Posts Tagged ‘racial diversity’

Obama was Right about Christianity

Sunday, February 8th, 2015

Jay Michaelson’s Breaking Down President Obama’s Point About Christian Crusades and Islamic Extremism does a nice job of providing historical information that fleshes out the facts of how Christianity has been used to justify extreme violence and oppression. A hullabaloo arose because the President juxtaposed Christian and Islamic extremism against one another, urging U.S. Christians to practice humility when analyzing and acting against brutal violence perpetrated by Islamic extremists like ISIL. Critics raged against the President because they believed he dared place Christianity and Islamic extremism in the same universe of phenomenon.

The criticism is messed up. First, there the reaction stems from a false analogy. When critics slam the President they are arguing implicitly that he was equating the entire breadth of Christian experience with an extreme group of Muslims. He was not, and he said as much. But the reaction—grounded in muddled reasoning—persists nonetheless. Arguments continue to be posited that the Crusades and the Inquisition happened centuries ago. Of course they did. And that is not germane to the President’s point. His remarks simply acknowledge that the diversity of Christian history and practice includes extreme violence and that Christians cannot disconnect themselves from that reality. By the way, Christian extremism is not dead. White supremacist groups that privilege Christianity over all other religions and racial groups still exist all over the world.

But is my  big insight: critics are reacting to the comments because they seem to believe that a call for humility and perspective somehow diminishes the ability to hold Islamic extremists accountable for their brutal violence. It’s as though we must have some perfect lily-white moral platform from which to blast ISIL else we lose the moral justification to condemn the violence.

In fact, being clear and truthful about the historical reality of one’s religion positions that person to take more decisive and wise action to end violence in the name of that religion. Self-righteous outrage is not a prerequisite for moral action. It’s OK to understand that Christian religious tradition includes and sometimes condones extreme violence. What better way to motivate good Christians to persist in cleaning their own houses? Self-righteous indignation is at the heart of rash and frequently stupid reactions. It is rooted in the need to do whatever it takes to make you and your group, community, or nation look and feel virtuous. It weakens our reasoning, prompting us to stereotype and group anyone who even resembles the perpetrators as guilty (e.g., bigotry toward all Muslims).

Michaelson gives us some facts in his post. What we do with them speaks more to our real virtue than sound bytes of indignation.

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. onthemarc.org

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.