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Men As Allies: Execs On How To Retain, Support And Promote Women In Workplace

In the first-ever Men As Champions panel at WOTC east 2019, executives discussed the role men can play in supporting women and how a more diverse team can translate to better business outcomes.

 Men Supporting Women

Women lifting up and empowering other women to flourish within their careers is important, but men can also serve as a powerful ally to women when it comes to retaining women at work and helping them rise through the ranks.

In the first-ever Men As Champions panel, executives from Google Cloud, cloud solution provider Cloudreach, IT solution provider Slalom Consulting, and SADA Systems, a cloud-focused solution provider, discussed the role men can play in supporting women and how a more diverse team can translate to better business outcomes and a happier and healthier staff, regardless of gender.

The executives also shared personal stories from their own lives and examples of how and why diversity and inclusion have become a priority for their companies. Here's their perspective and advice on what other executives can do to promote diversity and gender parity within their own firms.

Retaining Women In The Workplace

Tony Safoian, CEO of SADA Systems, has always been surrounded by powerful females, both within his family -- he and his wife have two young daughters and his mother was a co-founder of SADA -- as well as within his company with his colleagues at the Los Angeles-based cloud solution provider firm. But companies still have a long way to go when it comes to making the workplace a comfortable, flexible space for both men and women to thrive in their careers and not have to choose between their personal and professional lives, Safoian said. He recounted the story of his wife having to leave work to stay home with their children when her company wouldn't give her any flexibility in her schedule, but today, she is pursuing a business she's passionate about -- her own fashion line.

"If you're not able to attract and retain women than you are ignoring half the population. It's a necessity that we get much better at this," he said. "Creating a flexible and safe environment and family balance - those attributes are not just good for women. It's going to make entire workplace a better environment for everyone."

Asking And Inviting

Carolee Gearhart, vice president of worldwide channel sales for Google Cloud, credits her father's respect for her mother and how he's always been in her corner as playing a huge role in the person she has become today. Gearhart's husband is a stay at home father and the first time she ever asked her son what he wanted to be when he grew up, he responded; "A dad." If given the chance, many men want to be part of the conversation in how they can help women succeed, she said.

It's important for companies and leaders -- both male and female leaders -- to push for inclusion at the recruitment level, Gearhart said.

"There's been a number of times I have a job post up and I can think of folks that would be great for it that don’t reply," she said. "Some of us need a little bit more encouragement and there are things we can all do -- it's not just a gender thing. The more we do to make folks comfortable -- ask and invite -- you will have a better business outcome we'll do better with diverse people at the table."

Empathy As A Necessity

Aaron Painter, CEO of Cloudreach, has spent most of his career working abroad in countries such as Beijing, Brazil, France and Hong Kong. He felt that he had to work extra hard to make sure his opinions were heard -- an experience in which many women, especially in IT careers, can relate, he said. For Painter, developing a high sense of empathy and embracing diversity have helped him in his career.

"You shouldn't need personal experience to have empathy," he told the audience. "With diversity, business benefits are better, but diverse teams take longer to gel. You might not move as fast right away, but you will move farther. It takes a little longer and managers might be afraid of that so many hire people that look and sound like them.”

Not only pursuing diversity, but then following up by checking in and measure your diversity strategy to make sure it's effective is crucial, Painter said.

Make A Diversity Plan

Chris McGrath, regional general manager, Northeast, for Slalom Consulting, is serving as the executive sponsor for the New York Inclusion and Diversity Council for the solution provider, a group dedicated to fostering the company’s goals of building a more diverse workforce. But when McGrath joined the company in 2011, diversity wasn't a top priority. It took a senior executive from a partner organization to come into a meeting and call the executives in the boardroom on the carpet for having only one or two women included a meeting of 50 people, he recalled. The company was embarrassed by that, but knew they needed to do better because adding more women and diverse talent was key for developing a sustainable business, he said.

For other companies getting started with their diversity strategies, it's important to first make a plan, McGrath said.

"Just asking about diversity is really important but make sure you do the work before you do ask. If you think there's an opportunity to build an inclusion and diversity strategy or training around unconscious bias -- come with a proposal. McGrath said. "We still have a long way to go, but our goal is to have gender parity."

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