Posts Tagged ‘MARC’

In Search of a Safe Port

Monday, June 3rd, 2013

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?

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.

Duped By Dominance

Tuesday, June 12th, 2012

This post first appeared on the MARC (Men Advocating Real Change) web site, April 30, 2012.

I had a friend in graduate school, Miriam, a tall vivacious woman who was both gregarious and grounded in a really appealing way. A conversation we had one day has stuck with me over the years. She remarked that she and I might be able to work together in interesting ways because we had complementary perspectives on the “Race and Gender 2X2.” Of course, she meant that because she was a white woman and I was a black man, we held diagonal positions on a 2X2 matrix that captured our racial (black or white) and gender (male or female) identities:

This was one of the first times I had ever reflected on what had previously been an invisible consciousness. I knew I was black and understood my place in the dynamics of race in the U.S. But what surprised me was how that focus prevented me from paying as close attention to my identity as a man. With time, I reconciled this shortcoming by focusing on my fallback position—I was, in fact, a black male! That felt much better. I was giving a nod to my gender but not forgetting the ever-important race struggle that was integral to my U.S. experience.

In fact, I was playing an identity mind game. I was looking for a way not to deal with my male identity.  My colleague Heather Wishik and I are working on a new line of research that begins to map what was happening to me as I was confronted with my identity as a man. Our social identities—race, gender, sexual orientation, able-bodied-ness, etc.—are always imbued with a dynamic of power. We call these “dominance” or “subordinance.” In any of these identities, you are generally one-up or one-down in the social order. Subordinance identities in the U.S. include being a person of color, female, LGBT, or lower class. Dominance identities are being affluent, heterosexual, male, or white. (By the way, in our research, these two labels don’t convey value judgments about a person’s character. Being a member of a dominant of subordinant group is just a description of how that group identity is situated in larger society).

Racially, I carry a subordinance identity by virtue of my blackness in the U.S. But by gender, I live a dominance identity. I am the youngest of three boys in my family and over the years, the next two generations of my immediate family are all boys. As I often tell folks, we have to bus women into my family. Masculinity is a deeply rooted part of my upbringing and my background.

And that is precisely why it was so invisible—and so uncomfortable—to me. One of the greatest subtle biases we all carry are connected to those identities in which we carry dominance. And most people have one or more of these dominant identities. It’s almost a guarantee that when we look closely at our dominant identities, our vision about them is clouded and distorted. Most of the time, we have a very hard time talking about them. We don’t have lots of insight into the experiences of being of that identity. With race in the U.S., I often encounter white people who don’t know what to say about their experience being white; they just have not thought about it that much. By the same token, I had a hard time just reflecting on my maleness in response to Miriam’s invitation. I wanted to make it my “black maleness” that was at issue. That was just another way of trying to cling to race and avoid dealing directly with my dominant identity as a man.

Peggy McIntosh’s classic 1988 essay, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” helped articulate the experience of privilege and the role that power plays in our everyday experience. What we have to reflect upon today is how subtle and insidious power and privilege is in the way it shapes our perceptions, relationships, and colleagueship. In my case—like that of many others—my dominant identities hid behind my subordinant identity, pushing race front and center while maleness remained stealthily in the wings. Indeed, it’s no accident that power and dominance are often such difficult topics to address in the workplace. Dominance perpetuates itself by being psychologically and behaviorally elusive. The bias of privilege has a life of its own and no one is immune to its effect. Every man, no matter his race, creed, or color has to come to terms with how the dominance of maleness quietly shapes him.

How do you overcome this bias? There is no better antidote than awareness. By just reading this blog post, you’ve affected the bias by making it more visible. In addition:

  • Make sure that people who are conscious of these dynamics are a part of your network. Having social support in identifying, and when possible, counteracting the fruits of dominant maleness is essential. Like-minded allies help you to see biases and can support you and hold you accountable for doing something differently.
  • Keep people in your circle who are mostly oblivious to this stuff. Being aware of your dominance is exhausting. Give yourself a break and commune with people who are similarly committed to not being intense about this stuff every waking hour. I don’t suggest this lightly. Remember that dominance is as smart as you are and probably a little more devious. You have to feed it a little to keep it calm. Do so with benevolent intent.

Why I Don’t Really Like MARC

Friday, May 11th, 2012
 The benefits of engaging in gender work can be as rewarding as the costs are damaging…

I was recently asked to join a progressive online community called MARC, which stands for Men Advocating Real Change, and to be a contributor to the MARC blog. MARC is made up of professionals committed to achieving equality in the workplace. It empowers community members to engage in candid conversations about gender, its impact in the workplace, and how to lead change through member-generated advice, insights, and best practices.

It seems like this would be the perfect forum for me to contribute to the conversation, especially with the focus of my work being on “leveraging difference,” which includes gender difference. So, I couldn’t understand why it took me so long to start my first blog post for MARC until I realized that I don’t really like MARC. As a man, it can be difficult and unpleasant to deal with gender dynamics and to have to talk about issues like the challenges of colleagueship with women. I’m reminded of my days in graduate school when I decided to join a men’s awareness group. I wanted to better understand women, gender, and myself. (Actually, in retrospect, the biggest reason was that I was dating this remarkable woman who I wanted to get to know better, and I was looking for anything that would help).

I joined the group and it seemed like the right thing to do, but it didn’t take long to realize that I didn’t belong in the group. Not because I was somehow more enlightened than the other men in the group—I most certainly was not. But because what they talked about didn’t really resonate with me. The topics of discussion too often felt like a personal attack. It wasn’t that other guys were attacking me, but more that the subject matter was offensive. I felt like I was being blamed just being who I was, for being a man. The mannerisms, language, and behaviors that were a part of who I was were being talked about as though they were wrong. Moreover, as a man of color, I was not sure that this gender work was not a distraction from the “more important” work of fighting racism. And to top it all off, I thought the men in this group were a little too self-reflective, a little too self-righteous, a little too sensitive and a little too, well, white. I soon drifted away from the group—other more important activities just took precedence.

My experience nicely illustrates a trap that ensnares many men when it comes to doing the work it takes to create a community and society in which gender diversity truly enriches everyone. The kinds of negative reactions I had to that men’s group are both legitimate and common.  And those very same legitimate reactions create the smokescreen that prevents men from experiencing both the costs of the status quo as well as the benefits of something better.

I understand some very clear realities about gender at this stage of my career and my life. On the cost side, my sexism—especially the unconscious, unintentional stuff—harms my women colleagues. Maybe they are mostly small slights, but inflicting many small abrasions is the stuff of torture. Moreover, my sexism harms me personally. I can’t be fully productive and fully collaborative (and those two are critically important career competencies in the 21st century economy) if I am hindered by my gender bias. That bias can take many forms:  feeling uneasy with a female boss, or being uncertain about how to give feedback to a woman direct report, or being pre-occupied by sexual attraction to a colleague, or just being frustrated about having to walk on eggshells when it comes to women and gender. All of these feelings drain time and mental energy from a man in a gender diverse workplace. That is time and energy that is better used for accomplishing the work of one’s organization. An added cost for me as a black man? I can’t fully address and redress the dynamics of racism if I am myself at the mercy of my own unconscious gender biases. Gandhi and King among others have made the point eloquently that all of these biases and injustices are fruit of the same tree.

The benefits of engaging in gender work can be as rewarding as the costs are damaging. If we can really make substantive headway in breaking down the bias and dysfunction related to gender, there is the possibility of experiencing a truly energized, dynamic and diverse workplace and community. I’ve learned a tremendous amount from interacting with the multiplicity of women colleagues when I can do so skillfully, and free from anxiety and self-consciousness that I will mess up or be offensive. I am much better at accepting and learning from women who are smart, resourceful, aggressive, quiet, feminine, tough-minded and all manner of other traits. And, by the way, I’m also better at connecting with other men who share exactly the same qualities. Engaging gender is not just about understanding women—it’s also about understanding the range of maleness that is present in our workplaces, communities, societies, and in ourselves.

I don’t like MARC because from moment to moment, it is challenging to really roll up my sleeves and work on making myself better; looking critically at myself is not an especially fun activity for me. But I will be better for doing the work. And I will help others in my life—both women and men—if I can fully embrace the insights, dialogue, and learning that can come from a forum like MARC. So I’ll work on it—maybe not every day, but most days—and see what happens.