“I have always thought that the 20th century saw the rise of women, and the 21st century will be about whether men accept that rise or backlash against it,” Avivah Wittenberg-Cox, CEO of consulting firm 20-first.
The London Financial Times recently carried an excellent article on Women in Business.
Avivah was one of a number of eminent women quoted, but this statement stood out to me as a challenge to us men: how are we adapting to the rise of women? And even more importantly, how are we supporting it, given that men have so much privilege and built-in advantages from the current set up.
Indeed I believe we men have a duty to support and promote the rise of women for the good of everyone: women, men, families, companies, institutions, and societies. However, there is still so much more to be done to achieve true gender balance at the top of business. So how can we accelerate progress towards this gender balance, and what role can men play in this?
I have been working with women’s networks for some 15 years now to understand the issues and develop workshops for men and women to help accelerate progress. I wanted to share my thoughts and experience in this blog.
Are women rising?
An earlier version of my blog has already caused controversy, because a number of women have questioned whether women are actually rising, given the bias and challenges in the workplace and in broader society. I do not want to get into a debate on this, but simply wanted to respond to the assertion by Professor Amy Edmonson in the FT article that “there is an opportunity for women to make a distinctive mark on the emerging organisational order”. My question is if there is indeed this opportunity, which is very welcome, how can we men support it?
We need men to engage.
Research shows that men hold some 75% of executive positions in organisations are the majority of line managers, so if we don’t get them involved and active we are really missing out on an opportunity to drive change.
So what stops them from engaging?
I have met many men, especially younger generations of leaders, who accept and welcome the rise of women and support it. However, in my experience, there are still too many men who are reluctant to engage with gender balance because they:
• Lack awareness of the issues
• Don’t feel invited or involved (gender = women, right?)
• Don’t know what to do and fear making mistakes
• Fear blame from women
• Fear loss of privilege (zero-sum thinking: if women gain, men lose)
• Worry other men will disapprove of their involvement
• Don’t know or can’t see what’s in it for them!
How can we encourage men to engage?
To address these challenges, we need to create an environment where men can explore without fear of blame how gender balance can be achieved and where they can learn what they can do to support it actively.
I was recently given the opportunity to work with PWN Milan to develop a Workshop series to tackle the gender balance discussion, not only from women’s point of view, but involving men as allies and activists for the cause.
The initiative to create this “cross-gender” dialogue was proposed by Gini Dupasquier, President of PWN Milan. She asked me to develop a new series of workshops to deliver on her vision. So in conjunction with our partners at Google, we came up with four linked workshops. The first workshop led by Andrea Turco at Google was called “In Her Shoes”, and it exposed men to the actual lived experience of women in the workplace.
The next two workshops, led by me, focused on men only to provide a “safe space” for them to talk openly and honestly about the issues, challenges, and opportunities they saw to engage in gender balance. This helped them recognize and understand their privilege and power as men and their obligation to provide support to those with less advantage.
These workshops helped them articulate their motivation for taking part in this initiative and to develop their pitch on why gender balance was so essential for them but also for women, organizations, and society. We also explored how they could be better allies for women in the home and the workplace.
For the fourth workshop held on 6th April in Milan, we brought men and women together to discuss how we can raise the bar by getting more men engaged in gender balance and accelerating women’s progress into leadership positions.
What conclusions did we come to?
In a panel session, we heard from HR Directors and executives who went through the earlier workshops about what were their key learnings, what is their commitments, and which practical actions they have taken inside their organizations to support and promote better balance.
We then held table discussions to explore how all genders could work together to build a more balanced and inclusive workplace.
The key conclusions we arrived at were:
• Business benefits: We should stress the business benefits of gender balance, particularly the positive impact on the engagement of current generations coming into the workforce
• Start with leadership: Leaders must be role models for gender balance to influence managers and employees. They need training and support to learn the skills required
• Daughters make a difference: Executives with daughters are more likely to be interested in women’s careers and become advocates for gender balance
• Culture is critical: To create real change, organizations need to move away from male-centric ways of working to build a culture that is inclusive and family-orientated
• Supportive policies: Organisations should improve their flexible working and childcare and paternity leave provisions. This will create an environment where women and men can fulfill their parental and work commitments and where men actively take their full paternity leave entitlement
• New generations: Younger people coming into the workplace expect the organization to be diverse and inclusive and fully support equality of opportunity and treatment for all genders at work and at home. Employers need to be aware of this and ensure they have an employee value proposition that accords with this expectation
• Courage is needed: building a gender-balanced culture is not easy and requires leaders to be brave, persistent, and break away from current practices and values.
The passionate discussions continued in the networking that followed. Everyone agreed that men stand to benefit from gender balance and should accept and support the rise of women. The men attending agreed to play their full part in achieving gender balance actively.
We also agreed we should hold a follow-up session later in the year to check in on the progress made towards raising the bar on engaging men in gender balance.
This is a guest blog post written for us by Robert Baker, CEO Potentia Talent Consulting