For many years, women have been encouraged to “lean-in,” identify obstacles considered inherent to female characteristics and take charge of their careers. There is at least one fundamental assumption that is flawed in this paradigm: it is not a “women-only problem.” What is at stake is a workplace that works for everyone, and no significant progress will be made without shifting the conversation: it is time for men to claim their role in gender partnership and gender parity.
Three Ways for Men to Support Gender Parity:
Mentor or sponsor women
It is understandable that women often seek out other powerful women they admire as mentors. Likewise, men are more likely to take on mentees that they perceive as similar to them – other men. The result is a lack of cross-gender mentorship. Additionally, while women and men are mentored at the same rate, men are more likely to be mentored by those in the C-suite.
As men still hold the majority of leadership positions, sponsorship of women by men is crucial to closing the gender gap. While mentorship offers career advice and support, sponsorship provides career opportunities. Therefore, male support of women through both mentorship and sponsorship is crucial to achieving gender parity as well as strengthening a diverse and powerful network.
Don’t be the bystander
Men can confront discrimination by abandoning the role of the bystander in various situations. For example, women’s communication, even when executed with the same language or demeanor as men, can be perceived as “bitchy” or “bossy” rather than “direct” or “assertive,” as one would describe a man’s. More men must learn to recognize this double standard and intervene when it is witnessed. Other opportunities for intervention can occur when women are interrupted in a meeting, with a simple statement such as “Miriam was speaking and I’d like to hear what she has to say.”
A major difference would be made if men ceased the role of the bystander at home. Men have the opportunity to intervene in the current culture that continues to allow the majority of household responsibilities to fall to women, even if both people in the couple are working. Actions such as men taking parental leave – and supporting their colleagues in doing the same – can break the cycle of men acting as bystanders in a culture that discourages them from taking the lead role at home.
Take a stand to have women in the room
As male colleagues, you can step up and take a stand to have women in the room, intentionally shifting from being gender ‘allies’ to gender ‘advocates.’ What if you refused to join important meetings if there is no female leadership present? What if you requested equal pay for members of your team with similar accountabilities? Where can you encourage women to apply for promotions – with a tap on the shoulder and support through the process? In what ways can you share social capital – personal and professional connections? Are you taking actions to ensure hiring activities encourage women to apply and screening practices avoid bias in evaluating candidates?
There are plenty of active male feminists, but to make equality a reality we need to draw more men into the conversation by asking: What is the workplace environment they want to shape that will enable their partner, their daughter, their niece, their friend to thrive? As men, whatever your profession or level in an organization, what actions can you take, every day, to impact the current reality?