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Welcome to GenderWorks’ December 2019 newsletter.

Our article How Change Really Happens continues our Neuroscience Nuggets series that illuminates how understanding neuroscience can help organizations to strengthen their diversity and inclusion efforts.

Male Allies Recognizing Your Unique Contribution and Refueling Your Passion for Work tells the story of how male colleagues played a powerful role in helping this thought leader deeply appreciate her contribution to her field.

Our FAQ this month answers, What Does Gender Equality Look Like in the Workplace? In addition, you can now easily find the full set of our frequently-asked-questions, which have been featured monthly, on the main menu tab at GenderWorks.com.

In January we will return with GenderWorks in the Family by looking at the experience of our young adult child moving home after college graduation, and discuss the process of transitioning our relationship from Parent-Child to Parent-Young Adult.

We wish you a restorative and wonderful holiday, doing what you love with people you care for and enjoy.

All the best,

Lisa D’Annolfo Levey & Bryan Levey

Neuroscience Nuggets


How Change Really Happens

Trying to make a change in our lives – to lose 10 pounds, exercise regularly or practice greater equanimity with relatives – requires hard work and a plan for making it happen. For most men, becoming male allies requires the very same things. This happens through time and practice.  

The starting point for most men, even those who strongly believe in and support gender diversity, is to more deeply understand the experience of women in the workplace, an environment largely crafted by – and for – men. At a recent client meeting, a group of women PhD’s described being in their workplace as having to deal with “death by a thousand cuts”. It can be the little things, day-after-day, year-after-year, that wear women down and stymie their ambition. Helping men to understand – really understand – how this happens and the toll it takes, is a process and not a one-time fix.

The challenge to understand is not exclusive to men, nor gender. Any person seeking to see the world from the vantage point of someone who’s life experience has been very different from their own – whether it’s a white person seeking to learn about racism or an able-bodied person seeking to learn about disability – has to proactively work to do so.

Paying attention in this way, sometimes called ‘perspective taking’, is trying to figuratively walk in someone else’s shoes and requires time and energy, two things that tend to be in short supply in the modern-day workplace.

The big benefit of this investment is that the learnings are deep and lasting. A famous model donned a fat suit to explore if, and how, the world would be different as an overweight woman. It was a sobering exercise to witness first-hand the rampant size prejudice overweight women confront daily, and one she shared she would never forget.

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If a man does make the effort to learn how his female colleagues at work experience the organization (or how other women in his life experience their workplaces) and he strengthens his awareness of the unique gender challenges women encounter, then what? Optimally, he wants to act, to do things differently when he recognizes problematic behavior in himself or other men.

change-is-a-processDavid Rock, founder of the NeuroLeadership Institute, articulates three things that are necessary for new patterns of behavior to take root. They include focused attention, positive feedback, and perhaps most critically, repetition (aka practice.) Without them, the tendency to default to old norms of behavior is too strong.

The typical approach for involving men, particularly white men, in diversity work of any kind is through a one-time unconscious bias workshop or a multi-day diversity retreat. Although these experiences are educational and motivating, they lack the repetition, feedback and long-term support necessary for deep and lasting change. Therefore, these efforts to facilitate men’s ability to recognize diversity-related challenges and the skills to behave differently, can have limited impact.

Setting aside for the moment that the topic of gender diversity elicits anger, fear, confusion and frustration for many men in most organizations, even those men inclined to strengthen their gender competence need a thoughtful, structured and supported process for doing so, because this is how change really happens.

Male Ally Profile

Male Allies Recognizing Your Unique Contribution and Refueling Your Passion for Work

Amy met Ofer at a professional conference, a conference at which she was contemplating professionally slowing down and taking on less. Their conversation, and subsequent professional relationship, changed all that.

His research strongly validated her life-long career coaching philosophy. He shone a spotlight on her work, motivated her to continue learning and growing and recognized all that she’d contributed to the career coaching profession. In addition, working with Ofer emboldened Amy to be more vocal about the problems in her profession and encouraged her to articulate her vision of the role of career professionals.

Amy learned in her conversation with Ofer that his research focused on the world of the job seeker, a world in which problematic systems and practices determined outcomes far more than the actions of the individual. He shared his recently published book, asking Amy for her input, and subsequently invited her to join a group he was forming. Ofer sought to educate career counselors about the structural inadequacies of the current job search process and inspire them to advocate for much needed change.

Amy was positioned as a thought leader and role model whose coaching helped job seekers have a clearer, more balanced and positive perspective on the job search. In her work with clients, Amy helped them to consider what their heart was telling them about their work and exploring how underlying assumptions could be creating obstacles that could be overcome.

A second male ally, David, also played an important role in Amy’s career growth and satisfaction. Similarly, she met David, a college professor, at a conference where they discussed their respective professional work. David studied the psychology of working and explored how work provides people with far more than a paycheck: respect, affiliation, purpose and more. 

David regularly asked Amy to speak to his students and invited her to teach a class at the university. She described his offer as ‘such a high.’ They co-presented at conferences and he regularly talked about her work as a career counselor, holding her up as a model to emulate – validating the profound role of work in people’s lives and the enormous vulnerability they experienced being out of work.

These two men, colleagues and male allies, valued the thought leadership Amy brought to her field and helped refuel her excitement in changing people’s lives. This passion had become dulled by the system in which job searchers must engage, one that greatly challenges their sense of having agency in what has become a flawed and ineffective process.


What Does Gender Equality Look Like in the Workplace?

The World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report 2020 was just recently released. It reveals that at our current rate of change, gender parity will not be attained for another 99 years!

At GenderWorks, we’ve been asked if the goal of gender equality is to simply have women represent 50% of all roles in the workplace. Though we don’t favor getting too prescriptive, the fact that gender inequality exists in nearly every company, industry, and profession underscores the systemic nature of the problem and the need for concrete actions to fuel progress.

From a practical perspective, gender equality translates to ensuring that the mismatch between women representing over half of the initial talent pool – in fields such as neuroscience and law – yet representing a paltry 1 in 5 of those in leadership, does not persist. A common sense approach could be determining tolerance ranges that assist organizations in recognizing when action is required.

Thus, if the goal is to have women represent between 40% and 60% of the leadership team, when female representation drops below 40%, it provides a trigger for a response to fill the gap within a defined timeframe. Possible responses could include hiring women from outside the organization and/or identifying the strongest internal female candidates and creating well-resourced plans to accelerate their development.  

As another example, if male nurses represented 20% of students graduating with nursing degrees yet only 10% of RNs (registered nurses), it would be a signal to act. Interestingly, the National League of Nursing reported in a 2017-18 survey that men comprised 13% of nursing students while the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicated approximately 12% of RNs were male, tracking the pipeline figure quite nicely. In this profession, strengthening diversity requires increasing men’s presence in the feeder pool for nurses rather than ensuring their retention and development.

Another means by which to assess gender equality is to ensure that organizations are comparing apple to apples. It is very common to hear that no gender problems exist because there is a woman or some women in leadership. Yet, often those women are superstars and if a man possessed the same credentials, he would not be an SVP or the head of a business unit but the CEO of the multi-national company.

At Lisa’s former employer Catalyst – an organization well known for its research and consulting on women in the workplace – a story about helping a client company confront their gender biases became somewhat legendary. The story told about a major manufacturer who was struggling with the dearth of women in plant management roles. The male leaders attributed this shortfall to the fact that there were no qualified women available to fill these roles. When the resumes of these men – at the point they had assumed plant management roles – were revealed, the men could see firsthand that they were no more qualified, and often less so, than the potential women candidates.

Gender equality in the workplace looks like the average woman professional, not the superstar, achieving a similar level of status and pay as the average male. It’s about comparing apples and apples.