I've had a few amazing men leaders through my career who pushed me and challenged what I thought I could have done at the time. The ones I really got along with didn't condescend or patronise. They knew that women were pushed so far back that to expect them to emerge as influential leaders overnight was not going to happen. They took a more practical approach and addressed the issues that arose from a lack of female role models and opportunities, and what that did to women's leadership skills, not to mention, their confidence.
I never thought about it in these terms back then, but they were great examples of Inclusive Leaders. I was grateful that I had mentors who looked out for me and revealed to me my own potential. So, through my own experience, I am a strong advocate of men's role in cultivating gender equality. It also makes organisational sense considering women hold an average of just 21 per cent of senior management roles and only 9 per cent of CEO jobs globally. In Australia, women made up 16.3% of CEO positions in 2015-2016. The number of women in executive leadership, despite focused and wide-spread gender equality policies and goals, are actually declining and not substantially increasing. This is in the face of almost an equal number of women graduates coming out of colleges and making a substantial percentage of entry level jobs across industries.
Any gender diversity initiative that only involves women and does not consider the crucial ingredient of men as mentors and allies, is likely to fail and not have long-term positive shifts. It also discourages the critical role of Inclusive Leadership.
Here's a shout out to men who might want to contribute to seeing their wives, sisters, daughters and female co-workers have a fair go at work, but don't know how they can make a difference.
Sharing 5 ways that you can contribute and be a man who stands for equality and fairness.
Action 1: Monitor for Manterruptions in your meetings
Manterruption is term for men who interrupt women and then complete their ideas as if they came up with it, or override them with their own ideas. A well established Hollywood script writer had a team of men and women who worked with him on movie scripts. At some point, a few frustrated and tired women came up to him and said, 'next time we are in a meeting, notice how many times we are interrupted and our ideas taken over by one of the men'. The head script writer was really surprised. He hadn't noticed a thing. Next meeting he started to focus on how true this complaint from his women writers was. The women on his team were rarely able to finish their sentences or share their ideas completely, they were constantly manterrupted by the men on the team. He took one simple step to set this right. Next meeting, everyone got 2 mins to share their ideas without being interrupted, so he could understand them and respond to their ideas. Are women being manterrupted around you and in your team? Is there something you could do, so everyone could have their say?
Action 2: Amplify Women Around You
Amplify is a term that came about during the Obama administration in the US. Women in administration realised how hard it was to be heard above their powerful male colleagues. So they began to hammer in their ideas by repeating them and giving credit to the woman who came up with it and was ignored during a meeting. How simple, unobtrusive and brilliant. So next time a woman colleague gets ignored as if she never spoke, repeat her point and draw attention to it and to her ideas. When you do that, two things happen. The woman in question realises that you stand for equality and fairness, and hence, are likely a trustworthy colleague or leader. This is useful because both men and women can do with trustworthy allies in their corner. Second, if you become an amplifier to your women co-workers, you are sure to have someone who has your back, especially, if you aren't around to defend yourself. Whom can you amplify around you?
Action 3: Ask coaching questions
There is a lot said about coaching women to help them overcome systemic and cultural barriers to getting ahead in their careers. The true spirit of coaching is in exploration and enquiry. So let's ask more questions. Begin with asking the women you lead in your team - How are you doing in the team? What's working for you? What's not working for you? How may I help? What organisational stuff is getting in your way that I don't know about? What ideas do you have? How are team meetings going for you? What support do you need that is missing right now? Often, cultures socialise women to not ask and not share unless pushed to say things that aren't working for them. While most of us learn to be assertive the hard way, we are all at different stages of our influence. It helps when a leader expressly asks to hear about challenges and barriers to progress. Who do you think is being left behind in your team?
Action 4: Become great at spotting Mansplaining
Google throws up a definition of Mansplaining if you searched for it. It's when men begin explaining something to a woman as if she doesn't know or can't possibly know anything about it. This is when the woman in question might be an expert in that field. Here's an example, men routinely explained how to place bets and how horse racing worked to a woman who was employed at the race course for ten years and was the one taking the bets. It's not a crime to explain things, but what's the point if our knowledge is not really needed by that person. If you've caught yourself doing this then turn it around. If you find a woman who is an expert at something, ask her a few meaningful questions. You will likely get to know more about something you care about too, and will have an opportunity to share what you know as well. In short, have more conversations and use it as a networking opportunity. In the process, you might become an expert at spotting men on your team mansplaining, so you can coach them to be more respectful colleagues to their female team members. Are there women around you who aren't being given due credit for their expertise and experience?
Action 5: Volunteer to be a mentor to women leaders
If you find yourself in a leadership position where you can be a mentor to someone coming up the ladder, then think about putting your hand up. Think about doing it specifically for a woman leader who needs a mentor and an advocate. Research has found that gender diversity initiatives that don't involve men are counter productive. On the other hand, when men get involved with mentoring women, they understand up close and personal how tough it is for women to break through systemic and cultural issues that push them back, especially, when they are absolutely ready to take the next step forward. It's a human dynamic that works in everyone's favour -when you are batting for someone's progress, you can't but help empathise with them and see challenges through their eyes. If your organisation has goals to promote more women, consider being an ally. Is there a woman you know who might be in need of mentoring and support and is ready to take up the next challenge?
Men are powerful allies to gender diversity goals. Your contribution makes a difference to the women you know and to your own leadership influence. It is in men and women's leadership interest to be Inclusive Leaders. It's not a question of if we need to work together to progress socially and economically, it's about how quickly can we create that reality for all of us. Everyone wins when we progress together instead of at the expense of one of us.
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