Want Your Women’s Initiative to Succeed? Include the Men

August 2, 2019

Women’s leadership initiative

Are you getting pushback from men in your organization about contributing to and championing your internal women’s initiative? Does it seem like a challenge for men to embrace it and contribute?

Meeting the goals of your women’s leadership initiative can depend largely on how much you include the men in your organization. While this may seem like a simple solution, it’s what needs to be done. Invite them to contribute in a meaningful way and be clear on what’s in it for them, the women participating, and your organization’s goals. Communication and inclusivity are key for an effective program.

“Once you actually hear women talk about the challenges that they’re having, that they’re being talked over, that they don’t feel like they’re being heard, you see all the time the lightbulb goes on. [The men] say, ‘Oh my gosh, I didn’t know that I was doing that,’” said Lauren McNally, director of American Management Association’s Women’s Leadership Center (WLC), during a special event held July 31 at AMA.

McNally, along with Tammy Swed, an AMA learning solutions manager, and Tonya Echols, an executive coach and leadership consultant for Vigere, made up a panel discussing best practices in starting or improving a women’s leadership initiative.

Engaging men in a women’s leadership initiative

Panelists offered several suggestions for getting men in your company on board with your women’s program:

Start at the top. Include senior-level male managers from different business units, which will make it obvious that this is a company-wide initiative, McNally said. Have them or their department involved on an event-planning level, or as a sponsor or host of an event.

Invite men to participate in events and workshops. “Not all of them,” McNally clarified. “We do believe women still need that safe space…but have them participate. They have their ‘aha moments’ all the time within those workshops and events.”

Clarify the importance of your activities. “If you decide to have an activity, explain to the managers and leadership why you’re doing that,” Swed said. “How does it align with the organization’s goal? How does it support it?”

“It’s proven that companies with more diverse leadership teams are more successful,” McNally added. A lack of diversity also affects your ability to hire and keep the most qualified people, and this costs money, she said.

Conduct formal and informal “allies training.” At a major company where WLC is helping establish a women’s program, some of the male leaders in the organization attended a women’s training session on “challenges and solutions,” McNally said. Women in the company, even some on the VP or director level, were talking about some of the issues they face as women there. “By lunch I was speaking with [the male leaders] and they said, ‘Oh my god, I had no idea we had these issues,’” she said. “It was really eye-opening for the men. Now we’re actually doing an allies training there to get more men involved.”

Build and maintain a diverse network. “Finding those women that you can connect with and stay connected with is going to be so, so crucial,” Echols said. But include men in your network, too, especially within your own company, she said. This can help you in multiple ways, including increasing your ability to get funding for training or events.

“Build up your networks; know who the people are across the organization,” Echols said. “Finding your allies is so important. They are part of what will change things.”

“We’re here because we know that women are facing unique challenges in the workplace,” McNally said. Including men in the process will make a difference. “They’re engaged and actually want to be a champion,” she said.

If you are looking to engage men in your initiative, or even begin an inclusive program—let’s see how we can partner to achieve your goals. Email us at or call us at 877.566.9441 to connect with our Women’s Leadership Center.

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About The Author

Jan Arzooman is a proofreader, copyeditor, and writer in AMA’s creative services/marketing department. She has worked in editorial for more than 20 years. Arzooman also is a visual artist.

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