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Men in power: There's a job only you guys can do for diversity

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Diversity and inclusion are buzzwords in corporate America, but research suggests that the executives whom we expect to promote these issues may be in a counterproductive position. When women and minorities advocate for diversity, they are penalized.

Research shows women and people of color are scrutinized when they try to favor those like them through promotions, assignments or other acts of faith — and the added burden can make them reluctant to promote diversity.

This leaves the responsibility, if it is to be most effective, to those already in positions of power: white men, predominantly.

Salesforce raised the issue of equal pay last year when CEO Marc Benioff announced he spent $3 million to bring the salaries of female employees up to par with their male counterparts. In September, Benioff also hired Tony Prophet, a former Microsoft executive, as the company's first chief equality officer.

"No one's opportunity should be defined by their gender," Prophet said at the Billie Jean King Leadership Initiative symposium held on Thursday in New York City.

He offered five practical tips for male leaders to promote equality in the workplace.

1. Know your numbers.

What percentage of employees in the company are female? How many women are in executive roles? What portion of exiting employees are female? Every company leader should know the answers to these questions, Prophet said. You can't address a problem without understanding the extent of it.

2. Develop empathy.

It's easy to empathize with people who lead lives similar to yours. The task becomes difficult when you encounter people who are different from you. Leaders should rise to that challenge in order to build their ability to empathize, Prophet said.

"Seek out experiences where you are exposed to people unlike yourself and you're able to see the world through their lens," he advised.

3. Model the whole person.

As a leader, you are a representative for all employees. Regardless of whether your employee looks like you or has a similar lifestyle, you are their representative. Leaders need to take this responsibility seriously and work to model the whole person, Prophet said.

If you don't have kids, try to understand what it's like to be a working mom or dad and what company policies could ease that burden. By actively seeking out opportunities to understand their employees, leaders can become more responsive.

4. Practice inclusive meetings.

Large boardroom meetings can be intimidating for anyone, but especially women and minorities, who are often battling stereotypes of incompetence. It's important that leaders step up and foster an environment that encourages everyone to voice their opinion and be themselves.

"Work happens in meetings, and having non-inclusive practices in meetings is a death sentence for the health of the culture in the company," Prophet said.

Let each employee finish their thoughts without interruption. Give everyone an opportunity to speak so no one is made to feel invisible. If employees feel valued in those settings, they will be more likely to actively contribute their ideas.

5. Erase cultural biases.

Everyone has cultural biases developed through their upbringing, their friends and their life experiences. Leaders need to be aware of their own biases and work to overcome them, Prophet said. They should be careful not to provide feedback that is colored by bias, like judging a woman for being too assertive when that same standard would not be applied to a man.

Men in power should lead by example, interacting with people outside their comfort zone in order to encourage employees to do the same. Doing so can confront stereotypes and help to eradicate implicit biases.