Engaging Men in the Conversation about Women
It’s no secret that companies with diverse leadership teams and inclusive cultures perform better. And yet, despite an all-time commitment to gender diversity, women continue to be underrepresented at all levels in organizations of all sizes across all sectors. According to the Women in the Workplace Report from McKinsey & Company and LeanIn.org, women face hurdles on every rung of the corporate ladder. While women are fighting the disparity and lending hands to others coming up behind them, the truth is they can’t create a more equitable workplace on their own. They need men to be a part of the conversation and the solution.
Why men, too
Increasing diversity is not solely a women’s issue. Diversity and inclusivity are business issues, too. Diverse perspectives make businesses more innovative, competitive and thus, profitable. In addition, a more inclusive environment may allow men hindered by gender standards themselves to have things such as more time off for family than they might have otherwise had.
The biggest reason to engage men in the conversation about women is that men currently hold a majority of positions in power. In fact, men comprise 79% of SVP and C-Suite roles as well 72% of VP, 62% of senior manager/director, 63% of manager and even 52% of entry-level positions. Men are in a better position to hire women and change the status quo at every level within an organization.
Gender equality in the workplace
Leaving men out of the discussion means that they won’t fully understand the issues at play and how to go about addressing them. The truth is men and women view the issue of gender diversity differently. Men are more likely to think the workplace is equitable and that their companies are supporting diversity. Women, on the other hand, view the workplace as unfair and unsupportive. While only one in ten senior leaders is a woman, nearly 50 percent of men think women are well represented in leadership and one third of women agree with this.
Employees don’t think their companies are prioritizing gender diversity. In fact, only about half think their organizations are highly committed and doing what it takes to improve gender diversity. Part of the reason men are less likely to say gender diversity is a top personal priority is their concern over how it may impact their own individual performance. Fifteen percent of men think it will put them at a disadvantage and make it harder for them to advance. Pushing men to the sidelines may unintentionally alienate them and make them less supportive.
Getting men involved
Many organizations have invested time, money, and resources into diversity initiatives and women’s development programs, yet without the help of men change has been slower to take effect. Men – who hold the most powerful seats at the table in most organizations – have a significant role to play working in partnership with women and organizations. Helping them become stewards of culture, support positive behavior and learn about implicit biases will facilitate dialogue and change within an organization.
Organizations should help men recognize that gender bias exists, motivate them to champion gender equality, and remove the barriers that prevent their support. Male leaders can be engaged through panels or roundtable discussions with women on leadership topics, joint learning workshops and mentorship/sponsorship. Men need to understand how their roles can be pivotal in helping women to succeed in their careers and advance to greater levels of leadership. A mentorship/sponsorship program will help channel men’s knowledge and leadership experiences toward helping women advance and create more integrated teams.
Another way men can help is to stop biases as they happen in the moment. For example, if a woman who deserves a promotion is overlooked, talk to the person with the power to promote. If a woman is not being heard in a meeting, speak up and give her the floor. If a female colleague isn’t getting credit for her work, make sure credit is given where it’s due.
Avoiding Gender Silos
Excluding men from diversity initiatives hurts relationships and hinders efforts. It also keeps both sides from understanding how to embrace and leverage gender differences. To make a real difference, men and women both need to realize that truly sustainable progress can only come from men and women working together to change the status quo. When organizations facilitate men’s active participation in this goal, then men and women can work in partnership to break down outdated cultural barriers, address gender-based stereotypes and help each other close the gender gap. Before significant progress can be made, both men and women need to join the conversation.