by Jewelle Bickford, Co-chair of Paradigm for Parity®

The findings released today by LeanIn and SurveyMonkey are deeply concerning: in the wake of the sexual harassment scandals, men are uncomfortable participating in common work activities with women, including mentorship. If women are ever going to have access to the same career and growth opportunities as men, they need the help of sponsors and mentors. Because the reality is, male managers are often steadfast allies to Jack, but not Jill.

If we are beginning to see the start of a trend where men are afraid to be alone with women in the workplace, the gender gap will only widen, making it harder to address the power imbalance that has been front and center over the last few months.

Instead of backing away from interactions with women, men should be stepping forward to support women and help advance their careers. And the best way to do this is to become a sponsor. The Harvard Business Review explains “sponsors not only advise their charges, they promote, protect, prepare, and push them.” Sponsors are critical to propelling women into leadership positions.

That’s why the fifth step of the Paradigm for Parity coalition 5-Point Action plan is focused on giving women sponsors, not just mentors.

The data show that sponsorship is central to career advancement. Fast Company reported that “70% and 68% of women who have a sponsor reported being satisfied with their career advancement. Women with sponsors are 27% more likely than their unsponsored female peers to ask for a raise and 22% more likely to ask for the ‘stretch assignments’ that build their reputations as leaders.”

Unfortunately, it is also a fact that women are less likely to be sponsored than men. Harvard Business Review found that women are 54% less likely to have a sponsor than men. We need to change this paradigm to one where men are willing to step up and sponsor women and women are willing to accept the support.

More than 60 companies have committed to create sponsorship opportunities at their companies – including Accenture, Anthem, LinkedIn, Bank of America and many more. We applaud these companies for taking steps to ensure women across their companies have sponsors – both men and women alike – who are committed to promoting and lifting them up. Yes, mentorship is important, but we take it a step further urging men across the corporate world to go beyond simply giving women advice and move to promoting and advocating for them. That’s the only way we will truly see parity in leadership levels where women have equal power and opportunity.