It’s time men got into the gender equality conversation
It has been over two years since I co-founded Token Man, an initiative to get men to understand the challenges women face and to inspire real behaviour change in the workplace. During this time, I have been on a massive learning journey. And, I am still only beginning it. The thing that has struck me the most is how hard it is to instigate real change. And it can be frustrating especially as the solutions seem so simple. Progress is so slow. This is partly because the issues are far more complicated than they appear on the surface and we are fighting against behaviours that have been ingrained in society for centuries. However, it’s no longer an excuse, especially as it has been proven at a business level that more gender-diverse boards deliver better business results.
We are committed to making change accelerate but can only do it with people like you, dear reader. Here are the key things that I have learned (so far):
Men have never had to think about gender, so we don’t
My lightbulb moment came when I was judging the IPA Women of Tomorrow Awards. When I asked Hana Tanimura, Senior Designer at Google Creative Lab, what she wanted to achieve, she said: “I want a world where little girls don’t have to think about gender in the same way my brother never had to think about gender.” That stuck with me and made me realise that, as men, we have never had to think about gender, so we don’t. It means that when we behave in a way that is prejudiced against women, most of the time we do not realise we are doing it and are simply not thinking about it. As a straight white man who went to public school, I have been extremely privileged in my life and career and only now am I starting to appreciate that.[clickToTweet tweet=”As men, we have never had to think about gender, so we don’t” quote=”As men, we have never had to think about gender, so we don’t” theme=”style6″]
Resistance from men is natural
We as human beings don’t like change. So when we tell people that they need to change, they resist. Especially when change might mean that rather than having a 90% chance of getting a promotion it becomes 50%. Or it might mean that we are overlooked for a job because we are not female. Or, as happened to me last month, you are stepped down from a panel because the gender diversity mix wasn’t balanced and they had to lose a man. I have to admit that my first reaction was anger although it turned to respect for the fact that they were doing the right thing.
And, we do not want to believe that we are the problem. We have wives, we have daughters, we have nieces – of course, we have never held women back.
Alas, that is not the case for most men. There is something called unconscious bias, which means that most of us make decisions that prejudice women in the workplace every day without realising it (see Unconscious bias and its negative impact on women in the workplace). It affects everything from the language used in job descriptions to working practices (lack of flexible working), to pay reviews to promotions to recruitment.
The only way to get people to accept change is through education. And education is best achieved through open discussion and being able to openly share how you feel without being judged. This is what we are trying to create with Token Man and so far we have seen progress – albeit not enough.
Language is important
I am a feminist in that I believe that men and women should have equal rights. When faced with a room full of men, I prefer to call myself a champion of gender equality. That’s simply because, for many men, the word ‘feminist’ has become scary and means something different. For me, anything that creates a barrier to getting them involved just harms the overall issue, so I prefer not to use it. It is also interesting to see Women’s Groups are starting to rename themselves as ‘gender equality’ groups as they begin to focus on getting men into the conversation. Women realise real change is only going to happen if we work together.
It also means that we need to start getting rid of phrases from the lexicon that are reinforcing our biases – ‘guys’ (I now use folks or peeps), ‘growing some balls’, ‘man-up’ or ‘stop being a girl’. There are many, many more. It’s why Sweden created a neutral word, Hen, that means either he or she.[clickToTweet tweet=”It’s wrong to assume that creating a more inclusive workplace for women will just benefit women” quote=”It’s wrong to assume that creating a more inclusive workplace for women will just benefit women” theme=”style6″]
It should not be HeForShe but rather HeAndShe
It would be wrong to assume that creating a more inclusive workplace for women will just benefit women. It will also open up far more choices for men. It will lead to more men taking time to spend with their kids, unencumbered by the pressure currently on men to not express their feelings. As we create a workplace that is more balanced, we will see more men embracing their own vulnerabilities, which as Brené Brown says, make us far better leaders:
There is too much talking and too little doing
As Tracy De Groose commented in our latest Token Man interview: “It’s not happening fast enough. We’re all talking about it. Not enough of us are doing stuff. We need more activists.” I can’t tell you how many CEOs or HR Directors tell me that diversity is top of their agenda. Yet when you ask them what their budget is, they look at you with a blank face. Leaders need to start committing to change with more than just words.
So what’s my advice to senior leaders? The truth is that while there is a lot that needs to be done, if you focus your time and investment wisely, you can make a marked difference quite quickly.
Here are some of my top tips:
Start with the senior management team
Unless senior management truly understands the problems that exist within their organisation, any initiative to try and create change is wasted. There is so much unconscious bias training happening in organisations right now that is being wasted as the culture in which it exists is not being changed. This has to happen from the top down.
Set a budget aside
Change needs investment that will deliver value. It will lower your churn rate. Your team will be happier and healthier. You will be more creative. It will open new opportunities for you, as ultimately it will give you a competitive advantage. You need to find a way of thinking beyond next quarter and looking at the medium-term future of the business.
Change key policies
Look across all your key policies and work out which are impacting your workplace. The obvious one is the gap between maternity and paternity leave. As long as this gap exists there is going to be an inherent bias in the workplace. While it will take us a long time to match a country like Sweden (in 2014 men took 25% of all days open to parents), companies need to start investing in equality in the workplace by increasing paternity leave (we recommend a minimum paternity policy of 6 weeks). It was interesting to read this week that a South Korean company has implemented a compulsory paternity leave of four weeks.
There are so many more actions which have an impact (e.g. how you recruit, do pay reviews, make promotions) and you need to review every single one and ask yourself how you can make it fairer for both sexes.
Live and die by the numbers
I am not a fan of quotas because it means that people head towards a number rather than change because it is the right thing. However, collecting data and monitoring progress is going to be fundamental to achieve success. A couple of years ago, we realised that the speakers at our events were too heavily male skewed so we starting measuring. In 2015, 31% of our speakers were female. Last year, this increased to 41% (out of 109 speakers). This year we hope to hit 50%.
For any organisation above 250 people, the numbers are going to become even more important as they now need to publish their gender pay gap annually. Any gender inequality at a senior level in the organisation will be very apparent in that number.
Create flexibility for everyone (not just parents)
The best way of creating an inclusive workplace is by providing a flexible workplace for everyone. Not only will it make a difference to parents in being able to manage their team, it will not earmark them as different as everyone will have the same opportunities.
I begrudged the fact that while parents were able to leave early to pick up the kids (I don’t have children), it was frowned upon when I left early because I had to run a Creative Social event (my passion project at the time). We know that by providing a more flexible environment, you are likely to attract the new generation coming through who are not looking for a future in which they working 9-to-5 in the same company for the rest of their lives. They also want the flexibility to do their own projects.
Make it everyone’s issue
Last year, we developed a Hacking Gender Diversity workshop that is aimed at getting everyone in the organisation to become aware of the issues and to empower them to make their own changes. If everyone makes just one change in their behaviour over the next 3 months, that in itself will have a far more significant impact than any big change management programme you try to implement. By making it a shared issue, we can start to deliver some real change rather than just talking about it.https://openforideas.org/blog/2017/05/01/time-men-got-into-gender-equality-conversation/https://i0.wp.com/openforideas.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/manhands.jpg?fit=1024%2C576&ssl=1https://i0.wp.com/openforideas.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/manhands.jpg?resize=150%2C150&ssl=1Diversity & Divergencybiases,budget,diversity,feminism,flexibility,geneder,he and she,he for she,hr,management,men,policy,target,TED,token man,unconscious bias