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Welcome to GenderWorks’ July 2019 newsletter, the follow up to our June inaugural edition.

At GenderWorks our goal is to assist organizations with proactively and positively engaging men as gender diversity allies and partners. We involve men in gender diversity work in ways that encourage their input, as well as their willingness to listen, and that connect to their lives at and beyond the workplace.

Our July feature article continues the exploration of a fresh approach to Diversity & Inclusion – what we think of as D&I 2.0. We continue with Part 2 of Men, Gender Equality, and Fear: It’s Time for a New Approach, delving into a new way to frame gender diversity work and to more deeply link it to current business challenges.

We answer the question What Is a Gender Lens? and we continue the GenderWorks in the Family column, sharing learnings from our family Heritage Trip.

We end with a video sharing the inspiration for launching GenderWorks.

We hope the summer months are providing an opportunity to slow the pace of life just a bit.

All the best,

Lisa D’Annolfo Levey & Bryan Levey

Feature Article

Men, Gender Equality, and Fear: It’s Time for a New Approach (Part 2)

by Lisa D’Annolfo Levey

In GenderWorks’ inaugural June newsletter, we articulated the need for a new approach to tackling gender diversity – all types of diversity really – that moves beyond educating to truly engaging and that involves not just people’s intellect but also their hearts.

We laid out seven essential qualities that characterize this new approach – akin to a Diversity & Inclusion 2.0 – and went into depth on two foundational elements: 1) understanding the subtle, yet critical, difference between archetypes and stereotypes and 2) the vital importance of respectful behavior.

Part 2 delves into three characteristics of a revised approach that ensures a deep connection to the business and a more effective – and accurate – framing of gender diversity work.

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Gender Parity as a Business Asset

A rash of research studies have documented the business case for gender diversity, correlating greater gender parity with higher levels of innovation, lower risk, less volatility in earnings, and higher financial returns, among other metrics. The value of greater diversity comes not only from bringing a broader portfolio of perspectives to the table but also from white men, with more diverse viewpoints, being more willing to share those perspectives.

assetsInstead of resources spent on gender diversity being treated as a cost, it should be treated as a necessary investment in retrofitting outdated norms that prevent progress. Similar to capital investments in new technology or in space for staff expansion, investment in diversity work enables greater value creation. Could a business maximize profit for its shareholders by using typewriters in a laptop world? Similarly, what is the business cost of profoundly underutilizing half – or more than half of the highly educated talent pool – if the dramatic male skew in leadership continues?

A powerful way to approach gender diversity work, one that directly links to enhanced value creation, is to explore how gender norms could be contributing to perennial business problems such as safety issues, skyrocketing healthcare costs, and lack of employee engagement. The following examples illustrate how greater gender parity facilitates real solutions to business challenges.

  • A major energy company found that on oil rigs, where nearly all the employees were men, a machismo culture dominated and led to problematic, sometimes catastrophic, safety issues. Men did not value the importance of safety protocols and thus did not employ them. The presence of more women engineers on rigs helped to change the culture in ways that put safety front and center.
  • For a global pharmaceutical company, the transition from zero to three women board members changed the dynamics of how the group operated. While the men were more inclined to listen to a proposed change and immediately vote – thumbs up or down – the women asked many more questions before moving to the decision phase. Adding women to the board fueled not only more thoughtful dialogue but also more robust consideration of important issues brought to the board’s attention.

Powerful forces such as technology and globalization have profoundly sped up the pace of work. Employees struggle to keep up experiencing burnout, mental health problems, and an inability to focus. This leads to a plethora of business challenges such as rising healthcare costs, turnover and its many hidden costs, quality problems, and lack of innovation.

A huge barrier to finding more effective and healthier ways of working is a hero mentality – deeply embedded in masculine ideology – that equates commitment with rising up no matter the cost. While that approach may be necessary in special situations, as the day-to-day work practice that it’s become in many organizations, it is unsustainable and ineffective. I wonder how many of those heroes had to cope with sick children or elders living in another state?

This hero mentality devalues good planning and boundary setting, facilitates a crisis culture, encourages tunnel vision, and inhibits exploration of sustainable work practices. Greater gender parity, coupled with recognizing and valuing the wisdom that working mothers (or caretakers of any gender) bring to integrating work and caretaking, would facilitate new solutions and ameliorate the many business problems linked to perpetual overwork.

Feminine characteristics – just like masculine ones – can create or exacerbate business challenges. A heavily female-dominated healthcare company was struggling to meet deadlines related to updated healthcare regulations. The leadership was hearing that excessive and unproductive meetings were the culprit, cutting into time for focusing on the regulatory shifts. In this highly consensus-driven culture, instead of canceling meetings for which key decision makers were unavailable, the meetings would proceed as planned, yet still require a follow-up meeting to finalize decisions. In this case, the female tendency toward consensus decision making was not being balanced with the need for more efficient meeting management. A larger dose of the typical masculine drive toward action would have been helpful.

A Partnership Mentality

Gender equality, encompassing gender parity in leadership, is generally framed as benefitting women. A far more accurate framing focuses on how inflexible, socially-created gender norms negatively impact women and men. Loosening their grip benefits all.

While visiting a client site to launch a women’s network or to facilitate a task force of women leaders, inevitably a man not participating in the session would ask, “What are you ladies doing in there?” or joke, “They’re plotting a takeover.” The men were clearly curious, and concerned!

Several male allies have shared stories of reaching out to join a women’s network or indicating their desire to help and being met with suspicion and quizzical looks. Women network leaders and members may be understandably wary that men’s involvement would dilute their efforts. They fear men will seek to dominate – a perennial obstacle for women in the workplace – rather than to work alongside their women colleagues seeking gender parity in leadership. Male allies agree that a cardinal mistake some men make when first becoming involved in gender diversity work is behaving as though they’re riding in on a white horse to save the day. This approach communicates arrogance and is the antithesis of partnership behavior.

hands-shakingPartnerships are characterized by mutual learning and by working together toward a shared goal. Gender competence is a skill that benefits not only men but also women. While women are undervalued and underutilized in the workplace, men’s role as parents is highly undervalued not only in the workplace but often at home. Men who seek to support gender parity – by working with women to drive change – can set a positive tone by recognizing and amplifying women’s efforts to fight for gender equality in the workplace.

Women can help engage men in gender diversity work by not ridiculing men’s confusion, not just about harassment, but also about the changing gender dynamics at work and in many other facets of life. Too often women roll their eyes – literally or figuratively – when a man says or does something that demonstrates he’s not ‘tuned-in’ to the gender diversity conversation. While it can feel exasperating for women (who know the struggles all too well), assuming positive intent and providing space for men to share authentically, to make mistakes, and to clarify their understanding of gender challenges in the workplace, goes a long way toward creating a partnership that can endure. It builds trust and supports the deeper learning that drives behavioral changes over the long-term.

Focus on Big Organizational Challenges

We have become so accustomed to seeing the opposite gender in the other corner of the boxing ring, that too often we lose sight of what we’re rallying against – systems, structures, and practices that need to be adapted for the reality of the 21st century world.

Women’s voices often function like a canary in the coal mine, bringing attention to issues that have far reaching affects, and negatively influence men as well as women. Take for instance the perennial issue of work-life integration.

Women continue to be far more likely than men to be asked about how they combine their professional and caregiving responsibilities – yet men’s reporting of personal work-life conflict has surpassed women’s in recent years. Are men not caregivers’ as well? Are men not also struggling to be active parents while coping with rising workloads?

Instead of devolving into the adversarial stance of men vs. women or couching gender diversity efforts as helping women, a far more productive approach is exploring the connections between gender norms (think archetype not stereotype) and major organizational challenges, as described earlier in this article.

This approach not only helps to address business problems (and thus feels like a good use of people’s work time), it also facilitates women and men seeing themselves on the same team, versus as adversaries. It facilitates gender partnerships that are oriented toward problem solving and results in organizational changes that are more likely to benefit the business and the workforce simultaneously. Diversity evolves from being an HR initiative to becoming a valuable lens for assessing business challenges and generating more effective solutions.

Stay tuned for GenderWorks’ August newsletter and the final installment in this three part-series Men, Gender Equality, and Fear: It’s Time for a New Approach.


What Is a Gender Lens?

At GenderWorks, we believe a major avenue for realizing greater equality in the workplace is by helping men to develop – and deepen – their gender lenses. What do we mean by the term gender lens?

A gender lens is a focused awareness of the myriad behaviors, systems & norms that collectively affect the professional development and advancement of women and men.

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gender-lensIt’s a way of seeing situations with an understanding of how gender can – and often does – come into play. Male ally involvement becomes a catalyst for new thinking and new behaviors. New information piques men’s interest to learn more, prompting further exploration. Men are able to see patterns and to more deeply understand the systemic nature of gender issues in the workplace. This understanding helps to stimulate changes in behavior – and the creation of new norms of engagement – which enable gender balance.

Involving men in male ally forums supports their developing a gender lens, leading to individual and ultimately organizational change.

GenderWorks in the Family (and on the Road)

The Many Faces of Gender Norms

levey-familyThis month has been a very special one for our family, the culmination of multiple years of envisioning, saving, and planning. Bryan and I, and our sons, spent nearly five weeks traveling through western Europe on a Heritage Tour. We visited the countries of our origin and marked a major transition in our lives, with one son graduating from high school, soon off to college, and the other graduating from college, soon entering the work world.

During our travels gender norms surfaced often, and completely unexpectedly, from the first day of our trip to the plane ride home several weeks later. As a result, we decided to devote this month’s GenderWorks in the Family column to our gender learnings while on the road!

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A Woman Pope?

woman-popeIt began in Rome on the first morning after we arrived during a visit to the Vatican. Our guide, an art restoration expert who’d spent two decades restoring precious museum paintings, pointed to a statue and shared the controversial story of Pope Joan. Disguised as a male, Pope Joan who was talented and bright, distinguished herself and rose through the ranks of the Catholic Church eventually being elected Pope. She gave birth to a child, revealing her true identity and stunning the Roman elite. She was put to death and the record of her existence expunged from the papal records.

Legalized Prostitution

While in Amsterdam, we learned about the pragmatic approach of the Dutch to the timeless challenge of prostitution in the city. In the year 2000, after decades of growing demand for legal protection of prostitutes, brothels in Amsterdam became legal. The new law enabled sex workers to operate as small business owners, requiring them to pay taxes and adhere to health and safety regulations. As a result of legalization, women [who comprise the vast majority of sex workers] were able to control their rules of engagement and their incomes. The incidences of women being forced to work against their will, controlled by abusive men (who sometimes lured them to the Netherlands under false pretenses) has declined substantially as a result of the law.

New Gender Scripts

Our AirBnB host Felix in Friesland, several hours north of Amsterdam, shared in conversation that he met his Peruvian wife Dayde when she was a foreign exchange student visiting the Netherlands. He described Dayde as bright and driven, earning her PhD in information sciences, as well as devoted to social justice. While they work together managing a series of properties during the spring and summer months, Dayde spends several months in Spain during the fall and winter each year, collaborating with a team to improve conditions for underserved children in South America. When she is away, Felix is the primary parent caring for their two young children. How serendipitous it felt to hear their story of redefining gender norms in this small northern village.

Vote 100

smash stereotypesNext up we traveled to England and while shopping in London’s Covent Gardens, we visited Tatty Devine, a store advertising hand-made jewelry created by local designers. Much to our surprise, there was a special jewelry collection focused on gender equality! The company partnered with the Museum of London in creating a 2018 collection celebrating Vote 100, the centennial of women’s right to vote in the UK. I purchased a necklace with a hammer pendant heralding Smash Stereotypes and a book Feminists Don’t Wear Pink and other lies curated by Scarlett Curtis. The book is an anthology of essays written by women journalists, writers, doctors, designers, actors, activists and more who share what the F word (feminism) means to them.

The Reign of British Queens

After visiting the Tower of London, where a short film captured Queen Elizabeth II’s 1952 coronation, my son asked how her reign compared in duration to that of other English rulers. british-reignsWhile I’d intended to do some research on the subject, the very next day while on a pub crawl tour we happened to see a plaque at the entrance to the historic Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese pub (1667) which listed the British monarchs and the dates of their reigns. A quick scan indicated that after Queen Elizabeth II’s record-breaking 67+ year reign to date, next in line was Queen Victoria who ruled for 63 years from 1837 to 1901.

U.S. Women’s Soccer Team

pub-familyWe visited Scotland to spend time with our good friend and former neighbor, and her three sons who spent many years playing at our house and our sons playing at theirs. It was a great reunion for the kids who hadn’t seen one another in nearly 5 years. My friend Moira and I spent my family’s last night in Scotland at a neighborhood pub, with our five young men, watching the amazing U.S. Women’s Soccer team clinch the World Cup – yet again. It was a spectacular night, a great moment, and stimulated a discussion about if performance/revenue are metrics, shouldn’t the women’s team be paid the same?

Ancient History and Women Leaders

On Sunday morning while in Scotland, I decided to attend a Unitarian church service in Glasgow. It felt a bit destined in that the sermon focused on women leaders (during the Neolithic and Bronze Ages that is)! I learned about an esteemed woman archeologist Maria Gimbutas, who discovered extensive evidence – including over 500 artifacts collected throughout multiple decades – of a highly sophisticated, female-led society from approximately 6,000 – 2,500 BC. During this time, women were revered for their ability to create life. Their role as creators and nurturers was extended to include love of – and care for – Mother Earth, just as one would for a human child. A salient feature of this ancient culture was the lack of violence and the dearth of standing armies, in sharp contrast to subsequent epochs. As I sat listening to this sermon, I kept pondering this unlikely coincidence given that I hadn’t even considered attending a church service until the night before. How strange that the sermon topic was of such great import for me and the work of GenderWorks.

New Gender Scripts, Part II

Our final stop was Ireland where again a serendipitous story put the spotlight on gender roles. We drove through undulating hills of green in Connemara with sheep lining the hillsides (and occasionally the roads!), while on route to watch sheep herding in action. The sheep farmer finished a prior demonstration and told us that he needed to make breakfast for his kids before the next one began in 20 minutes. During his talk, he shared how the economics of sheep herding had changed dramatically in recent decades, making it impossible to earn even close to a living wage from the sale of wool and/or meat. He went on to say that he felt very thankful for his wife’s good job with benefits, enabling him to do what he loved – breeding and training border collies – while being the primary parent for their school-age children. It was another example of how gender equality supports families by providing greater flexibility and economic security.

Women Aviators

On route home from our big adventure, I scanned the July 2019 Aer Lingus magazine Cara. The Welcome Aboard column highlighted the relaunch of the company’s pilot apprentice training program and the goal of encouraging women to apply as well as the airline’s leadership role in supporting female pilots. It read,

Aer Lingus has a strong record of supporting female aviators; in 1988 we were the first airline in Europe to recruit a female pilot, Grainne Cronin. We’re currently employing twice as many females compared with the international airline industry, something we are very proud of and keen to grow.

Closing Thoughts

We were surprised – perhaps shocked – by the many ways in which the role of gender surfaced repeatedly during our Heritage Tour, despite no effort on our part to explore this in any way. With each country visit, the salient role of gender – both historically and presently – was on full display.

GenderWorks Video