Baton Rouge businessmen address ways to empower women in workforce

    When it comes to tackling issues women face in the workforce, it’s important to have the support of male colleagues, mentors and leaders, but how exactly can men help in this regard?

    It starts by listening to women and making a point to ask for their perspective, said a panel of male business leaders this morning, speaking to a local women’s business development group called Leadership & Lattes.

    The panelists included Jude Melville, CEO and president of Business First Bank, Dave Baxter, general manager of IT firm Sparkhound, and Eric Dexter, business development director at Civil Solutions Consulting. Dima Ghawi, who launched Leadership & Lattes last year, moderated the panel.

    The businessmen discussed ways women can have their voices and ideas heard in meetings, and if they are not, they suggested women speak with male leaders one-on-one after the meeting.

    “There’s a point where you have to stand up for yourself,” Baxter says. “The workplace is different than it was 15 years ago. Especially when you back up what you have to say with data—It’s really tough to argue against facts. That goes a long way toward making someone value and respect your opinion.”

    Dexter added good leaders should and often do specifically ask for women and men in meetings to offer their opinions.

    The panelists also addressed how women can break into the “boys club” that meets after work or at social events. Dexter said it helps if women colleagues initiate this, as men might worry about it being taken the wrong way if they ask women colleagues out for drinks or other events.

    “A lot of decisions are made in hours outside of the office so it is important,” Dexter says.

    Melville says as a business leader he tries to create space during working hours to meet with employees, such as a late breakfast or a working lunch, to “socialize in ways that don’t bump up against family life” after-work hours.

    Male leaders should also set an example for other men in the workplace, the panelists said, and hold each other accountable to addressing issues female colleagues face. Melville suggested men reach out to women about how they can help in this regard,

    “Oftentimes we think the most value created is to find a mentor, but it’s also helpful for us to think in reverse,” Melville says. “As a guy, when I think of issues related to women in the workforce, there’s an uncertainty I feel. Being able to talk to women to get their perspective involves me being mentored about how to deal with these issues and you (women) being willing to talk about that.”

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