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We’re excited to share GenderWorks’ August 2019 newsletter.

Our feature article Part 3 of Men, Gender Equality, and Fear: It’s Time for a New Approach completes our exploration of a fresh approach to Diversity & Inclusion or what we call D&I 2.0.

We answer the common question, Why Focus on Gender When the Goal is Inclusivity for All? and we continue our GenderWorks in the Family column providing a window into how gender manifests in our lives as a couple and family of four.

We end with a video Gender Equity Partners illuminating how gender inequality affects both women and men.

GenderWorks assists organizations with proactively and positively engaging men as gender diversity allies and partners. We involve men in gender diversity work safely, deeply, and in ways that resonate for men far beyond the workplace.

All the best,

Lisa D’Annolfo Levey & Bryan Levey

Feature Article

Men, Gender Equality, and Fear: It’s Time for a New Approach (Part 3)

by Lisa D’Annolfo Levey

GenderWorks’ June and July newsletters began the exploration of a fresh, new approach to diversity and inclusion work in companies – D&I 2.0. This approach moves beyond education and training, involving women and men intellectually and emotionally. Through a gender partnership, they focus on solving organizational problems while creating new, more inclusive work practices and identifying needed structural changes.

GenderWorks’ D&I 2.0 approach is characterized by 7 essential elements (see table to the right). The June newsletter focused on building a foundation and the July edition on far more effectively linking D&I to the organizational business case. This article completes the series, discussing how neuroscience informs individual and organizational change.

Essential Characteristics
of Diversity & Inclusion 2.0

Foundational Elements

  • Clarity on Stereotypes versus Archetypes
  • Respectful Behavior

In the Office

  • Gender Parity as a Business Asset
  • A Partnership Mentality
  • Focus on Big Organizational Challenges

Promoting Change

  • The Importance of Nuance: A Common Sense Approach to Harassment
  • The Need to Ask New Questions
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The Importance of Nuance: A Common Sense Approach to Harassment

A rising tide of understanding, calling out inappropriate behavior in the workplace, has left even the well-intentioned worried. The explosion of the Me Too movement, and men’s heightened fear in response, argues for the importance of a more thoughtful and nuanced understanding of harassment. Brain research indicates black and white thinking is closely associated with a perceived lack of safety in which an individual is operating in a threat state. While for our prehistoric ancestors, reactionary thinking and response was a survival skill, the complex challenges that characterize the modern workplace require a very different approach. Big, multi-layered issues necessitate the ability to see shades of gray.

think before you speakThe discussion of workplace harassment desperately needs more gray, coupled with defining clear boundaries that are non-negotiable. We have conflated innocent errors (always referring to leaders as he) with thoughtless, obnoxious behaviors (sexist jokes) with behaviors that cross a boundary (sexualizing women co-workers) and, more often than not, represent a clear abuse of power (a more senior-level person linking work opportunities with a desired sexual relationship).

This oversimplification is hurting – not helping – the development of a common sense approach to managing harassment in the workplace. There are a whole range of harassment behaviors along a continuum. Frequency, intent, willingness to hear and respond to feedback, and the relative levels of the individuals involved are all critical factors in crafting a proportionally appropriate response to harassing behaviors.

I’ve often heard men say something like,” I’m not even allowed to tell a woman she looks pretty or that I like her outfit anymore.” I would argue that telling a woman she looks attractive is not the problem. The problems arise when: 1) the compliment is sexually charged and inappropriate for the workplace, 2) there are excessive compliments targeted at one individual, or 3) all the compliments are about women’s looks and not about their professional contributions. Context matters.

Men worry that they will somehow be caught off guard and charged with harassment, potentially upending their careers and all they’ve worked so hard to achieve. This worry is misguided. Egregious cases tend to be clear cut and avoiding them straight-forward.

Most of the high-profile news stories spotlighting harassment reflect an abuse of power, fueled by egotism, a lack of regard, the absence of self-reflection and in some cases, outright cruelty.

Repeatedly asking someone out who has clearly indicated a lack of interest? Pretty clear. Making a sexual overture toward a woman who is clearly subordinate (more junior in rank or substantially younger)? Should be pretty clear but apparently isn’t. Offering professional opportunities in exchange for sexual favors or threatening professional harm in the absence of sexual favors? Egregiously clear. Physically forcing or restraining someone in any way? Couldn’t be more clear. Intentionally seeking to frighten, demean or marginalize someone with words and actions? Is it necessary to ask?

The reality is that the overwhelming majority of men who seek to do the right thing, and feel confused by what constitutes harassment, have nothing to worry about. Here are a few simple ways men can clear up any possible confusion if they’re concerned:
1) Stop any behaviors that are worrisome or potentially problematic
2) Investigate and ask the woman or women involved if the behavior is a problem
3) Ask yourself the question, how would I feel about a man treating my — daughter, niece, wife, sister, female friend, fill in the blank – this way? If the response is, I’d want to punch him in the face or worse, then the answer is clear.

While organizations are seeking to make long-needed adjustments to how women are treated in the workplace, growing pains are inevitable. Change is hard.

The Need to Ask New Questions

The ability for organizations to realize gender parity requires them to start asking new questions. Many of the obstacles to greater progress result from inertia and a lack of innovative thinking. Too often diversity work can feel marginalized, relegated to an HR project rather than regarded as a powerful lever to strengthen financial returns, drive innovation, and reduce risk, all benefits documented by research.

If we took even a fraction of the resources invested to develop a new medical drug, market a new software product or even entertain clients at a major law firm or investment bank, we would get far closer to realizing gender parity in the next 10 years, rather than the next 100.

Asking new questions opens up pathways in the brain. The table below highlights common issues and challenges that women confront at work and poses questions that can help to spur innovative thinking and solutions.

Issue/Challenge New Questions
Women leave a company after discovering male peers are paid substantially more.
  • Is there an organizational philosophy (or guidelines for managers) regarding pay disparities by gender?
  • What is the process for leaders and managers to proactively monitor pay disparities by gender for their teams? What is the impact on women’s engagement at the company feeling they are underpaid and undervalued?
  • As a leader, if all salaries were public, could you justify the gender disparities?
The leadership model at the company (perceived as requiring unbounded commitment), conflicts with women’s vision of success enabling the integration of career and active family involvement.
  • Is the all-in leadership model truly necessary?
  • How can leadership roles be restructured to be more sustainable and inclusive?
  • As a leader, if your care responsibilities suddenly increased – due to a family illness – requiring your daily involvement, how would the company be affected?
Women are strongly motivated by the ability to make a positive difference in people’s lives. Yet they find the company’s mission is not the compass for daily decision making.
  • Is the company’s mission overshadowed by a singular focus on the financials?
  • How would the business change if that equation was reversed?
  • How would women’s desire for leadership roles change if that equation was reversed?
  • Is a strong connection to the company’s mission seen as a business skill, or a lack of business skills?
Women’s ambitions are eroded by multiple converging forces: motherhood translating to reduced opportunities, less qualified male peers getting ahead, and managers with little time or interest in their development.
  • Does the company having a listening system to ensure an understanding of women’s experiences? Why their ambitions decline? Is it safe for women to be candid?
  • How is this listening system connected to proactive responses when problematic patterns are identified?
  • How can management be structured to ensure employees have multiple individuals invested in their careers?
  • Do fathers take advantage of workplace supports for new parents in similar ways to their female peers? If not, why not?
  • How can male managers develop male ally skills so as to recognize problematic gender patterns?


Women’s potential has been – and continues to be – squandered in the workplace, with little progress in sight. Globally, the underutilization of women’s talents in the workforce translates to a 12 trillion – with a T – dollar loss.

At the same time, having men on the sidelines, marginally involved (if at all) in diversity work represents a tremendous lost opportunity. The prevalent approach to gender diversity work is missing a major piece of the puzzle – proactively involving men – as allies and partners.

By employing a new approach to framing gender in the workplace, organizations can engage men in ways that not only substantially benefit women and companies but also enrich men’s lives. That’s a win-win-win!


Why Focus on Gender When the Goal is Inclusivity for All?

GenderWorks supports, and deeply believes in, the importance of building an inclusive culture for all employees and creating a level playing field of opportunity enabling diverse talent to thrive. That said, we see gender as a powerful platform from which to inculcate an inclusive work culture for the following reasons:

  1. We Welcome AllWomen represent every dimension of diversity – all racial and ethnic groups, employees in the LGBT community, veterans, parents, etc. – except for white men.
  2. Gender is a universal dimension of diversity that directly touches every employee.
  3. Gender diversity is global, resonating across the world, while other types of diversity vary from one culture or region to another.
  4. Women represent a large percentage of the workforce and of the talent pool – often the majority – in many organizations and cultures.
  5. Efforts targeted at creating gender parity in leadership – including adapting problematic systems, engaging allies, and creating new practices – are broadly applicable to all aspects of diversity.

For all these reasons, the universality of gender, the critical mass of females in the talent pool, and the applicability of improvements for all, focusing on gender is compelling.

GenderWorks in the Family (and on the Road)

Planning Makes Perfect?

During our family’s Heritage trip over multiple weeks, the classic gender issue of mom as the dominant planner in the family emerged. Now it’s true that Lisa is a terrific planner and more likely to plan ahead based on personality and temperament. She routinely grabs the 3-fold travel brochures in a new destination and enjoys getting a sense of fun things to see and do. That said, her interest can morph into frustration if she feels unsupported and taken for granted.

We had two junctures on the trip where the doing too much feeling hit. Here’s what happened and what we learned.

Communication Is Key

churchill-war-roomOn a hot day in London at the end of June, our family of four headed out without clear plans. We hoped to see the Churchill War Rooms and potentially ride the London Eye. By the end of the day, we’d spent hours walking in the hot sun, standing in lines, and feeling pretty irritable all the way around.

Later back in the room, Bryan started researching the London theater options and train schedules to Scotland, our next destination. Lisa was unknowingly doing the same thing. A frustrating conversation ensued and it became clear that the communication had broken down. Lisa learned, yet again, the problem with her tendency to go on autopilot and Bryan learned, yet again, the need to check in before jumping in, knowing Lisa sometimes steams ahead.

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Appreciation Enables a Clearer Perspective

Our family went shopping in Dublin, with the goal of getting gifts to bring home for family and friends. Lisa became sad, feeling the family wasn’t very enthusiastic, nor helpful, about choosing gifts. Sadness became anger as she thought, I’m doing all the planning here.

After dinner, feeling well fed and with calmer emotions, we reflected on the shopping trip. Bryan reminded Lisa how our younger son – who did seem to inherit the planner gene – had repeatedly been asking, “When can we talk about how we want to spend our last week?” He was sketching out in his own mind the itinerary and possibilities for gifts.

Later in the evening, we were talking about highlights of the trip thus far and they included a cooking class in Rome and a pub crawl in London. Both of these activities were planned and paid for by our sons, who’d committed to being responsible for a special activity each week of the trip.

We try to learn from our conflicts. In this instance, Bryan more clearly understood why ensuring our sons share in the responsibility of family care is important. Lisa walked away from the evening realizing how, her knowledge of the unequal distribution of care work for women and men, can cloud her perspective in seeing all the ways our sons do contribute.

GenderWorks Video