Think women's network, and one thing that probably does not come to mind is men.
Time to rethink that. In a new study by the Financial Women's Association, an overwhelming majority of people agreed that "men are instrumental to the success of women," and 39 percent agreed that men should join women's networking groups that have been set up to promote and advance women in the workforce.
"Anybody in a hiring role can be sharing job and hiring opportunities through a women's network, and the network in turn can help bring candidates, internal and external, to the role," said Jennifer Openshaw, executive director of the Financial Women's Association. Women's networks are "one way executives, who are predominantly men, can move women up the ladder," she said.
Women's networks have been a presence in many workplaces for years. The Financial Women's Association, for example, was started in 1956 when several Wall Street women were shut out of a professional organization. But for the most part, these groups have been for women only.
The networks have helped women connect with each other and obtain feedback, and Openshaw said those features remain important to women. Some 84 percent of the leaders of women's networks in the study said the networks improve employee engagement, and 74 percent said they "enable like-minded employees to connect, share and support each other."
But despite the presence of women's networks, women have made only limited inroads into the upper echelons of Corporate America.
Only 4.6 percent of Fortune 500 chief executives are women, according to the Center for American Progress, and women make up just 14.6 percent of executive officers.
Wage growth for women also remains slow. While women working full time in 2013 earned 82 cents for every dollar a man made, up from 62 cents in 1979, the Institute for Women's Policy Research projects that women will not reach pay parity with men until 2058.
Getting men more involved in women's networks may help accelerate women's progress, Openshaw said.
"They can be recruiting through these networks. A lot of these companies want to increase the diversity in their candidates, and this is a great way to do that," she said. In addition, "women's networks provide a way for women to showcase their skills." A woman might lead an event with a senior male executive, for example, and thereby build a relationship. "It's kind of like demo-ing yourself before managers."
Some women's networks have already invited men in. PWN Global, a women's network active in Europe, South America and the Middle East, features a men's advisory board.
"Engaging men in the crusade to inspire a shift in corporate cultures, promoting gender balanced leadership teams up and down the corporate ladder seems to be imperative," wrote PWN's global president, Marijo Bos, on the organization's website.