PwC Global Talent Manager Michael Fenlon recently visited Big Think to discuss his company's Aspire to Lead initiative, as well as to encourage men to pledge their support for gender equality. He explains how in the video below:

Aspire to Lead is PwC's leadership series for women students. Fenlon explains that the aim of the program can be summed up in one powerful word — potential. What images come to mind when you hear that word? Mountaintops? Super Bowls? Corner offices? Happy families of four? Every individual has their own personal ceiling, but unfortunately too few actually make it up the ladder. Young people stare up at their potential and often doubt their ability to reach it. What is it that holds you back? What have you seen hold back others? If we're all capable of reaching our ceilings, why don't we?

With an eye on the business world, Fenlon has seen many women struggle to achieve their utmost potential because of the negative influence of strong gender stereotypes and other assumptions that are far too common today. An example of this: when you think of the word "boss," what image comes to mind? Chances are it's something like this. Or this. Or this. All men, because of the perception that men are in charge. How about words like "leader," "politician," "pilot," or "surgeon?" Too many of us are equipped with preconceived notions layered deep in our subconscious that associate certain positions with men and not women. These notions quietly, yet undeniably alter the prospects of professional women. If women cannot be perceived as leaders, then they won't often get the chance to be leaders.

Fenlon explains how living in a world dictated by harmful stereotypes will affect women's confidence:

"Academic research has shown we overestimate the competence of men relative to women in ways that can translate into decisions that hold back some women from achieving their potential, and robbing organizations of talent…"

Fenlon notes that organizations like Lean In offer insights and action plans for women who wish to fulfill their potential. These organizations encourage women to take on "many long lists of action and to-do's, hold conferences, consume books on overcoming gender stereotypes," etc. But where, asks Fenlon, is the to-do list for men who wish to be allies?

This is why PwC is a global sponsor of the UN initiative on gender equality — HeForShe. You may remember actress Emma Watson speaking at the UN a few months ago about HeForShe, a solidarity movement for men and women to come together in pursuit of gender equality. According to Fenlon, men who seek to ally themselves with HeForShe can work toward quashing stereotypes and harmful stereotypes in these five ways:

1.        Ask questions and listen:                                                              

Educate yourself. Ask women about their experiences and listen to what differs from your own.

2.        Expand your network:                                                                    

Do most people in your circle look like you?  Include women in your network to expand your perspective.

3.        Acknowledge blind spots:                                                                    

We all have blind spots we're not aware of. These are inaccurate and unacceptable stereotypes. The vast majority of people try to overcome their stereotypical preconceptions ... challenge your own assumptions about the roles of men and women.

4.         Speak up. Be a leader for inclusion: 

 Speak up for men and women “leaning in” together and make sure everyone is equally heard.

5.        Join                                                                            

Make a public pledge for equality. Ask others to do the same.


This video is the sixth in a series brought to you in partnership with PwC. Previous videos include:

-Michael Fenlon: Confidence Speaks Louder

-Carol Sawdye: Allow a Sense of Urgency to Propel Your Career

-Coaching the Next Generation of Women Leaders, with Amanda Mesler

-Tara Sophia Mohr on the Three Keys to Empowering Young Women

-Authenticity Will Close the Confidence Gap, with Claire Shipman

OFebruary 27th, PwC will host a live webcast on developing great women leaders with ABC News's Claire Shipman and her "The Confidence Code" co-author Katty Kay. Register here for the webcast, and follow the conversation on Twitter: #PwCAspire. Big Think will be featuring more related videos and other content throughout the month.