Contributed By: Maureen Frank, Managing Director of Emberin.com.au
Men are a big key to our success. As an advocate for women in the workforce, I never thought I would be putting that in writing!
Recently, I attended the Catalyst Conference in the US – Catalyst is a research firm associated with working women (it is an esteemed institution in the US with fortune 500 members and high profile board members – I was excited to see our very own Sol Trujillo amongst the other global CEO’s on the stage!). In true American style, and using the ‘Oprahesque’ language that became the buzz word for the conference – I had an ‘ah – ha’ moment. I now understand how critical male involvement is to the whole gender equity challenge.
As I sat and listened to global experts on the stated topics of ‘teaming with men for success’ and ‘white men as advocates for gender diversity’ one point became very clear to me: I had had success in the corporate world almost entirely because of the support of some amazing men! Yes, there were some great women along the way – but not many. The few women who were in the senior ranks fell into two categories: great supporters but perhaps people who didn’t understand exactly what my business did or women who were bullies. The people who knew my business, who pushed me, who challenged me and who believed in the way I did business – were all men!
Were these great guys big proponents for gender diversity? Well, not overtly, but I now realize they were keys to the diversity equation. To me these men were treasures, my champions, my mentors. They are people to whom I owe a big debt – many of whom are still great mates. What I always knew was that these men were different and special. These men were big proponents for women – and I know there are many men just like them out there in the corporate jungle – you just have to turn over a few rocks to find them.
I work with many major organizations to assist them with growing great women leaders. In terms of gender inclusiveness strategies, the focus has been on the women and how can we empower them. Although I still believe this is a critical issue and that women generally need help to build their confidence levels, I also believe that a big part of the formula is to understand the essence of men like my champions. How can we empower these men to teach other men to be proponents of diversity? What are the secret ingredients to helping men have their ‘ah-ha’ moments and start to really get gender diversity and why it is important to them?
What I learned at Catalyst was that, there were many men who get it and are outspoken about it. Catalyst thinks that supporting these men and getting them to virally spread the word is so essential to women’s advancement that they have conducted some research on it. Although the research has not yet been released, we were able to get a sneak peak:
Men who fit my description of ‘champions’ were interviewed for the research project. They were asked what they saw as the biggest barriers to men’s commitment to gender equity initiatives. The barriers were seen as:
- Fear of being blamed or making mistakes
- Fear of other men’s disapproval
- Lack of awareness of the cost of inequity – especially personal costs to men
So how can we overcome these barriers? Fundamentally, I believe that the rules of masculinity are such that it is men who have to teach other men about this. Yes, we can play a role, we can include, we can share, we can educate – but we need to empower a man to want to teach the next man.
Emberin is currently developing a series of workshops around ‘Teaming with Men’. Please contact us for more information.