How can men support female colleagues, challenge negative behaviours and support gender equality?
Laura James seeks some answers
Greater demand for a diverse and inclusive workplace has led to a significant shift in attitude where the onus is now firmly on men to take responsibility and mentor, sponsor and become allies to women and those who are marginalised. Some men are unnerved by the implications of #MeToo and this is leading to a silo effect in offices around the world.
David Bahnsen, a former managing director at Morgan Stanley, told Bloomberg.com: “It’s creating a sense of walking on eggshells.”
So while it might reasonably be argued that the #MeToo movement has transformed the working environment for women, with undoubted gains in raising awareness of male attitudes to female co-workers, a second, less welcome, effect is an increasing sense of gender segregation.
“Some men are unnerved by the implications of #MeToo and this is leading to a silo effect in offices around the world.”
What exactly is going on?
What mechanisms are there for men – particularly those in leadership positions – to see and act differently than before? Events aimed at helping men become better allies are just one important step towards addressing these issues.
The Better Man Conference runs one-day events in New York and San Francisco and helps engage, support and offer resources to men who want to learn about creating a more inclusive culture. It focuses on issues including healthy masculinity, collaboration and communication to help build more balanced gender dynamics, with a focus on inclusionary leadership.
One female participant at the latest Better Man Conference, held at the end of 2018, said: “Our senior leaders found it helpful in setting a context for change and ‘provoking them from gender ignorance’ in a safe environment.” Gender ignorance is a key factor. The process for men to unlearn deeply ingrained habits and see the world very differently is crucial but not necessarily straightforward. In 2018 the UK government-backed Women’s Business Council launched its ‘Men as Change Agents’ document and action group, with the aim of engaging CEOs of leading listed and private businesses, and their leadership teams, to help deliver gender balance in business leadership, and close the gender pay gap.
The Rt Hon Amber Rudd, MP, then Home Secretary and Minister for Women and Equalities in the UK government, said at the launch of the ‘Men as Change Agents’: “Increasing the pool of women at the top of business is important for all women, for society and for UK competitiveness. Having worked in business for many years, and seen some remarkable women, I know just how much untapped talent there is in this country and how critical the business community is to unlocking that potential. Women are an increasingly important part of the UK’s continuing success and we want their skills, insight and expertise to shape our future.
Male leaders are still the driving force in decision-making, and they must lead the charge, driving innovation and creating the change that we need to see.” On a global scale, the UN’s HeForShe campaign is described as an “invitation for men and people of all genders to stand in solidarity with women to create a bold, visible and united force for a gender equal world”.
According to the UN the men of HeForShe aren’t on the sidelines, but are working with women and with each other to build businesses, raise families, and give back to their communities. In the US Brad Johnson, professor of psychology at the United States Naval Academy, says the reason men need to be more involved is clear. Speaking to the Harvard Business Review online, he said: “Men tend to be the stakeholders because they are in the positions of leadership. There may be enough women to mentor other women, but they may not be in the same positions of power.”
JOHN DE REGT
FOUNDER OF JDR CONSULTING
“I think that what men can do to help women to reach their potential is to treat them like people – empower consistently, irrespective of gender”
FOUNDER OF McKAY COACHING
“If empathy can come to play in the broadest terms, it helps everyone understand what’s driving individuals to do what they do. Men need to lean into this whole gender issue in industry and it’s happening”
The Menttium Corporation, based in Minnesota, offers cross-company corporate mentoring and has an established programme designed to help women advance in their careers. Founded in 1991, it now operates in more than 70 countries and across more than 200 companies. Missy Chicre, Vice-President, Client Value at Menttium, believes it’s important for men to become allies.
She said: “Men need to be talking to women at all levels and seeing what barriers they face. Men should be pushing the agenda on requiring diverse candidates for key roles. It can take more time and be more difficult, but if nobody is building accountability around that it’s easy to make excuses.”
When Menttium began, the vast majority of their mentors were men, but this has changed as mentees go on to become mentors and now as well as men mentoring women the opposite is often true. In an age where the landscape has shifted so fundamentally and both men and women are navigating a new normal, it is a real benefit that men are being mentored by women in many organisations.
A powerful start to supporting women is to ask them what they need, how support can be shown and how the workplace feels to them. John de Regt, founder of JDR Consulting, which recently formed a partnership with Odgers Berndtson, has more than 35 years of executive coaching and search experience.
He asks: “Would organisations benefit from more women in leadership? Yes, because having more women heightens the possibility that we move from domination to collaboration. I think that what men can do to help women to reach their potential is to treat them like people – empower consistently, irrespective of gender.”
James Clarry, COO of Private Banking and Head of Lending at Coutts, became involved in the Royal Bank of Scotland’s (RBS) Women Network because he felt passionately about gender equality.
He has said: “I attended a few of the events and it was fairly typical that if you had an audience of 100 women, there would maybe be three or four men. And yet the topics they were discussing were fantastic and completely relevant to my day job, relevant to all of our day jobs.” As a result, the RBS ‘Male Allies’ group was set up with the intention of getting men involved in the fight for gender equality and, within a short time, more than 1,500 men had taken the pledge.
John McKay, of McKay Coaching in Calgary, Canada, believes maleto- female mentoring allows men to understand better what motivates female co-workers. “If empathy can come to play in the broadest terms,” he says, “it helps everyone understand what’s driving individuals to do what they do. Men need to lean into this whole gender issue in industry.” There is empirical evidence that sponsorship and mentoring can help level the gender playing field.
"Men should be pushing the agenda on requiring diverse candidates for key roles"
Research highlighted by the Harvard Business Review has shown that men who champion female colleagues take a different view on where the credit lies for women succeeding at a senior level. It also showed organisations with female board representation tended to outperform those with no women at the highest level. In addition, those in the top quartile for gender diversity were found to be 15 per cent more likely to outperform those in the bottom quartile.
Tara O’Sullivan, Chief Creative Officer at Skillsoft, based in New Hampshire, says many organisations are moving away from women-only training and moving toward inclusion councils and other programmes that include people in majority groups and those in less represented groups. But, she argues, the “tone at the top and the mood at the middle” must be supportive of diversity and inclusion, and that “no amount of training in the world” will address gender inequality without companywide backing.