Featuring Dawn Frazier-Bohnert, Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer, Liberty Mutual Insurance
Diversity is about all of us. That was the message of Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer Dawn Frazier-Bohnert when she launched the diversity and inclusion (D&I) office at Liberty Mutual Insurance in 2013.
This statement may sound a bit unusual, since the work of diversity and inclusion has historically been geared toward promoting opportunities for women and minorities to enter the corporate world. But through ongoing discussions with her peers in other Fortune 100 D&I departments, and listening sessions with over 150 men at Liberty, Frazier-Bohnert found that typically what would happen in the push for diversity is that some men, and particularly white men, often felt excluded from the work and like an obstacle to its progress, intentionally or not.
Engage Male Allies
So when Frazier-Bohnert’s team launched Liberty’s own women and allies employee resource group (ERG), WE@Liberty, “we intentionally included ‘Engaging Men’ in our mission statement, knowing that by doing so we would ultimately enhance our mutual success,” she says.
That deliberate focus on engaging men culminated last summer in Liberty’s launch of the “Men as Allies” initiative — which dovetails with WE@Liberty’s mission to empower women and engage men through shared opportunities that will enrich the work environment for all employees.
“We know there are many men who want to help women advance in the workplace, but they don’t know what to do or where to start,” Frazier-Bohnert says. “The ‘Men as Allies’ initiative, which was led by my colleague Greg Gale, offers actionable steps so men and women can strengthen gender collaboration and foster a work environment where everyone has the chance to be successful.”
Employees—men and women—were encouraged to join an internal, online “Men as Allies” community set up to serve as an important forum for men and women to have a dialogue, ask and answer questions, share news, and inspire others to become D&I allies to help advance women in the workplace.
“Assume Positive Intent”
“My mantra is ‘assume positive intent’,” Frazier-Bohnert says. “It is something that I actively encourage everyone to follow because sometimes it can be difficult for people to know where to start a conversation. It can be difficult to find the right words. But if we assume positive intent and hold allies accountable with constructive feedback, then together we have the power to make our workplace more inclusive and our company stronger.”
Ensuring that men are engaged in helping achieve greater gender diversity and inclusion is critical. A Catalyst study shows that women comprise almost 47 percent of the workforce and according to an article in the Harvard Business Review, women control more than $20 trillion in consumer spending, representing two-thirds of total global spending. Research shows that companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 30 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.
Frazier-Bohnert says: “We can’t afford to lose out on that much talent or business. More gender-diverse teams also allow us to create better products and services that reflect all of our customers’ needs, including women. So we developed an initiative to actively welcome our male allies—it is with their involvement that we can make progress in moving the needle toward greater gender balance and collaboration among all of our colleagues.”
Tap the Power of Our Differences
Fortunately, across corporate America, more companies are making it a key priority to engage men in diversity and inclusion efforts. “Everyone has to be all in in helping us do this work, and we need to embrace all dimensions of diversity to get the best business outcomes,” Frazier-Bohnert says. “And for those men already in, they can encourage others to get involved.”
Implementing a “Men as Allies” initiative is a crucial next step in advancing a company’s D&I core mission and involves leaders and employees from across the organization helping to make the business case for furthering men’s involvement.
“Being an ally is not about building up someone else while sacrificing your own growth or career success. It’s not a zero-sum game or an ‘either/or’ proposition,” Frazier-Bohnert says. “It’s about learning and understanding our differences and being open to them. And then let’s take that a step further—it’s about realizing that difference inspires creative thinking and innovative ideas. By recognizing the power of our differences you are creating an environment that inspires people to want to work with you and create better results.”
Through a phased approach of listening, awareness, informing and encouraging action, companies can engage all men and women in more actively creating an inclusive environment and participating in D&I. When men take action as allies, mentors and/or sponsors for D&I and women, they help create a more inclusive workplace for all.