Welcome to GenderWorks’ inaugural newsletter! Our primary goal at GenderWorks is to assist organizations with proactively and positively engaging men as gender diversity allies and partners.
We know far too many men feel confused, concerned, frustrated – sometimes angry – when the topic of gender in the workplace arises. We seek to change that, helping to create forums where men can get involved in gender diversity work – authentically, safely, and in ways that benefit their lives beyond the workplace. Based on our extensive research with male allies, we deeply believe that involving men – working with them versus talking at them – is a real game changer in accelerating progress toward gender parity in organizations.
In this first newsletter, our June feature article explores Men, Gender Equality, and Fear: It’s Time for a New Approach, we answer the common question, What Is a Male Ally? and we begin a monthly column, GenderWorks in the Family that shares our personal gender equality journey.
We’re enjoying a beautiful spring in New England this year (a rare occurrence). Hope Mother Nature is beckoning you outside to enjoy as well.
Lisa D’Annolfo Levey and Bryan Levey
Table of Contents
Men, Gender Equality, and Fear: It’s Time for a New Approach
What is a Male Ally?
GenderWorks in the Family:
Do Men and Women Have Different Chores?
Why Focus on Men?
Men, Gender Equality, and Fear: It’s Time for a New Approach
by Lisa D’Annolfo Levey
The Me Too movement has shone a spotlight on the scale of harassment in the workplace and catalyzed new norms of accountability. It has simultaneously spawned widespread fear among men. LeanIn’s recent survey findings What Women Are Up Against at Work showcases the problem with 6 in 10 male managers reporting discomfort interacting with women in everyday work activities, such as mentoring and socializing, and senior male leaders being ten-times more hesitant to have one-on-one meetings with junior-level women as compared to men.
A January 2019 survey found a startling 4 in 5 men were very (55%) or somewhat (27%) concerned about false accusations of harassment and assault yet, only a third expressed strong concern about gender pay inequity or inequitable treatment with regard to professional development and advancement.
Thus, after several decades of organizational women’s initiatives, awards for companies that support women’s advancement, and study after study documenting the powerful business drivers for prioritizing gender balance in leadership, we’re at a point where men register greater concern about being falsely accused than about the substantial and persistent inequalities experienced by women.
The kicker is, false claims of harassment are rare and most experiences of harassment at work never get reported.
It’s Time for a Change
This disheartening situation highlights the rampant fear and widespread misunderstanding about why gender equality is important for women and men. Clearly, it’s time to reboot the gender conversation and that’s a good thing.
The truth is gender has long been weaponized and used to divide. The prevailing women versus men frame, in which gender is couched, magnifies and reinforces differences rather than providing a broader context which encompasses the many similarities.
Having spent most of my life as a close observer of how gender works in the world, as well as more than two decades professionally focused on the role of gender in the workplace and the home, I have come to believe that gender equality is far more linked to one’s world view than to the gender of an individual. In its truest form, gender equality is about lifting the constraints posed by gender norms that limit women and men alike.
Defining a New Approach
So, what is this new approach to creating real gender equality in the workplace? Think of it as Diversity & Inclusion 2.0. GenderWorks has identified seven essential elements that characterize a new and improved way of thinking about and guiding organizational efforts to realize gender parity.
Beginning with this inaugural GenderWorks newsletter, we will focus on two foundational elements of a new D&I approach. Then, in the July newsletter, we will transition our focus to organizational characteristics and finally in August, we will wrap up the series with attention to defining characteristics that facilitate change.
Essential Characteristics of Diversity & Inclusion 2.0
In the Office
Clarity on Stereotypes versus Archetypes
The topic of stereotypes is front and center in discussions of diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Stereotypes are oversimplifications – of an idea, a characteristic, an individual or a group.
Our brains are wired to detect a new piece of information and subsequently search for an existing pattern in our minds where it will be stored. The problem is stereotypes are static and self-reinforcing – staying fixed in our minds – rather than evolving through time. Why is that? The human brain selectively takes in information that reinforces familiar patterns while discounting stimuli that do not. Thus, we selectively pay attention to information that supports what we already believe. It takes both an open mind and effort to expand one’s understanding of something or someone.
Stereotypes are partially true – and partially false – and repeatedly confused with archetypes. An archetype is a model or strong example of something with particular salient characteristics. Like stereotypes, archetypes are built from patterns that describe objects or people. A helpful metaphor is the idea of the breed standard in the world of dog competitions.
But a visit to any park will make it clear that an archetype is not all inclusive. While a breed of dog might be judged by some constructed standard, even within the constraints of a single breed, dogs come in many shapes and sizes.
Stereotypes are highly problematic because the shorthand becomes the full story. While the average woman may be more emotional and talk more than the average man or the average man may be more passionate about sports or logical than the average woman, this does not mean – by a long stretch – that every single woman or every single man is representative of these archetypal characteristics. The variability across a single gender is great.
The concept of gender is especially complicated because it has been treated as binary, with two choices on the menu – male or female. The real story, based on biological and sociological research, suggests the picture is far more complex.
Gender characteristics are lumped into two big categories – masculine or feminine – with the expectation that men model masculine traits and women model feminine ones. Sadly, deviating from these prescribed gender norms has high social costs, even potential harm or death for those in the LGBT community (but that critical topic is beyond the scope of this article.) Instead of the binary model that we continue to reinforce, with two all-encompassing gender buckets, the reality is individuals possess a composite of masculine and feminine traits in endless permutations.
We judge others because they trigger our stereotypes and we stop there, not bothering to see the specific individual or group, not bothering to learn what is true for him, her, they or them. Stereotypes may be what we see at first blush but that’s all they are. They are incomplete. Only through additional exploration can we get the real story, the far more complex and robust picture.
Respectful Behavior: An important starting place for dialogue on gender – and myriad controversial topics – is respect. This means showing regard for the feelings and traditions of others, even when you perceive things very differently, and treating others as you would want to be treated. I am not suggesting that this is easy by any means, nor that I am particularly skilled in this arena with regard to topics that have great import for me, yet I observe over and over again that it is in this context of mutual respect that it’s possible to open a portal for insights and new beliefs.
Gender diversity work at its most effective requires women and men to listen and learn from one another, exploring how each experiences gender at – and outside of – the workplace. In this environment, it becomes possible to build a foundation of shared understanding that enables trust to grow.
A clear theme shared by male allies – across age, industry, and context for supporting gender equality – was the critical importance of listening. Terrific advice shared by a male ally was to approach discussions from a place of not knowing and in a tone that communicates a desire to know more. When emotions are high, it is particularly important to listen deeply, with the intent to hear rather than to prepare a response. When children’s behavior and words are challenging, parents are advised to get curious, not furious. This quality of detachment and observation is a practical way to demonstrate respect, particularly in discussions where individuals have differing views.
Among the most valuable lessons I’ve learned in my career as a diversity consultant, and in my life, is the power of seeking to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. The book Mind in the Making distills a series of critical skills that serve children throughout their lifetimes. Perspective taking is on the short list. Based on conducting research for my book The Libra Solution, with couples seeking to practice an egalitarian model of career and family management while raising children, I found a foundational characteristic enabling this partnership was a sense of walking in the other’s shoes. Perspective taking and empathy go hand in hand.
A male ally deftly described respect in action:
“Women’s stories can be easy to dismiss as you’re thinking, that’s never happened to me so it wouldn’t happen to anyone else. Or you think the problem’s easy to solve or I wouldn’t tolerate it. It’s important to have empathy for others, to hear another side of the story and to listen to women’s experiences.”
=== End of Part 1 of 3. To be continued in the GenderWorks July 2019 Newsletter ===
What Is a Male Ally?
We know that male allies come in many shapes and sizes. While some come straight from central casting, many male allies may not be the likely suspects. We believe that each man develops his own way to be a male ally and that his comfort and skill grow through time.
We’ve found that instead of learning from the many men who work to facilitate the career growth of women, far too much attention is placed on the bad actors, those men who knowingly abuse their power in ways that demean, disrespect and marginalize women. Male allies are those men on the learning journey, working with good intent, to respect and support their female colleagues.
We’ve found men receive frequent messages about what not to do and too rarely about what they should be doing to support gender equality in the workplace. We’re turning that around, placing the spotlight on thou shall behaviors rather than thou shall not behaviors when working with men. Below are a few examples that help concretize male ally behaviors. Male allies:
- Seek to listen, and learn, about the unique challenges that women confront in the workplace.
- Make mistakes, perhaps with an off-color joke or by being too touchy for some women, and simply apologize and work to consider gender more in the future
- Help break down gender barriers and stereotypes, for example regularly asking male colleagues and men on panels, how they balance their careers with their roles as fathers?
- Encourage other men to get involved in gender diversity work, asking them to participate in a women’s network event at their company or a conference session focused on gender balance in the workplace.
- Seek to step back and reflect on what messages their behaviors send – some perhaps unintended – about gender in and outside the workplace.
- Honor the hard work women have done – and continue to do – to support gender parity.
We are excited to have launched the GenderWorks Male Ally Story Project with the goal of telling new stories that showcase the many ways in which men every day demonstrate male ally behaviors. Below we share women sharing their male ally stories with us.
I was mid-way in my career and my company was going through a major reengineering effort. Bill was leading this effort and he went out of his way to find women and bring them into the project. He put them into visible leadership roles and I was one of the women. I got to work on this high exposure initiative. Bill was into people development but really into women’s development. He would find ways to get us exposure. Bill would invite us to conferences and to meetings with him. He would make sure our voices were heard. He made sure we were prepared and that we were in charge of something significant.
I worked with Tim earlyish in my career during the first 10 years. Tim would probably be incredibly surprised if he heard me identify him as a male ally. He’s what you would call a real guy’s guy. I was pregnant with my first child and asked if it would be possible for me to take a 20% pay cut and work 4 days per week. My company didn’t have any experience with this and I didn’t think it would be possible but I thought I’d ask. He was very supportive and he made it happen. This schedule made all the difference in the world and Tim would probably be shocked I would think of it that way.
Women, we’d love to hear your male ally story of how a man – or hopefully several men – have played a positive role in your professional development and advancement. Email Lisa@GenderWorks.com to coordinate a time to talk.
GenderWorks in the Family
Do Men and Women Have Different Chores?
The gender equality discussion tends to get slotted into the work space or the family space yet from our experience, the two pieces cannot be easily separated and tend to be self-reinforcing. We wanted to share a window into how gender equality has – and continues to – color our lives.
It’s similar to great work teams where colleagues bring different talents to the table but also support each other, have enough knowledge and confidence to cover for a co-worker when need be, and find this reciprocity strengthens team relationships. We seek to build buffers – in whatever ways we can – at both work and home.
A key part of creating an egalitarian approach is understanding and navigating the obstacles to gender equality for dual-career, professional couples. Things like school systems that repeatedly call mom first even when dad has repeatedly asked to be first on the call list; committing to too large a mortgage, resulting in intense pressure to maximize income (often resulting in identifying a primary earner and placing no limits on his or her work time), and work cultures that are forever in a crisis mode, requiring all-hands-on-deck and perpetual overwork.
Perhaps the most important element enabling gender equality is making space in busy lives to keep asking, What needs to happen to care for our family and who is doing what? This combats the powerful tendency to unconsciously default to gender roles where neither person feels appreciated, resentment grows and damages the partnership.
The Project List: Gender Norms Rearing their Ugly Head
Recently, we had one of those humbling experiences, seeing yet again the influence of gender norms and expectations on thinking and behaviors. Over the last 6 to 8 weeks, we’ve been in one of those family chapters where multiple priorities converge and the system gets overloaded. We’ve had one son graduate from high school and the other from college, it’s been the apex of the ultimate frisbee tournament season, we’ve been finalizing planning for our family Heritage Trip [5 years in the making] to visit European countries marking our ancestry, and we’ve been focused on GenderWorks.
Lisa wrote a note to the kids [aka young men] about feeling stressed out and needing their help with a list of key things that needed to be accomplished before leaving for our trip. Bryan read the note and we began a discussion regarding how to cover the many work and home demands coming at us. At one moment Bryan became very quiet. Further conversation revealed reading Lisa’s note left him feeling guilty that he should have finished many of the projects on the list. They were described something like: “must clear out shop/tool room (you can’t even find a AAA battery in there because there’s nowhere to walk), the everything room (laundry, storage and ping pong table for fun) is in complete disarray, the loam needs to be spread in the garden, and the old computers need to have the data saved and then be brought to recycling.”
Lisa remarked that while the note was addressed to their sons, Bryan quickly jumped to seeing all those projects as his responsibility. We talked about why he automatically assumed this was his problem and why yard work, computers, and storage rooms often default to dad’s to-do list. As a couple, we work hard to avoid devolving into ‘men do this’ and ‘women do that’ mode. Bryan cooks, organizes dinners for birthdays and parties, and transported the kids where they needed to go [before they could drive]. Conversely, Lisa shovels snows, reseals the patio and cuts down trees.
Our discussion included the importance of our sons, now young adults, shouldering more of the work required to care for our family, including projects like these. We worked out a plan for dealing with the daunting project list, assigning some tasks to our sons, putting some off until later in the summer, and sharing the rest between the two of us.
It was a reminder of how when we’re stressed and on high alert, we all revert back to deeply ingrained thoughts and behaviors. Stepping back and problem solving together not only helped to defuse the tension but also helped us remember – yet again – that we’re on the same team.