Posts Tagged ‘women in workplace’

How Men Create their Own Safe Ports

Tuesday, September 17th, 2013

Male-only spaces can foster candor and emotional honesty.

My first blog post on this topic, In Search of a Safe Port, about where and how men could do their best gender work has stimulated a lot of discussion and reflection. I asserted that men can’t fully build their gender awareness and skill by learning and working in contexts in which women set the norms for the work. For example, I wondered if an organization like Catalyst could effectively foster the dialogue and learning about gender that men need to undertake.

My experiences in the past month have reinforced my belief that while some gender work for men and women must be done in partnership, men also need their own “safe ports,” male led and male. These are places where they can have open, frank conversations in which they express themselves with candor and emotional honesty.

Last week, I worked with a group of men and women on gender in organizations. My colleagues and I split the room into all male and all female groups and let those same-sex groups talk together for a period of time before reconvening the groups for a plenary conversation. In facilitating the men’s conversation, the toughest moments came when some men talked about how they believed women intentionally manipulated men and that women really had no legitimate gender grievances. In fact, they argued, women were the ones who had the upper hand. These sexist perspectives, we later learned, mostly flowed from their personal experiences of injury in interactions and relationships with women. But as I cringed at some of the attitudes expressed, I realized two things. First, these men needed to express themselves in a gathering of men coming together to intentionally address gender (as opposed to talking off-handedly in a bar or at a gym). These sexist views did not need to be censored, but rather expressed and, hopefully, influenced to change.

Second, these men would never have spoken these perspectives if they had not been in a men’s safe space. As one man said, “We censor ourselves around women. It’s not that they are doing anything to us to make us clam up. We just won’t say these things when they are around because we don’t want to be seen as bad guys. But this stuff really is part of how we feel.”

Men’s space is important for another reason. Women’s presence in gender conversations often feels dangerous to men. In the situation I was in last week, some women would—justifiably—have been enraged by what those men said. Men’s sexist perspectives actively injure women on a day-by-day and minute-by-minute basis. That is the reality of gender oppression in our society. But this justifiable outrage does not diminish the value of men being able to express their perspectives. This opportunity for men to speak their truths and be constructively challenged is a valuable method for creating change.

I offer these observations as an entrée into my modest attempts to respond to the two questions I posed in my last post:

1) Where can men do their gender-focused work?
2) What, exactly, is men-focused gender work, as distinct from woman-centered gender work?

I think the right spaces for men to do the best gender work will have the following characteristics:

  • Men can have the opportunity to interact only with other men.
  • These interactions are initiated and owned by men.
  • Men have the opportunity to interact in mixed-sex groups with both men and women. These interactions may be sponsored by men or women AFTER the men have had their own space.
  • Men are explicitly invited to explore what gender would mean if we were not talking about women at all.

All of these conversations include men who can ably facilitate learning productive ways for men to manage their identities and their relationships with women: These facilitators are self-aware and conversant about their experiences as men. And they have highly effective personal and professional relationships with women.

These two blog posts were stimulated by my simple insight that equality between men and women comes from empowering men and women. This empowerment means supporting them to speak their truths and thereby engage with others who may live different—even seemingly opposing—truths. My experience in my visit to Catalyst was one in which I did not feel fully empowered. It was not Catalyst’s fault. It was just that I needed—and I believe many men need—a different point of departure for their learning and development as men.

This post originally appeared on the MARC (Men Advocating Real Change) website, May 23, 2013.

28 MAY 2013 MARC Tweet Chat

Tuesday, May 7th, 2013

Tackle the tough questions raised by Martin in his MARC (Men Advocating Real Change) blog, “In Search of a Safe Port,” during the upcoming MARC Tweet Chat, May 28, 11:00 am EST.

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