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Men with daughters are fighting for workplace equality — here’s what it means for women

As we wrap up another Father’s Day, I’m inclined to reflect on one of the best examples of our personal lives affecting our leadership choices — men with daughters fighting for workplace equality.

Several studies suggest that having a daughter changes a man’s leadership style, making him more aware of discrimination and more likely to fight bias against female employees. The latest, a University of Melbourne study, found that the Australian CEOs most active in the fight for equality were those who had experienced sexism firsthand through a female partner or daughter. This research joins reports showing that male judges with daughters are more likely to rule in favor of women’s rights and that companies led by men with daughters make more progress in closing the wage gap between men and women.

Although we like to pretend that we are “all business,” in fact we bring our whole selves to work, like it or not. Having a daughter often changes a man in profound ways. Many fathers are fiercely protective of their daughters and deeply invested in their happiness and success. Through that personal connection, male leaders often become much more aware of the inequalities women face in the workplace. Gender discrimination is no longer an abstract concept — it is a threat to their daughters’ well-being.

This has implications for how women can successfully craft mentorship relationships with male leaders. Much like many mentorships between women resemble mother-daughter relationships, many successful mentorships between women and men resemble father-daughter relationships. When a male executive becomes emotionally invested in his female mentee’s success, he’ll help her to develop her leadership skills and break through barriers. For men who don’t have daughters, these mentorships are an alternate way to make gender discrimination personal.

Not all men need a daughter—or a mentee—to empathize with the plight of women in the workplace. And not all men with daughters experience a feminist awakening. But as women seek allies in the fight for fair wages and equal opportunities, fathers are increasingly proving themselves willing to join the cause.

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