This blog was first featured on the MARC (Men Advocating Real Change) web site, April 2, 2013.
A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to visit Catalyst in New York for the first time and when I left town, I was struck by a paradox: I don’t think men can explore and understand gender and inclusion as long as they are doing it with women.
The occasion for my visit was a great Men Advocating Real Change (MARC) Thought Leader “Meetup” with Mike, Jeanine, fellow blogger Lars Einar Engstrom, and several other MARC partners and diversity leaders. We had a great conversation, touching on many topics, but I left consumed by an unsettling feeling. As I sat there at Catalyst HQ, seeing the many talented people (mostly women) working on critically important issues concerning women and work, I thought to myself “this is not the right place for me.” It wasn’t that there was anything wrong with Catalyst. It’s a beautiful facility with a wonderful vibrancy and buzz about it. The people were terrific and I felt well-taken care of.
But it was not a men’s place. I felt most welcome, but I did not belong there. In retrospect, this was an important observation. I believe that the most critical work men must do in order further gender inclusion requires us to delve deeply into our experiences, attitudes, and behaviors as men. That kind of exploration requires a safe port and it is very difficult for women to provide that port when it comes to gender.
I attended the Work and Gender Conference held at Harvard later that week. It was a fantastic event; lots of smart, interesting people coming together to talk about changing for the better women’s experiences at work. But what was striking was that there were few men in attendance and there was no substantive conversation about men in the workplace.
I have to pause to be clear about something. I do not raise this point from the perspective I’ve seen some men do so. Some guys rail against woman-centered activities and organizations out of insecurity and threat. They feel uneasiness about how they as men are being affected by these women-focused activities.
My point is different. I was honored to be present at that conference and to be present at Catalyst. I fully and unequivocally support these organizations and events. They are the most important places a person can be if she or he wants to engage with women-focused gender work.
I am noting, simply, that these are not always the best venues to engage men-focused gender work. Although men can’t fully develop their skill in gender inclusivity without women, they are held back in their development by abdicating the responsibility to learn about gender to women. Men all too often wait for women to set the context and conversation for gender learning. That will never serve to empower men to fully join in co-creating organizations that truly value the gender identities and experiences of the people in them. If this is true, the obvious next questions are:
1. Where can me do their gender-focused work?
2. What, exactly, is men-focused gender work, as distinct from women-centered gender work?
I have some thoughts to share in my next blog post, but what do you think?