Calling All Manbassadors

Better Gender Diversity Requires More Male Sponsors

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I first heard the term "manbassador" at the 3% Conference a few years back.

And it resonated with me.

Manbassadors are men who are particularly tuned in to the roadblocks women face in business and do all they can to mentor, encourage and promote women in the workplace. In essence, they're sponsors.

There's a very important conversation going on right now about gender diversity and respect (or sometimes lack thereof) of women by men in our industry. But in the midst of this discussion, I want to acknowledge the men who elegantly served as manbassadors long before the term was coined and who played instrumental roles in the careers of women like me. And perhaps more importantly, I'd like to ask more men to step up and carry the manbassador torch for the aspiring female leaders of tomorrow.

Several weeks ago, I was named president of The Martin Agency. I've worked at this great company for 33 years and it's a wonderful honor to be named president. And yes, it's even more wonderful to be the first female president.

So, a moment like that naturally spurs a great deal of personal reflection. As I thought about what I might want to say to our staff following the announcement of my new role, I reflected on the most influential people in my career.

That's when it struck me. They were all men. And of course they were, because early in my career there simply weren't very many women in leadership positions in our industry.

Here are three lessons I learned from my "manbassadors:"

1. Have a presence. From the way you prepare for meetings to how you carry yourself, engage with a room full of people and speak your mind, work to have a presence in every interaction with co-workers and clients. This is one of the fastest ways to go from being bystander to participant to leader. Have an opinion and let your voice be heard.

2. Master and move on. I learned early on the importance of mastering the job or assignment at hand, training someone else to take over and then moving on to another assignment that needed me more. This advice -- go where you're needed and never get bored -- is always in the back of my mind, and explains my winding career path through account management, to creative services and human resources, to chief operating officer and now president.

3. Be confident. Sounds simple, right? We all know it's really not that easy. But a funny thing happens when you over-prepare for every meeting, presentation or one-on-one encounter. Your confidence goes up. And your confidence inspires others to be confident. (See how this pays it all forward?) And while some may believe rehearsals are so old school, think again. When you know your material like the back of your hand and you've practiced transitions and answering tough questions with your team (and in front of the mirror) you can bring swagger to a potentially nerve-wracking meeting.

These three pieces of advice were critically important to me and they were not simply shared with me. I watched the best of the best, in action. And they're good reminders for us all, no matter your gender, job title or industry.

I hope that I have, or will make, as much of a difference in someone else's career as my manbassadors made in mine. So years from now, what will young men and women remember as my rallying cry? Only time will tell for sure, but I hope it would include these two things:

1. Be a mentor. Better yet, be someone's ambassador. At almost any level in your company you can lead by example, be an encouraging role model and help accelerate career growth for someone else. Mentoring doesn't need to be a formal, regularly-scheduled process. It can be casual conversations, phone calls or even text exchanges. Whatever works. And by the way, I can't imagine not mentoring. I find it a rewarding experience watching others grow. I think of it as a daily way to live my work life.

2. Seek out an ambassador. When you find that person with the experience and talent you admire, reach out to him or her, ask for advice and get a conversation started. Think of it as an important step in managing your career. Most leaders I know enjoy this part of their jobs. In fact, it's a highlight.

Sometimes the issues in our industry seem so big and complex that it's hard to know how any of us, as individuals, can contribute to the solution. But take the manbassadors in my career as an example; their positive influence wasn't the direct result of any one thing at any one point, but instead was the sum of little things done consistently over time.

If you want to make a difference in a future leader's career, you might start with something as simple as having a cup of coffee.

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