Men (and Women), Lend Me Your Ears

As I listened live to Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Summit on October 4, I was struck once again with a recurring thought:

When the most powerful women get together and share their insights and perspectives about the future, are powerful men listening? Really listening?

men and women lend me your ears the way women work

When women discuss innovation and solutions to the world’s problems (Wow, Regina Dugan, Director Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, U.S. Department of Defense, YOU are amazing!), and when we get together and voice our continued frustration with leaky pipelines, work/life balance, and the lack of progress of getting women on corporate boards and in executive level positions, are those men who are in positions of power and influence able to hear it? Really hear it?

As a woman, I notice that we seem to talk to each other more than to men. We listen to each other, and we use our power and influence to make change, but in this way, our progress is slow. So very slow.

Interestingly, we have changed how we talk about women’s role in the economy; we talk less about gender equality and more about the bottom line. Some of us, like Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, even admit — as she did at the summit — to finally being able to “come out” and talk about being a woman in business.

But it occurs to me, as it likely does to you, that one thing at which we women still need to get better is talking with powerful men and finding ways they can lend an ear, and from there, lend a hand.

I ended the day with a renewed commitment to find ways to do just this — to spend more of my time talking with powerful men, to navigate new ways to talk and present so they can hear and understand, and most important of all, so they can act.

I have to admit that although I consider myself an advocate and champion of women’s participation in the global economy and a mentor to many young women, I, like Sheryl Sandberg, rarely talk about the benefits and need for women’s participation at the highest levels with my male CEO clients, male leaders in my community, and male business leaders. I hate to admit it, but it seems I have been afraid they will characterize me as always talking about the “woman thing” or playing the “woman card.”

NOTE TO SELF:  You are not playing any “card”; you have proven yourself by the business results you have created; have courage — the world has a lot of problems, and it needs ALL — not just HALF — of its talent to succeed.

What’s worked most effectively for you? What ways do you talk to men that result in true listening? Please share your story with us!