“Gender equality is not just a women's issue - when women succeed, everyone benefits.” Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London, speaking at last Sunday’s #March4Women.
While the thousands marching prove the call for gender parity is stronger than ever, Khan’s comments are a reminder that men too need to be part of the conversation.
With the inclusion of men in mind, IEDP thought it would be good to share the important ideas contained in an article written by Sanyin Siang in Fortune in 2013, titled ‘Why We Need A Few Good Men’.
Sanyin Siang is the Executive Director of the Coach K Center on Leadership & Ethics (COLE), at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business. Here is an edited precis from her article:
As we engage leaders across private, public, and social sectors at the Coach K Center, what we hear is this: For our society to reach a point where gender doesn’t factor into the promotion of talent, the dialogue needs to include men.
As I look around, gatherings on this issue can easily draw a host of women. But, the conversations are usually framed in a way that don’t actively engage men and marginalizes them. And when referenced, men are usually extolled as heroes or demonized as chauvinists. Where is the perspective that they can be partners in this effort?
Often, men are still the key decision makers when it comes to hires or promotions. We need to understand the mindset of the decision makers. They are critical stakeholders in fostering the attitudes and culture of our organizations, be it in business, government, the social sector or academia.
The major obstacles in promotion of women have been two-fold. One is unconscious bias – our natural tendency to give more credibility and weight to those who look most like ourselves. The second is a limited imagination in unearthing talent. We tend to rely on conventional thinking which can overlook the potential value that a person has.
So, how can the dialogue be more inclusive and more engaging of men as partners in women’s advancement? I offer these three ideas:
1/ By framing the issue less as a social agenda and more as a business case. The social and personal aspects are compelling for both men and women, but can be divisive. However, those with a focus on the driving forces in business have a shared language and similar calculus based on things such as the hiring of talented people and connecting with consumers. Organizations and society in general can do better by engaging more women in its senior ranks in an era when women are key consumers and decision makers.
I recognize the compelling aspects of the socially-based argument. But, to solely confine the issue to the social and personal scope handicaps the mission in the long run. One of the worst case scenarios will be placement of a female into a position primarily because of her gender and without the requisite skills nor underlying support for her development. That would be nothing more than a setup for failure.
The business case is necessary in order for the advancement to be sustainable and for the engagement of men in the issue.
2/ By encouraging women to cultivate male as well as female mentors and advocates. The inherent bias that has been a bubble in breaking the glass ceiling is the same one that also prevents women from seeking out men as mentors. A frustration is seeing women only search for mentors who are women because they think that’s where they can learn the most. Or to see women hesitate to join a conversation when the conversants are predominantly men. This only exacerbates the issue.
The most successful women executives are able to go beyond this gender bias to seek out advice from both men as well as women.
3/ By surfacing, spotlighting, and outlining the good practices of male leaders who have made it an even playing field for valuable talent regardless of gender. In today’s post-chivalry world, it is as confusing for men as it is for women to navigate the gender issue in the workplace. We all desire role models to pave the way and show by example, how they’ve made things better. In today’s politically charged environment, men are as much in search of positive male examples to advance women as women are.
To truly shift the trajectory of women leaders in the workplace, it is important to understand perspectives and ideas from male leaders who continue to change the landscape for women. We need to engage and include the voices of a few good men.