Getting men to support gender equality

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Published by
Jan Hills
June 25, 2018

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This week saw the Hampton-Alexander Review, which is calling for one third of all FTSE leadership positions to be held by women by 2020. ( Why it’s not 50% is a mystery, or maybe not…read on). But an interim report was releasedthis week of the 10 most frequent (flabbergasting)reasons given by Chairmen and CEOs to explain the lack of women in senior positions in their companies.

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This week saw the Hampton-Alexander Review, which is calling for one third of all FTSE leadership positions to be held by women by 2020. ( Why it’s not 50% is a mystery, or maybe not…read on). But an interim report was releasedthis week of the 10 most frequent (flabbergasting)reasons given by Chairmen and CEOs to explain the lack of women in senior positions in their companies. These ‘explanation’ were collected whilstthe report was compiled. To say I was shocked to read this is 2018 is an understanding. When my daughter and I conceived of our book Brain-Savvy Wo+man it was because we recognised she was experiencing many of the same challengesin her career that I had experienced 40 years beforein mine. But we did think some progress had been made just not enough,fast enough. But these excuses are frankly beyond belief. (if only because it shows the arrogance of these CEO’s and Chairs that it’s OK to voice such things). Maybe the best comment came from the chief executive of Business in the Community, Amanda Mackenzie OBE: ‘As you read this list of excuses you might think it’s 1918 not 2018. It reads like a script from a comedy parody but it’s true. Surely, we can now tackle this once and for all. Sit down if you haven’t read the list:

  1. ‘I don’t think women fit comfortably into the board environment’
  2. ‘There aren’t that many women with the right credentials and depth of experience to sit on the board – the issues covered are extremely complex’
  3. ‘Most women don’t want the hassle or pressure of sitting on a board’
  4. ‘Shareholders just aren’t interested in the make-up of the board, so why should we be?’
  5. ‘My other board colleagues wouldn’t want to appoint a woman on our board’
  6. ‘All the ‘good’ women have already been snapped up’
  7. ‘We have one woman already on the board, so we are done – it is someone else’s turn’
  8. ‘There aren’t any vacancies at the moment – if there were I would think about appointing a woman’
  9. ‘We need to build the pipeline from the bottom – there just aren’t enough senior women in this sector’
  10. ‘I can’t just appoint a woman because I want to’

So it’s clear that your career progress won’t be dependent just on your skills and efforts, your confidence, or the support you can access from networks, mentors and sponsors. The advancement of women like yourself will be hugely dependent on the culture of your organisation and your industry. And that culture is largely created by men.

Respondents to Head Heart + Brain’s research believe that middle managers have a disproportionate impact on your career success. As one senior woman said: “If your manager isn’t aware of and interested in the challenges and the nuances of gender stereotypes, it’s better to move on to another department or company.”

What gets men engaged

Getting buy-in is hard work: men don’t think it’s their problem, they fear judgement by their peers if they speak up, and many claim they don’t know what to say or do.

A report by Diversity Council Australia has found that getting men involved in gender diversity initiatives is critically important because “they are often perceived positively, while the reverse is true for female champions of gender equality.” The Diversity Council report also found there is a major upside: men themselves will personally benefit from progress towards gender equality, in their family relationships as well as in their workplaces and communities. They recommend framing gender equality as a business issue rather than a women’s issue, while at the same time appealing to men’s sense of social justice and fair play.

A report by the international equality action group Catalyst has also found that men who were committed to the idea of fairness were personally concerned about issues of equality, were more aware of gender bias in the workplace and more likely to take action.

What you can do to get men on board

But we believe it’s important that women don’t just accept the status quo. If you take whatever action you can to advocate for others, you help to crank up the engine of change. Just as you are benefitting from the efforts of previous generations of women, so you can help to change the landscape for the women – and men who come after you.

Work to win round the hearts and minds of the men you are able to influence at work – your colleagues and team-members – because it’s the right thing to do. As an added bonus you may also find that good practice travels upwards, and your efforts may influence the men who are in a position to decide on your own advancement.

WHAT TO DO within your team

None of these actions are particularly arduous: they don’t cost any money or require any intervention from HR, but you will be impressed by how effective they can be:

  1. Men, like women, are profoundly influenced by the experiences of the people they care about. Create opportunities for conversations not just about the facts of inequality but the emotional impact of personal experiences: injustice experienced by a wife or a daughter makes theory a reality.
  2. At a team-building event, use storiesto trigger emotional awareness and a wish to change (“I need to change” / “I need to make sure this isn’t me”). Collect stories written by people who have experienced exclusion, for example, but instead of just distributing them get team-members to read them out loud.
  3. Use the example of the life cycle of a woman within your organisation to bust myths and illustrate the data about progress and promotion.
  4. As part of an initiative challenging discourteous habits (checking phones in meetings, interrupting someone speaking…) make a pact with your team about sexist behaviours and language. What are the words which will no longer be used? Create a collective dictionary which can be “policed” jointly and added to as the team’s awareness increases. (Substitute “they” for the default “he”; look for gendered job description or promotions criteria, challenge assumptions about who can do what…)
  5. To build inclusiveness and ensure that women’s contributions are equally valued, have team members map their connections: who they consult with or ask advice from. The amalgamated map will clearly represent the in-groups which may be encouraging group-think.
  6. Make a point of sending occasional emails of congratulations to encourage a culture of praise and recognition: particularly recognition of the kind of continuing effort which can go unnoticed. Of course, you’ll include congratulations for men, but make sure that women are generously featured.

Whilst we wait for the business version of the “Inclusion rider”to come to a Board near you, small actions, as well as policy directives, change corporate culture and make organisations more encouraging of women’s progress.

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If you would like a little help with your career register for our Brain-savvy Woman Career Management programme https://courses.headheartbrain.com/brain-savvy-woman-career-management-for-women/  

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