opportunity For Women Worldwide” by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. When you’ve recovered from the shock of what you’ve read – get angry about it.
  3. Be inspired by watching Isabel Allende’s passionate TED talk
  4. Support women survivors of war and help them to rebuild their communities through Women for Women International.
  5. If you think the term “Feminism” is working against rather than for us – think of a new name and send it to me by commenting on this blog page. Or post comments and suggestions on Unwritten Rules-The Book facebook page.

Information in this blog courtesy of:

Half The Sky. Turning oppression into opportunity for women worldwide by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

I Am An Emotional Creature. The Secret Life Of Girls Around The World by Eve Ensler

Corporate Women Directors International 2010 Report: Women Board Directors of the 2009 Fortune Global 200.

Women in National Parliaments: World Classification

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Gender Stereotypes- Not Just A Woman’s Issue

Not enough women in senior leadership roles is often blamed on gender stereotyping.

Gender stereotypes are widely shared views on what is considered appropriate and effective behavior for men and women.

To “fit in” and be socially accepted, men are told explicitly and implicitly to be:

  • Primary breadwinners
  • Emotionally and physically tough
  • Competitive
  • Decisive
  • Assertive

Men know they need to avoid all things feminine or be labeled a “wimp” or a “sissy.”

Masculine stereotypical behavior fits nicely with our current “macho” leadership model. Senior leaders are expected to be tough, competitive, decisive and assertive.

If men conform to their gender stereotype they are clearly good leadership material.

Women, on the other hand, are expected to be:

  • Secondary breadwinners
  • Emotionally fragile
  • Collaborative
  • Likable
  • Receptive

Women have to tone down their assertive behavior or be labeled a “bully broad” or “dragon lady,” (or much worse names).

Female stereotypes clearly don’t fit with the “macho” model of leadership. They are one factor that hinder women who want to lead.

If we meet expectations about how we are supposed to behave as women, we are seen as unsuitable leadership material, as we would only want to sit with a pillow for sitting up in bed all day.

If we conform to stereotypical leadership behaviors, we are seen as “unfeminine” and unlikeable.

It’s a tough line to walk.

Not just a woman’s burden


In our efforts to overcome gender bias and promote more women leaders,  we’ve focused on gender stereotyping as a woman’s burden.

In reality, however, men also suffer its unwanted consequences.

Many men don’t want the pressure of being the primary breadwinner and suffer under the psychological pressure of this expectation (although, of course, it would be “unmanly” to admit this).

Many men strive to live up to masculine norms and prioritize career advancement over relationships with their  family, spouse and friends. This can leave them with poor work/life balance and no-where to turn in times of stress.

Asking for help is generally seen as a weakness in men because they are expected to be tough, decisive and in control. This limits mens ability to acknowledge and seek help for problems such as depression, anxiety and illness.

In reality, therefore, gender stereotypes burden both men and women.


Accelerating Change


If we want to see women equally represented at the top of organizations we need to stop positioning gender as a woman’s issue.

Instead, we need to find ways to help women and men work together as allies to change the behavioral norms that hinder both sexes.

In their report, Engaging Men In Gender Initiatives, Catalyst found that “the higher men’s awareness of gender bias, the more likely they are to feel that it was important to achieve gender equality.”

In other words, if men experience gender norms as a hinderance or barrier in their own lives, they are more likely to understand the problems they cause for women operating within a male leadership structure.

Catalyst recommends that we “help men recognize the personal costs they suffer due to gender bias…People are more likely to judge a situation as unfair if they are personally disadvantaged by it…When men recognize that gender disparities cost men – not just women – they will be more motivated to correct them.”


If we look at a potential cost/benefit analysis of gender bias and gender equity for men, it might look something like this:

Cost to men of gender inequity

Benefits to men of gender equality

Pressure to bear the primary financial responsibility for one’s household

Freedom to share financial responsibilities with one’s spouse

More distant relationships with spouse or partner

More rewarding and intimate relationships with spouse or partner

More distant relationships with children

Freedom to parent more substantively; more rewarding relationships with children

Pressure to acquire status and compete with men

Freedom to define oneself according to one’s own values rather than traditional gender norms

Poor psychological and physical well-being

Better psychological and physical health

Table from Catalyst report: Engaging Men In Gender Initiatives


If we want to accelerate change for both women and men, it’s time to look at the issue of gender stereotypes holistically, and not just from a woman’s perspective.

Before men can support women breaking female stereotypes and achieving positions of power, they must first be convinced there is something wrong with the status quo for both sexes.

What do you think?

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Women’s Networks Not Enough – Get a Sponsor!

There’s no doubt that female networks connect women, nourish career advancement, provide learning opportunities, boost confidence and generally provide much needed support and encouragement.

But then what?

We need more women in positions of senior leadership to work collaboratively with men, influence strategy and make important decisions. Networking with other women isn’t enough to achieve this.

What works in some companies is matching high potential women employees with  sponsors in senior level positions.

A sponsor is more than a mentor. Sponsors make introductions to the right people, facilitate career moves and guide you through the unwritten rules of organizational life.

According to research by the Center for Work-Life Policy as part of their “On-Ramps and Off-Ramps Revisited” study (to be published in the June Harvard Business Review), 89 percent of highly qualified women don’t have a sponsor and 68 percent lack mentors.

If you are serious about breaking through into the senior ranks of your organization you would be smart to continue building your networks, but also cultivate a sponsor.

To get a sponsor, you either need to take matters into your own hands and establish a sponsor relationship with a senior executive in your organization;  or influence your company to become a “matchmaker” and pair senior executives with high potential women as part of your talent management system.

Some forward thinking companies are already taking steps to facilitate this type of sponsor relationship.

American Express has created “Women in the Pipeline and at the Top.” With full support from CEO Ken Chenault, the program aims to identify and develop women with the potential to reach the top two levels and give them more opportunities to interact and get exposure to the executive team.

Deloitte’s “Leading to WIN” program, prepares high-potential women for leadership positions over the course of 18 months. In addition to one-on-one coaching, participants attend leadership meetings to give them direct exposure to executives and potential sponsors.

Cisco’s “Inclusive Advocacy Program”, pairs the company’s highest potential diverse talent — both men and women — with a VP or SVP “advocate” in a different function and different geography over a nine-month period.

What is your organization doing to promote this type of strategic matchmaking? How can you develop sponsor relationships and get the exposure you need to break through to the top? I’d love to hear your comments.

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Men Who Get It

Since Unwritten Rules was published earlier this year I have been speaking at conferences, corporations and on panels. All of these events have had one thing in common – the audience has been almost exclusively women.

Given the book provides pragmatic professional development for women leaders, this isn’t surprising. But to achieve gender balanced leadership in organizations I believe we need to engage more men in the conversation.

As Ilene Lang, CEO of Catalyst, says:

“before individuals will support efforts to right an inequality they must first recognize that the inequality exists.”

Therefore, before men can support gender diversity at the top of organizations, they must get that there are inequalities inherent in the system.

Most men either aren’t interested or don’t get it.

But some men do get it and we would be wise to recognize and leverage them as allies.

Jeff Joerres, Chairman, CEO and President of Manpower Inc. believes in diversity, and as a result a large percentage of his executive and board members are women, including a 40 percent female executive team.

“We now have so many key positions that are filled by women that I no longer think of it as diversity,” he says. “It’s become a part of what we are as a company … The presence of women in leadership roles has significantly affected our financial performance. More than 70 percent of Manpower’s total revenues are generated by women.”

John Rogers, Chairman, CEO and Chief Investment Officer of Ariel Investments is also an advocate of women leaders:

“Of the top four officers at Ariel Investments, two are very strong women. Both are outspoken, and rightly so, as they have a knack for challenging ideas and bringing more to the table. This sets a tone for the company – it makes it OK to say what you think. The vibrant openness of these women is a great example of the firm’s leadership and sends the message to other women in the company that great leadership is not limited by gender.”

Don Fry, President and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee, agrees:

“Until I became involved … there was a legacy of mostly male leaders. When I became president in 2002, I made a deliberate attempt to find women CEO’s because it’s critically important to have a strong leadership team that reflects the community in which we serve. Having women in a company’s senior leadership ranks brings a new perspective to the decision-making process.”

Jeff Joerres, John Rogers and Don Fry are three men who get it. I think there are many more guys out there who, if we include them in the conversation and encourage their support, will help us create more gender balance at the top of organizations.

What do you think?

(Quotes from the ION report: Guys Who Get It: Business Leaders Who Understand the Value of Diversity at the Top.)

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