The Inclusion of Men in Gender Equity Efforts

Too many organizations continue to miss the mark when it comes to their gender equity initiatives by focusing these efforts solely on changing women — from the way they network to the way they lead. Unfortunately, gender diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts that focus only on women reinforce perceptions that these are “women’s issues,” effectively communicating to men that they don’t need to be involved.

Here’s the problem: Without avid support from men — often the most powerful stakeholders in many companies — significant progress toward ending gender disparities is unlikely.

Women’s Issues Are Men’s Issues, Too

Gender inequities are not women’s issues; they are foundational leadership issues. We need to stop giving men, especially those in leadership positions, a free pass on ignoring key business outcomes related to gender diversity. Men’s lack of engagement negatively impacts families’ economic stability, companies’ bottom lines, and our national economy. 

Not only does greater gender diversity and gender balance in leadership lead to better financial outcomes, creativity, and mission success, there is now clear evidence that when men are deliberately engaged in gender DEI efforts, 96% of women in those organizations see real progress in gender equity and inclusion versus only 30% of women when men in their organizations are seen as disengaged.

The more positive interactions that men have with women at work, the less bias, discrimination, and exclusion they tend to demonstrate. And, the more men are included in gender equity programs, the more they feel a sense of ownership and psychological standing. Additionally, men with female mentors, mentees, and close colleagues have better networks, communication skills, emotional intelligence, and leadership skills. 

Many Men Are Eager to Get Involved

Here’s some good news. In our research for our new book on male allyship, Good Guys, we discovered that a lot of men fully grasp that gender exclusion crushes organizational flourishing. They recognize the toll that gender bias and codified sexism in the workplace extracts from women whom they care about. These men are eager to learn how to really move the needle on gender inclusion; they just don’t know how to start or what to do. Many of these guys are just waiting to be invited into the conversation and effectively equipped for meaningful engagement in gender DEI work. 

Here is some more good news. A number of companies have discovered the salient importance of engaging men in gender equity. For instance, Bayer/Monsanto’s Women in Science Exchange (WiSE) has a growing community of male allies (self-proclaimed “Wise Guys”) who are committed to fully supporting the efforts of the women’s exchange.

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PNC Bank’s men-as-allies community is a growing grassroots movement within the company focused on sharpening men’s skills around both interpersonal and public allyship for women. Additionally, JPMorgan Chase recently successfully launched a 30-5-1 campaign, asking men in any leadership role to pledge 36 minutes every week to personally further the company’s gender DEI efforts by spending 30 minutes mentoring a junior woman, five minutes acknowledging a female colleague’s recent achievement, and one minute giving a public shout-out about that woman’s success.

Finally, Prismwork consulting has developed leadership labs for men focused on inclusive leadership and male allyship, recognizing that the modern workplace requires a new set of leadership skills built on empathy, collaboration, inclusion, and self-awareness.

Showing Up Is the Easy Part

Although inviting men into gender DEI work, like including them in initiatives, employee resource groups, and events is key to getting to desired equity objectives faster, we have a message for aspiring male allies: Showing up is the easy part. How you show up is the real challenge. When you lean in to engaging in these initiatives at work, here are a few rules of the road. 

  • Show up with a learning orientation and just listen. Decenter, listen, and learn as much as you can about the experiences and concerns of the women around you. 
  • Respect the space. Women’s resource groups and conferences have been important places for females to share experiences, provide support, and strategize change efforts. Tread respectfully into these environs. 
  • Park your steed and put away the armor. Rescuing women is not the order of the day. No white-knighting or undermining women by trying to take over or become the spokesman for gender initiatives.
  • Get comfortable being uncomfortable. Learning about the painful experiences and challenges bearing on sexism and gender discrimination can be uncomfortable. Sit with what you discover and commit to learning more.

Our research confirms that there are a lot of good guys out there. They just haven’t seen gender equity as their responsibility or feel like they are equipped to take action. At work, they are too often left out of key gender DEI conversations and initiatives. Time to invite them to the table!

W. Brad Johnson, PhD, is a professor of psychology in the Department of Leadership, Ethics, and Law at the United States Naval Academy and a faculty associate in the Graduate School at Johns Hopkins University. He is the coauthor of Athena Rising: How and Why Men Should Mentor Women, The Elements of Mentoring, and other books on mentorship. His next book, coauthored with David G. Smith, is Good Guys: How Men Can Be Better Allies for Women in the Workplace, forthcoming in 2020.

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