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Welcome to GenderWorks’ October 2019 newsletter.

We were excited to attend PWN Global’s Gender Balanced Leadership Awards in Ireland last week and we share a favorite story of Change Happening.

We’re thrilled that GenderWorks’ Advisor Bryan Levey was awarded 2019 Manbassador of the Year!!! He shares his experience in Manbassador at Home in our GenderWorks in the Family column.

We continue our Neuroscience Nuggets series with Helping Men Filter In What They May Not See and begin to answer the question, How Do You Define Gender Equality?

All the best,

Lisa D’Annolfo Levey & Bryan Levey

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 and women in the workplace and far beyond.

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 and women in the workplace and far beyond.

News Flash

Change is Happening

There were many wonderful aspects of visiting Ireland for PWN Global’s Gender Balanced Leadership Awards but the best part was hearing stories of changing gender norms. Here’s our of our favorites.

We met a young woman from Eastern Europe who shared her story of becoming a ship captain. She said that she’d always loved the sea and studying navigation seemed like a natural fit. She was a top student and was accepted into a very competitive military program; her brother tried for the same program, but his grades did not make it possible. Based on her high skill level, she quickly rose through the ranks and at one point while in her 20’s, she led a ship on a several month excursion at sea. She was the only female on board. Wow!

pwn global logoShe encountered many challenges along her journey, several associated with being one of exceedingly few women in this line of work. While the men were constantly testing her and sizing her up, she found that through time, things changed for the better. Her male colleagues, seeing firsthand that she was very good at her job, stopped focusing on her gender and started embracing her as a key member of the team.

Her family, who she characterized as very traditional, were extremely surprised by her desire to go to military school. Asked if her family had a change of heart about her career choice, she said that her dad came around to be her biggest supporter. He told her, “I always wanted to have a ship captain in the family and now we do.”

Neuroscience Nuggets

Helping Men Filter In What They May Not See

The human brain is masterful at filtering the vast amount of stimuli to which it’s continually exposed. We each wear a set of glasses – figuratively that is – which reflect our experiences, abilities, and interests and we tune out the rest.

The exact prescription for an individual’s glasses is not static; it can and does change through time. As a result, information that previously was filtered out comes into focus. How is it, you wonder, that I never noticed all these nature trails in my town before I got a puppy?

The brain’s filtering capacity is important to understand, as it relates to developing inclusive work environments where diverse employees can thrive, because our glasses typically obscure what those who’ve had a very different life experience perceive.

Consider how somehow who is homosexual, and has spent a lifetime feeling the need to hide that fact, is highly attuned to evidence that it’s safe to be out here. She or he instinctively pick up on a female colleague mentioning his wife and a male colleague mentioning his husband or rainbow flags displayed in cubicles or offices.

Similarly, professional women are attentive to signs that their gender will not be a professional barrier. Thus, a woman on site for a job interview is likely to notice a conference room with a large glass window displaying a group of mostly men sitting around a conference table and mostly women sitting in seats around the perimeter.

Recent research from Glassdoor, a job and recruiting website providing company reviews from current and past employees, reports that over 60% of women review the gender diversity of the leadership team. While signs of gender inequality in the workplace are highly apparent to many women, these same signs are far more likely to be filtered out – or interpreted differently – by men.

For example, men in companies with less than 10% of women in senior leadership roles reported little problem with gender diversity in their organizations. In GenderWorks’ September newsletter, we explored why so few men get involved in gender diversity work in their organizations. Important reasons for men’s lack of involvement include men not perceiving a problem exists or men not seeing this problem as relevant to their work.

Read More

Providing men with a broader context for how gender equality connects to their lives – both at and outside of work – is important for adapting their prescriptions to include a gender lens. The goal is to help men see what may have been formerly invisible and to appreciate the consequences of masculine workplace norms on women’s professional (and personal) lives. Understandably, the business case for gender diversity is seen as the compelling rationale for male leaders and managers to pay attention to gender issues in their workplaces. Yet after two decades of business case data, it’s clear this may be necessary, but has not been sufficient for adapting work cultures that leverage women’s leadership capacities.

Translating gender inequities from a theoretical concept to concrete examples of how it could (and often does) affect the females in their lives increases its relevance and importance for men. Consider:

  • An ex-wife who needs a longer alimony window because she has stepped out of the workforce and is struggling to reenter at a wage even close to her former salary before she became the primary caregiver,
  • A grown daughter who’s returned to work after maternity leave and wants to leave her job feeling the quality of her work assignments have significantly declined,
  • A sister who’s been told for several years running that she’s not ready for a promotion while watching men with similar levels of experience promoted above her,
  • A friend who’s had to leave her job because ongoing harassment was seriously affecting her mental health, or
  • A wife who makes a lesser financial contribution to the household because she’s underpaid compared to her male peers

And the list goes on. Gender inequality affects many aspects of women’s lives: their financial viability, confidence, sense of optimism, marital satisfaction and often physical and mental health, among others. As a result, it influences men’s lives too.

Neuroscience tells us the brain has a strong tendency to filter out information that doesn’t directly affect us. There is enormous untapped potential in helping men filter in the gender inequities which are all around. We know from our research with male allies that perceiving the gendered nature of workplaces is a powerful source of motivation for men. This sets the stage for men, actively working with women, to create workplace norms that facilitate vs. hamper women’s professional achievement.

Sometimes, it isn’t personal, it’s just biology.


How Do You Define Gender Equality?

There are many ways that gender equality can be defined and many angles from which to address the topic. This is the first, with other installments to follow, that speaks to the concept of gender equality.

Definitions of gender equality include ‘the state of equal access to resources and opportunities’ and ‘the act of treating females and males equally’. At its core, gender equality is about fairness and creating a world where gender is not the indiscriminate driver of critical aspects of our lives such as economic viability, health and well-being, political leadership or educational attainment. It’s important to note that gender inequality cuts both ways and while we exuberantly celebrate women’s enormous gains in higher education, we also need to consider why young boys are faring poorly (compared with girls) during their elementary education.

What’s critical about the definition of gender equality is that it encompasses a desired state of equal treatment, opportunity and outcomes for males and females but it also includes a need to act to eliminate disparities. The focus on action is a critical piece of the gender equality puzzle.

A great example illustrating the power of action to address inequality is Title IX, the federal law enacted in 1972 that ensures Federal monies in education must be equally distributed by gender. This piece of legislation paved the way for the rise of girls participating in sports, enabling them to reap the many rewards of athletic involvement. It also catalyzed the ascendance of the amazing U.S. Women’s Soccer team, which captured another world cup in 2019.

Organizations can act, seeking to address workplace gender disparities, by necessitating structures and practices that hasten its demise. Some examples include:

  • ensuring association bias (individuals being attracted to those like themselves) does not infect the resume review process. (note: this can be done by obscuring the candidate’s name, which often suggests gender, racial and ethnic identities)
  • designing a reverse mentoring approach that enables individuals, across levels and with varying dimensions of diversity, to come together and learn from one another
  • creating a meeting structure to ensure important voices, that often go unheard, are on the agenda
  • developing an assignment review process that focuses managers on assessing – and addressing – disparities such as rotating the less desirable, garden-variety work across team members through time

There’s no silver bullet that will erase the complex and intersecting drivers of gender inequality in the workplace. But, there’s great promise in replacing old approaches – that perpetuate gender disparities – with new ones built to do just the opposite.

GenderWorks in the Family

Manbassador at Home

by Bryan Levey

I felt truly honored to receive a Manbassador Award in front of so many accomplished women in the room (and I was very happy to see a good number of men as well). PWN Global’s Award was interesting in defining a Manbassador from a big-picture perspective encompassing his life both at – and outside of – the workplace.

The Manbassador Award is presented to a man who has demonstrated outstanding support for advancing females in all aspects of his life – as a father, husband, brother, son, and work colleague.

I believe that what the judges picked up on in my application, beyond my increasing the representation of women in the engineering group I lead by a fair amount, was how Lisa and I structured our family life. We wanted to support each other in combining our professional lives with learning how to be strong parents. This meant valuing each other’s work and way of parenting.

When our first son was a baby, my scientific natured kicked in and I wanted to record everything: when he napped, how much he ate, when he went to the bathroom, the color of anything going in and coming out (yuck – TMI). It’s funny when I think about it now but I guess it gave me a sense of control when the normal rhythms of life had changed so much. This isn’t something Lisa would have done and she chuckled at times thinking it was unnecessary, but she never demeaned me and always saw me as a full partner in caring for our kids.

Surprisingly enough, the hard – and rewarding – work of being the one in charge of caring for our sons during my day at home (I was on an 80% schedule) had a positive effect on both my career and my self-esteem.


What immediately comes to mind is the feeling of having more choices regarding work. At one point I got laid off from my job at a software company. I felt fortunate to soon receive an offer at another company but I also felt like I really needed a break. Our second son was an infant, not sleeping well, and we were adjusting to juggling two children. I was struggling because I felt that internal pressure to get right back to work (something I think most men feel) and I worried thinking, what if I pass up this offer and another one doesn’t come along? Lisa strongly encouraged me to take some time and I decided to wait until the end of the summer (about 4 months) before starting to look again.

When I started job hunting, I wanted to continue working on an 80% schedule and hit some major roadblocks. Two years earlier, during the tech boom, several companies had offered me leadership positions (some at the top of their pay scale) on a reduced, 80% basis. Now they either weren’t hiring or the 80% schedule was off the table. An HR leader said, “If the company allowed you to work four days, then everyone would want to do so.” That made me frustrated because I knew as an experienced manager who hired people all the time, most people were not able or willing to take a 20% pay cut.

I kept looking and found a leadership position on a reduced schedule, with someone I’d worked with before. Through this whole thing, I felt grateful for Lisa’s support – and her paycheck – which made this transition a whole lot less stressful. Supporting her career ended up supporting my career and a more balanced life.

Time for Family

Our egalitarian approach, in addition to providing greater career flexibility, also enabled me to spend very special time with my sons when they were very young. It wasn’t all easy, that’s for sure. One time our older son was sick with a severe stomach illness and needed to be taken to the hospital due to dehydration. Lisa was traveling for work and our younger son needed to be picked up at daycare. I wasn’t sure how I was going to manage. Luckily one of the teachers at the day care center was able to bring our youngest home and stay with him until I returned several hours later.

Despite the stresses at times, the best part for me was the gift of “just allowing time to pass.” Kids, especially pre-school children, are all about being in the moment which is so different from our adult lives. My time with the kids was about heading to the playground, chasing pigeons, kicking/ throwing/ sitting on balls of every shape and size, and just being together. It was welcome change. I loved those times and will always remember them.

Gender equality has allowed me a sense of balance … work was very important, but not everything, and being with my kids was great – much of the time – but I also looked forward to ‘adult time’ at work.

To me, being a Manbassador at home has meant supporting my spouse AND being supported by her. It’s entitled me to all the worries, pain, conflicts, sorrows and stress of both work and home AND the relief, happiness, freedom, success and pure joy. The journey has been surprisingly awesome!