• Sheryl O'Loughlin

Who Needs to Be Responsible for More Women in Leadership? Men.

Updated: Sep 8, 2019

Before I joined Clif Bar and Company in 1998, I met with co-founder Gary Erickson. I also met with his four-year-old daughter, who was perched on his lap at the time. It was then that I knew I wanted to work at Clif and, more importantly, work for Gary. Having a boss who demonstrably valued his family would mean that I’d also be able to have a personal life without the risk of being seen as “distracted” by my duties of motherhood. And by witnessing how Gary treated his daughter—with love and patience—I suspected that he would likely take good care of his employees too.

Clif is an innovative company with an innovative culture built by innovative leaders. I believe that this is why, when Gary saw me, he saw me—my potential, my skillset, my dedication. I became CEO of Clif Bar and Company, and I’ve been a CEO ever since. I take responsibility for my accomplishments as well as credit the many people whose sponsorship helped me to get a seat at the table. My husband, Patrick, gets a ton of credit too—without his being as fully invested in taking care of our family as I was, I would not have been able to work the hours I did.

Men, women, and gender-nonbinary individuals all rise to the top in the same way: they have someone above them who champions their cause. So why is it so much harder for women and those from marginalized communities to make it? It’s not because there are fewer of them around; in fact, more women go to college than men. Rather, it’s because fewer men in positions of power advocate for their female peers and employees. And since the vast majority of positions of power are occupied by men, especially white men, this means that women, regardless of how brilliant, talented, and hardworking they are, are much more likely to get passed over.

Women, the work we do every day is phenomenal—at the office and at home. Studies show that, though women start their businesses with six times less capital than their male counterparts, women CEOS outperform peers three to one on equity returns in the S&P 500. Companies with more the highest representation of women in leadership experience better financial performance, and companies with the most equity and racial diversity in management were 35% more likely to have financial returns above their industry mean.

And yet, confoundingly, the system—e.g. the leadership pipeline and corporate culture—is still not set up to encourage diversity and the profitability that it brings. That’s why we need you, men. It’s up to you to claim the essential role you play in solving our leadership problem. Here are some practical things you can do to get more women into leadership:

1. Pay women and men doing the same job the same wage.

From the bottom to the top, women make less than men for equal work, a phenomenon compounded by race and motherhood. There is a chicken-or-egg element to this problem: the social costs rendered by a woman who tries to negotiate comp packages is higher than those for a man, which puts the onus on her to accept the original terms or risk outright rejection. This means that women tend to have lower salaries than their male peers from the starting line, a discrepancy that is compounded over the course of their lifetimes. And, to drastically simplify a very complex problem, if a man can afford to pay the babysitter to stay the extra hours he needs to take on a last-minute assignment but his female counterpart can’t, he’ll have a better chance of winning the next opportunity, the next promotion, the next raise. So pay your employees fairly—equal work means equal pay—and be transparent about it too.

2. Reexamine your definitions of a leader.

When you think of leader, who do you imagine? Is it someone who looks like the vast majority of leaders you know? Even if you are on board with having women in leadership roles, you might have biases that, if unchecked, can sabotage your efforts. Make sure you’re looking past superficialities to the important traits, like intelligence, stamina, morality, and pragmatism. Ask people to help you with your blind spots and be willing to listen.

3. Get women in the room.

You’d think that, as a makeup company whose primary consumer base is women, Revlon would have a longstanding tradition of female leadership. But this year will be its first with a woman CEO. That seems like a big oversight, for a lot of reasons (I could go into who’s setting the standards for female beauty in this society, but I’ll leave that for another time). The point is, women drive 70-80% of consumer purchasing, yet 95% of business decisions are made by men. If for no other reason than your company’s bottom line, get more women in the room to weigh in on the plans that will determine its future.

4. Live with a woman professional? Then take care of your home.

Men in charge sometimes tout their anti-sexism creds by proclaiming how dedicated they are to their daughters and significant others. Though irrelevant to their professional position, it certainly matters a lot for that beloved significant other. If you and your significant other are equally invested in your careers, but at home she’s taking on 80% of the household management, then you are doing her a disservice. Except for the pregnancy, labor, and breastfeeding, there’s no reason why you can’t do 50% of the work at home. So do your fair share—for the sake of your significant other’s career, and to be a good role model for your children. Your domestic efforts can have global consequences: if she makes it to the top, she’ll be able to pull other women up with her.

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