By Pollie Massey
Today many companies work on gender issues by launching and running initiatives aimed only at women–instead of for women and to educate men. These “initiatives” run the gamut (women’s networks, leadership training for women, coaching and mentoring for women) and are quite popular with many women — and even some men.
Many women enjoy the programs because they often feel more comfortable with other women, and men enjoy feeling that they have given women“equal opportunities” (even if those opportunities are limited and separate).
Both of these perspectives pose a paradox —a confirmation in many minds that the lack of balance solely rests with the women because of their choices. Imagine a perception that this can all be solved when women work out the work/life issues! The reality is that the lack of balance is usually because of the mindsets and cultures introduced and maintained by the majority presently in power. When things do change, is it because that is where most of the work actually had to be focused and accomplished. In other words, if you want change, you must do the work.
Want to be more inclusive?
Consider eliminating the word “women” using instead— “customers,” “talent” or “leadership” – those will do just fine. The more organizations talk about “women” the more they make the issue of balance as a women’s issue and exclude the role of men in getting to the solution. Gender balance can’t happen without the support and understanding of male leadership.
Branding everything as “women’s” conferences, networks or programs confirm in men’s minds that this is not their issue. What companies must create is a meritocracy that recognizes and adapts and celebrates male and female styles. Gender neutrality in vocabulary and establishing policy is the foundation of when building sustainable balance.
Here’s one solution: Focus on the majority—those in power, which in most companies is still men. They are the ones who still need to support, champion and offer buy in for the case for balance. We know from experience, most of men still don’t. Balance is built only if the people in charge of organizations want it, understand the benefits and create innovative cultures with policies designed to enable inclusion.
The Art of Inclusion® Is NOT about Focusing Only on Women
Consider: Sponsoring Strategic Conversations that get Exec Committees (still led by mostly men) to spend a day talking about: THE WHY? THE WHAT? and THE HOW?
Involves spirited conversation about when and if the company should aim for gender balance, why, how and how fast. It is in peer group discussions that leaders begin to align a common understanding of the opportunity (any issues) — and the goal.
Present a deep dive via an accelerated or fast-track education on gender differences and how to manage “bilingually” across genders. Some leaders will possibly for the first time admit that they really don’t understand women.
Using brainstorms, appreciative inquiry, build guidelines on how to implement gender balance on a large (or global) scale, and what to pitfalls to avoid. What are the innovative best practices, how to radically reframe the whole issue as a strategic priority for all managers. What will be the pace and sequence of the program and what will be a realistic timeline?
This process can be eye-opening. An experience that could possibly completely turn upside down many of the ideas and approaches that men had prior to immersing themselves in the topic. Amazingly, many of the women involved also love the process. This kind of session gives everyone the tools and skills to feel comfortable addressing gender issues.
In this second term of President Barack Obama, we have a case study on the benefits of gender bilingualism. Men, in the 21st century, whether you want to win elections or competitive edge, you can if you will to learn how to connect with women as well as men—that’s the Art of Inclusion®. I trust you are in health and I hold you in positive regard as you enjoy this blog post. Peace!
About the Author:
Pollie Massey has dedicated her career helping others get better so that they can help others. She specializes in Cultural Competency, Cross-Cultural Strategies, Leadership and Diversity and Inclusion strategies that work.