By: Lynn Harris
In March 2011 I started the ‘Men Who Get It’ Project. One year later I’ve completed interviews with interesting men worldwide. Not only did I realize (too late) that this would have been a perfect project to meet fabulous men before I became happily married, I now have some initial findings and insights to report back.
The ultimate aim of the project is to include more men in the conversation about how to achieve gender-balanced leadership in our organizations.
First I asked women to identify men who get it using the following criteria:
Men who get it share some of the following characteristics and actions:
- They are full life partners, playing an equal role in parenting and the home
- They speak out against sexism
- They are aware of gender stereotypes and are not constrained by them
- They mentor and advocate for women
- They promote women to join men in leadership positions because they know it makes good business sense
- They intentionally create gender-balanced teams and workplaces for better performance
- They find creative ways to keep and promote women who take career breaks
- They are prepared to step off the career ladder and take the lead in parenting
- They want to be included in the conversation about gender equity
- They are cool, 21st century men who want women to be themselves and bring something additive and different to the table.
Based on these criteria I asked women to nominate suitable candidates for interview. I wanted to discover how and why these men supported women, and how we might encourage more men to do the same.
The men I’ve interviewed to date are aged between 26 and 80 years old, from varied professions and from different countries, including the UK, Sweden, Australia, Canada, USA, Switzerland and Dubai.
Here are some revelations and insights from the interviews so far:
They Do Exist
When my female friends learned about the project many predicted I would have very few nominations (implication – there aren’t many men out there who ‘get it’). In fact, although many women could only think of one or two men in their network who fit some of the criteria, most could nominate someone.
Insight: ‘Men who get it do exist, even if they are in the minority, and many want to be supportive and be included in the conversation on gender balance and equality.
They Are Influential And Have Good Ideas
Men are finding creative ways to support women, for example: Carl Otto in Canada created a measurement tool that shows how women tend to be better investment managers (and as a result has promoted more women than men in his organization); David Solomon in Australia and Eric Shoars in the USA both coach, publish and present on the merits of promoting more women into leadership positions; and Joe Keefe, CEO of Pax World Investments lobbies shareholders on board diversity and women’s empowerment.
Insight: If we include and encourage men who understand the merits of gender-balanced leadership they will find influential ways to join with us and bring about change.
Men Speaking To Men Might Work Better
Some interviewees suggested that men talking to other men could be more influential because “men might be seen as more credible because it is not seen as women pushing their own interests” and “men who are guilty of sexism are the ones less likely to take challenge from strong women.” Spotlighting men who are walking the talk on gender balance, particularly those with high positional authority, could be especially influential with other men.
Insight: we can continue to exclude men and make gender balance a women’s issue. Or, we can intentionally include men who are already on our side and make it an organizational and human issue.
Gender Equality Fatigue Requires A Different Approach
Many men are not against gender-balanced leadership; they are simply passive, “like they are waiting for someone else to do something about it – they feel it’s somehow beyond personal action.” In fact many men (and some women) don’t understand why we are still talking about this at all – hasn’t the issue been solved?
Insight: there is evident fatigue, particularly in the western world, around gender equality. We need to take a different approach if we want to influence change in the near future. Intentionally identifying and collaborating with ‘men who get it’ could provide added impetus for change.
Values Are As Important As The Business Case
Most of the men interviewed were motivated to action more by their personal values than by the business case for more women leaders. It wasn’t that they disbelieved the business case, quite the opposite. But it was personal values such as fairness, tolerance, respect and equality that really compelled these men to act.
Insight: It makes sense to influence change through research and facts. At the same time, let’s not forget that values and emotional engagement are essential components in bringing about change.
In this blog I can’t tell you all of good stories I heard about how and why these men who get it support women. But to give you a taste, here are a few priceless quotes from my interviews:
“In my experience the brightest and most searching minds just happen to have been carrying handbags” – Alex McNabb, Director, Public Relations, Dubai
“I think about gender when I’m recruiting because I don’t want 100% male population” – Anders Karlstrom, Founder & co-owner, Leadership in Life Science, Sweden
“I’m a proud feminist” – Bruno Mital, Director General, Nonprofit, Canada
“We are leaving half of our best and brightest minds on the sidelines.” – Eric Shoars, Management Consultant, USA
“When I read the list of men who get it qualities I was really interested and inspired to be on it…I thought, that’s really not that hard, it’s really not beyond everyday action.” – Hugh Todd, Executive Coach, Australia
Do you know any men who get it? If you do, why not send them this blog and start a conversation about getting more gender-balance at the top of our organizations. Let’s be intentionally collaborative – after all, isn’t that supposed to be one of our great strengths?
And if you have any positive suggestions about how to further the work of the Men Who Get It Project I will be glad to hear from you.
Lynn Harris is an Executive Leadership Coach and author of Unwritten Rules: What Women Need To Know About Leading In Today’s Organizations. Follow her on Linked In, Facebook and Twitter.
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