Do you feel stuck in the middle of your organisation's hierarchy waiting to be asked how you might be doing? Is there is a disproportionate amount of time spent on doing your job vs developing yourself for the future? Lastly, are you a man who feels forgotten in the gender equality debate? Or worse still, a man who feels guilty and threatened in our effort to reach gender equality.
Over my career, I've been part of many initiatives and programs that targetted the development of middle managers who were on their way to becoming leaders and influencers within the organisation. I would invariably have classrooms full of men. There were one or two women sometimes, and who loved seeing me up there as they drowned in a sea of male colleagues. The skills most often taught were around building leadership influence, enhancing productivity, team effectiveness, negotiating with customers and persuading others.
I don't recall a training curriculum that ever taught our middle managers how to be inclusive of other genders, and that as men, they had a crucial role to play in creating equitable workspaces. More importantly, we never taught our men why it was important to have equitable workplaces to begin with.
Unfortunately, we continue to not teach our male colleagues why without them the gender equality movement is incomplete and not heading for success anytime soon. Take a look at history and that we haven't gotten far with seeing women in C-suite roles. We not just fail to include men effectively and actively in building more equitable workspaces, we tend to shame them for not being involved. I always find it uncomfortable to see posts and articles that blatantly put the blame on men for where women find themselves. I won't debate where the blame lies. Most of us know that it's a complex mix of reasons that men continue to be a dominant part of our leadership and women and gender minorities continue to lag behind dramatically. We all do have a part to play, and let's for a moment assume that men might have a bigger proportion of the blame to shoulder.
It still doesn't help to point a finger at men, instead of taking their hand and leading them better. Especially, because as women, and as a leadership group, we could help our men tremendously if we wished to.
I share here 4 ways that we can involve and include men in gender equality efforts who form such a large part of middle management across organisations.
#1 Add Gender Equality to management development curriculum
Out of sight is out of mind. Keeping that bit of wisdom in mind would greatly help in including Gender Equality and the role of men as a topic within the curriculum taught to mangers as part of their leadership development journey. In twenty years, I have never been part of teaching a curriculum on leadership that explicitly taught the value of Gender Equality. I've also never been asked by any of my business leaders to focus on it as a subject they cared about. Which is one of the reasons I talk so much about it at this stage of my career. It's invaluable to have our up and coming leaders, both men and women, discuss and debate this important topic in a respectful and moderated environment. The fact that we don't even raise it in our classrooms shows that we haven't quite understood the importance of involving men.
#2 Stop calling managers our would-be leaders
Wouldn't you find it disconcerting if your training department slotted you as a manager who some day might become a leader? So, what does that make you right now? What does it say to you? It says that you aren't responsible to learn and practice leadership behaviours until someone appoints you as one or puts you in a classroom and teaches you how to be one. At some point in the future, you may receive a certificate that you graduated from a manager to a leader. There is nothing to be gained by creating a hierarchy where none is needed. We don't walk over to our teams to be their manager, we all do to lead them. Everyone can be a leader in their own right and in their space, we just continue to become a better one as we learn and grow. Let team leaders know that they lead themselves and others and it matters how they contribute to Gender Equality from get go. They are responsible and accountable, both as men and women.
#3 Involve men and women in early mentoring
It's really hard to teach a male leader who has spent 20 years of his career not investing or caring about Gender Equality to suddenly commit to mentoring women, and be exemplary at it. Why wait to mentor after 2/3 of your career is over when you could do it right away? How much more impactful and meaningful Gender Equality results might be if we began early mentoring programs when we don't expect to mentor anyone. Let's train our people right from the start on how men, women and gender minorities are part of our collective success. Everyone can contribute to creating an equitable workspace for themselves and others. We can delude ourselves that senior leaders drive culture top down, but cultures are created and reinforced bottom up, too. I believe men would understand and empathise so much better with the Gender Equality movement if they were early supporters of it and grew with the idea of it through their careers instead of adopting it when they were set in their leadership ways.
#4 Let men know that they are not threatened
Women in middle management are increasingly at the receiving end of attention and training to get them to senior positions. It's understandable that women need immense support to level the playing field for them. While we chase this lofty goal, we must also spare a thought for human dynamics here. The more we hail one group of individuals as the most deserving of our attention, the more the other groups feel threatened and uncomfortable, even targetted and blamed, perhaps. Turning the other way from this human frailty won't make it go away. We must develop and involve our men and let them know that our success won't come at their expense. Instead, there are many ways an equitable workspace will help them as much as those left behind. The message that we are more successful together is still not all pervasive, sincerely spoken or understood within our organisations. We will sorely be disappointed if we expect men to simply step away to make way for more women and minorities if they felt it would displace them.We are in it together, and the together part is important to understand and emphasise.