Bringing Men into the Conversation

Deb PineBy Deb Pine, Executive Director, Center for Women and Business, Bentley University

Though the experiences that have catalyzed the #MeToo movement are deeply disturbing, I’m encouraged by the heightened awareness of sexual harassment in the workplace and inspired by the brave women who are speaking out. While the movement has put the spotlight on inappropriate power dynamics, it’s important to recognize the underlying issue: gender inequality in the workplace. Women continue to face conscious and unconscious bias, which limits opportunities for advancement and leadership. In 2017, men held 80 percent of the C-suite level roles in the Fortune 500.

How can we make progress? We need companies and individuals committed to creating inclusive workplace environments that promote gender equity. This includes engaging men as allies at all levels of the organization who understand and value gender diversity.

Male allies recognize that diversity catalyzes innovation and increases profitability. As colleagues and managers, they address bias by challenging stereotypes and daily microaggressions and advocate for women’s advancement. All employees benefit from the resulting gender partnership, where individuals are valued, supported and promoted based on their unique strengths and capabilities, and businesses benefit with improved bottom lines.

The question is how do we as women bring men into the conversation? Here are some actions women can take to engage men as allies:

Initiate the conversation using WIIFM (what’s in it for men). The most persuasive arguments for men to support diversity are business case arguments. Share data and research that show how diversity improves productivity and financial returns. Talk about the relevance of gender diversity to their own jobs and tap into men’s sense of fairness and social responsibility. Also, men care about the women in their lives—friends, spouses and especially daughters. Relate gender diversity to both personal and professional experiences.

Share your story. Share the challenges you have faced as well as your strengths, passions and career game plan. Research suggests that stories stick in our brains 20 times more easily than facts and figures. Stories build understanding and increase empathy.

Have courageous conversations to address real or perceived hurdles. When you experience or witness bias, initiate a dialogue to address your concerns. Creating awareness is critical to initiating positive change. At the same time, clearly articulate opportunities you are looking for and ask for honest feedback to help you advance.

Open women’s business networks to include men. This will not only build awareness among male participants and create allies but also bring a diverse perspective to the group. The more inclusive we are with men, the more inclusive they will be with us.

Actively support and mentor both women and men. When you amplify other women’s voices and call out bias, you are a role model for others to do the same. As a mentor and sponsor to women, you increase their visibility and value in the organization. As a mentor to men, you can help them address their own biases or fears. And as a mentor to younger men, you help prepare the pipeline in a different way.

Be an ally to your male allies. Regardless of intent, it is not easy for many men to speak up and act on behalf of women. Affirm the work and impact of your allies, and share good stories related to your collaborative efforts. Promote the concept of a male-allies initiative in your company, which can work to engage more men and drive change.


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