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From a neuroscience perspective, each of us brings our distinctive mix of cultural contexts, interests, and experiences to what we see, and often fail to see. The meaning we attach to what we observe is similarly filtered through the glasses we wear that reflect our individual lens on the world.

As a result, two people may experience the very same thing at the very same time in the very same place yet have different stories to tell. There is ample research underscoring how differently women and men perceive their work environments, which GenderWorks explored in our October 2019 articleHelping Men Filter In What They May Not See.  

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 where senior leadership was more than 90% male reported little problem with gender diversity in their organizations.

Mentoring is a popular strategy that companies utilize in their efforts to create a more inclusive work environment and strengthen the diversity profile of their leadership pipeline. Women’s initiatives often include a mentoring component, pairing mid-career women with senior-level women – and men – who share information about their career experiences as well as providing guidance. The goals of mentoring include helping women to more effectively navigate their organizations and to build new skills.

What’s missing in this approach? Focused efforts to mentor and coach men!

If an organization’s objective is to support women’s career advancement, and men remain the majority of decision makers who play a significant role in determining women’s career success – yet often hinder rather than facilitate their careers – doesn’t it follow that coaching men to more effectively do so is critical?

Men struggle with a wide variety of challenges regarding supporting women’s professional development. The graphic below outlines the difficulties.

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Men hear loud and clear the organizational mandate to have more women in leadership. Yet those same male leaders and managers receive little support for – or guidance with – understanding women’s thinking and career decision making and the male ally behaviors that foster women’s professional success.

Consider the challenges men face in being effective stewards of women’s careers. Men commonly experience acute pressure on their time and ability to focus, fueled by modern communication tools and global competition. Combine that with the difficulty men often have in understanding what women need – and want – in order to thrive in their professional lives. Add on men’s frustrations in doing what they think women want and discovering they’ve miscalculated.

Men feel reluctant to ask a question or make a comment that may be construed as stupid or out of touch. The MeToo movement has left many men feeling as though they’re walking on eggshells and unsure about what’s appropriate in their interactions with women subordinates or colleagues. Men can ask themselves how they would feel if a male colleague treated their sister or girlfriend that way. Their internal response will probably tell them all they need to know.

Men describe a variety of feelings — confusion, agitation, trepidation, exhaustion, among others – in response to the organizational mandate to develop more women leaders. Many men wish the whole darn thing would go away.

In their quest to improve gender diversity, organizations have focused on mentoring and coaching efforts that emphasize helping women to adapt. Isn’t it about time to mentor and coach men so that it’s the workplace that does the adapting for a change?