I recently had the pleasure of serving on a panel of executive women at a recent conference of the Telecommunications Industry Association held in Dallas. The purpose of the panel was to discuss the need for greater gender diversity and gender equality in the telecom industry and the panel took place as part of the closing event of the conference with both men and women present. The discussions centered around three primary topics:

• The need for more female STEM graduates to fill the talent shortage
• The need for more women in senior leadership positions
• The difficulty many tech companies are facing in retaining their female talent

A question and answer period began after the initial panel discussion and one of the men in the audience tactfully but pointedly made the observation that it was a great conversation, but only women were on the panel. And while women may know firsthand the challenges, our conversation should be engaging the men we work with if we are to see greater progress in gender equality.  He’s right!

Real change will require engagement from all parties and men will need to fully embrace the benefits that women leaders bring to an organization.

I’ve seen several articles on this topic recently. Dr. Anne Litwin wrote a recent article and stated “gender equity is not a ‘women’s problem,’ it’s a society problem.” The benefits are well documented, with multiple studies showing the link between improved financial performance and balanced gender diversity in the senior management ranks. In fact, some of the major financial houses have developed entire investment strategies around women led and gender diverse companies because the statistics are compelling.

Deloitte has recently made a major change to shift from internal “women and minority” groups to “inclusion” groups with the specific aim to pull men into the diversity conversation. It’s also of note that some of our best advocates are men who have daughters and want to ensure a world in which their daughters have the same opportunities as their sons.

It was further brought home to me in a recent conversation with my husband. Here is a man who has been my greatest champion throughout my career and a vocal advocate and supporter as he’s helped to raise a son with a high level of awareness around the issue. However, in this recent conversation we were on opposite sides of a news story where I was supporting the “woman’s” side and he the “man’s”. Suddenly he paused, was quiet for a moment, and then said “I really hadn’t considered that perspective or seen it quite in that light. That’s made me rethink the issue a bit”.

This brings home the fact that even male advocates can’t have the direct experience we have as women and only in open dialogue can they fully appreciate and become the supporters we need.

This doesn’t mean that “women only” events and opportunities such as EWF Executive and Owner Peer Advisory Forums are no longer relevant. They certainly are and the trusted relationships and networks built in EWF communities have paid untold dividends for those who participate. It simply means we have to extend the dialogue to be inclusive of men and encourage mentorship, advocacy and sponsorship of women’s initiatives.