Posts Tagged ‘gender equity’

The Man Responsible for Undermining Efforts to Create Gender Equity? It’s Probably You

Tuesday, September 4th, 2012

This blog was first posted on the MARC (Men Advocating Real Change) web site, July 18, 2012.

Good guys don’t care about the well-being of their women colleagues as much as they care about being seen as protectors of women, liberty, and all that is pure.”  And that keeps them from creating real change.

Change the people and systems around you, and you change the dysfunctional status quo.

For men who want to see change in gender relations in their workplaces and communities, this assertion makes all kinds of sense. For example, when confronted with men who behave like jerks and disrespectfully and undermine their women colleagues, the right thing to do is to require that they stop the harmful behavior and get their acts together immediately.  And if they need a figurative ass whuppin’ to motivate them, then so be it.

But I think the greatest opportunity to drive change in gender relations is not so much in fixing those jerks. Instead, the most powerful motor for change comes from looking at the motivations and behaviors of us “good guys” who vigilantly hold the “bad guys” accountable.

A few years ago, I underwent a powerful learning experience when I attended a series of leadership classes and seminars as part of the Learning as Leadership (LAL) curriculum. LAL is a firm of several skilled consultants and teachers who help leaders from all kinds of corporate, non-profit, and public sector organizations improve their ability to achieve their mission and goals. There, I learned the concept of “desired” and “dreaded” images. These are images we carry about ourselves and that we invest lots of energy trying to persuade others to carry about us, too.  Desired images are the good ones; these are the perceptions that we want others to hold about us because they make us look good. I want people to see me as intelligent and educated, so I use multisyllabic words when simpler ones would do (see how I just did that?) Dreaded images are the flip side; we work to make sure people don’t see us in these ways. I don’t want to be seen as uptight, so I regularly arrive at meetings a few minutes late and always with a relaxed a demeanor. Everyone carries these images, and they don’t have to lead to bad habits like tardiness. The key is in managing our images effectively.

And that takes us back to the good guys. We good guys (and I count myself in this category) want other people to see us as allies for women and champions for gender equality.  Now, let me be clear:  I’m not saying that we advocates are not passionately committed to constructive change. And I’m not saying that we only care about change because we want to portray a virtuous image. I am saying that in addition to our genuine commitment, we also carry this little piece of ego that gets off on being seen as righteous champions for good. To quote one of my favorite lines from the Matrix movies, “we’re doing our Superman thing.” In addition, I’m saying that when we are motivated by that ego, we undermine our ability to help women and men change the damaging patterns of behavior in so many gender relations.

Let me give you a classic example. A woman friend of mine had to deal with a sexual harassment situation at work in which a co-worker was coming on to her and making very inappropriate public remarks. When she broached the topic with her boss (a good guy) he was pissed. He immediately dressed down this guy with all manner of zero-tolerance language: “I won’t stand for that behavior here!” “you’re suspended and on probation!” “it ends now or you’re gone from here!” etc., etc. My friend appreciated the intent behind what she called the “support script,” but said her boss had basically screwed her.

When I asked her what she meant by “support script,” she said that was the way that good guys act when they want to be seen as “protectors of women, liberty, and all that is pure.”  In fact, she said, her boss did not really care about her well-being as much as he cared about being the guy who beats the crap out of guys who are mean to girls. As a result her boss’ intervention, the harasser and his friends made it more difficult for her to accomplish her work objectives for a time. The guys who were neutral to both parties became wary of her because they saw her as playing the gender/sex card.  Even her women colleagues kept their distance for awhile because they didn’t want to be labeled a “whining woman.” My friend really struggled in the aftermath and almost left the company. The environment was incredibly tense and, not surprisingly, collaboration really suffered.

The problem with succumbing to the desire to be seen a certain way is that it clouds our ability to accurately analyze a situation and act with wisdom and savvy. We lose track of our real goals and values—like fairness, equity, and creating a vibrant work environment—and get caught up in “look how cool I am” moments. I’ve been there. And I’ve seen many men who advocate for real change behave just this way.

If you really want to create sustained positive change, don’t look for bad guys to beat up. Instead:

1)     focus on the vision of change you want

2)     Take a beat and stifle the impulse to don your cape.

3)     Develop a discipline of asking yourself the question “what can I do in this situation to help my people and my organization achieve that vision?”

4)     Seek out other people to help you temper your righteous indignation; and

5)     Marshal your experience and wisdom to deal with the situation. [1]

Only then will you really start doing the right thing.

[1] Check out “Rethinking Political Correctness,” in the September 2006 issue of the Harvard Business Review for more on these key skills. My coauthors (Robin Ely and Deborah Myerson) and I explain them in more depth.

Beyond the Blind Spots

Tuesday, July 17th, 2012

This blog was first posted on the MARC (Men Advocating for Real Change) web site, June 11, 2012.

I often think about these three guys I know:

  • Guy 1 is devoted to gender equality. He knows there are gender inequities in society and the world over, and he goes out of his way to make sure that he fights for the rights of women.
  • Guy 2 doesn’t really give a damn about gender equality and bristles at the notion that we’re having the conversation. He believes that men have their status relative to women and that’s how it goes (besides, women have a lot of benefits men don’t have).
  • Guy 3 is on the fence; he thinks things aren’t always right in relations and dynamics between men and women, but he doesn’t have a lot of motivation one way or the other to do anything differently.

OK, now the pop quiz—which guy fosters greater equity and inclusion for women and men in organizations?

Most people choose Guy 1. He’s the one who is active, energized, and committed to creating change. Guy 2 is the clear resistor and he’s not forwarding the cause. And Guy 3 is annoyingly indecisive, so he’s not helpful. Indeed, many men who care about gender equity follow the heroic path of Guy 1.

But each of these guys has blind spots that get in the way of being trusted and reliable agents of change in creating inclusion and equity. Guy 2 is the obvious knucklehead in this regard. He does not understand and appreciate the value of true equity with the women in his life, both professional and personal. For example, one manager I worked with shared privately that his experience revealed that women were exceptional in social relations positions like HR in his organization, but that he had serious concerns about hiring women for technology-intensive positions.  Guy 2 is generally not interested in the kinds of arguments offered by Michael Kimmel in his MARC post on Why Men Should Support Gender Equality that show how his work and home life could be better. He also doesn’t appreciate the costs he incurs by embracing his unearned privilege as a man.

Guy 3 is picking his nose. He’s not focused on the impact of inequities and lives in a fog about this stuff. He sees the problems that women colleagues and friends have, but he gets distracted and ends up not following through on trying to do anything about the problems.

And Guy 1—the Committed One—knows exactly what needs to be done to create change, and his certainty and arrogance about it all alienates many of the men (and the women) with whom he needs to collaborate.

The guy who may be most important in fostering gender equity and inclusion is Guy 4. He’s the one who accepts the mission to engage each of three above to work together to change gender inequities. This fourth actor is committed to equality, but understands the importance of not discounting any of the other three. At any moment in time, one of these guys may be instrumental in creating change. Guy 1 will be a tireless advocate and can lead in that way. Guy 2 can model that change can happen even for someone who seems resistant. His visible learning can be inspirational. And Guy 3 is the silent majority who, if motivated, can transform an organization or community that is exclusive to one that embraces equity.

So here’s one last confession. I didn’t make these guys up out of thin air. I am all of these guys. At different moments and in different relationships, I experience each of these “guy states.” At times I am outraged and deeply hurt by the inequities that I see and I am highly motivated to create change. I push for inclusion because the alternative is unpalatable. At other times, I feel resentful of my women colleagues and friends. They seem not to support me when I need it the most and I am annoyed and frustrated by their behaviors and attitudes. And at other times, I am simply paralyzed, knowing that change is needed, but not knowing what to do or how to do it. Part of what helps me to be effective in supporting change is not beating myself up when I am not perfectly politically correct and not getting too self-important when I am. Men who really want to make a difference need to embrace their inner Guy 4s.

July 10, 2012 Men Advocating Real Change (MARC) Tweet Chat

Monday, June 25th, 2012

Join the Twitter discussion on being the change you want to see in the workplace, sponsored by MARC’s regular blog contributors . Tuesday, July 10, 2012, 11:00am-12:00pm EST. @MARCMovement. #MARC.