The Importance of Men Engaging Men: A Hopeful Future for Diversity and Inclusion

 

There I was, one of just a few women in a large conference room filled with men. It was an experience I’ve had many times before in my life. Yet instead of the usual narrative that often plays itself out in this dynamic, this time it was different. This time it was better.

I was at the Better Man Conference.

The Better Man Conference is a one-day event with resources, support, and community to engage men as allies in creating an inclusive culture. I was there to speak about Reciprocal Mentoring at two of the break-out sessions. I was surprised to find out that as the conference began, these men weren’t joking around. The themes throughout the conference could be called “counter cultural,” yet they were just what this culture needs. There was honest dialogue about vulnerability and questioning the strict traditional constructs of what it means to be a man. There were challenging conversations about the privilege that comes with being a man that were specifically called out. Many of the presenters did not pull any punches.

I cannot speak to the experience of all the people (both men and women) in the room. But what struck me in particular was that men (presenters and audience members) were showing up and actually doing the hard, uncomfortable, fabulous, and challenging work of becoming better themselves so they could be better for their diverse colleagues.

I was watching the transformative power that is inherent in approaching a normative culture with grace, openness, honesty, and truth, in a challenging but safe space. In the time of #MeToo and #TimesUp, where (rightfully) we are bombarded with all the examples of what men are doing wrong, it was so incredibly wonderful to watch a group of men doing the work of what is right.

I watched a professional white man openly talk about vulnerability as a strength. And I watched the men in the room really listen.

I heard men openly admitting how hard it feels for them to “take the risk” of stepping into a more active role in inclusion at work. And I watched those same men stay and not bail on the discomfort of growth when it was called out to them (by other men) that the fact that they have a choice to take an active role in inclusion work at all is a direct sign of their privilege and why they must. Men discussed the honest truth that women and people of color (and anyone in a non-normative group) do not get to choose if they want to play a role in inclusion work, but instead must live within the confines of a society built for white men. It was fascinating to watch men engage with other men in a generative way!

 
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I heard honest discussions on privilege (in all its forms) and what the ramifications of that privilege can be. I heard people owning their privilege in ways that were new and moved them past the fear that can keep people from starting the conversations at all.

I watched as the founder of the event, Ray Arata, acknowledged that much of the discussions of the day centered around gender as being ‘man’ and ‘woman,’ when in fact gender is non-binary and there are ramifications to that reality for how we lead inclusively.

During the two break-out sessions we led on Reciprocal Mentoring, I watched men lean in, eager to learn practical tools on how to develop their own personal skill set around inclusion. They wanted to make inclusion real for them. They were trying out what it meant to develop a point of view on gender, on what it means to be a man in the workplace (and in life), and how they could be better. It was inspiring.

Time and time again men were able to express thoughts and worries, that when received in a safe space free of judgement, allowed them to be guided out of misconceptions and pushed to better places. This is what can happen when men who want to be a part of the solution are given safe spaces to have conversations that are uncomfortable for them.

 

They were trying out what it meant to develop a point of view on gender, on what it means to be a man in the workplace (and in life), and how they could be better.

 

I had the privilege of speaking with a man in the morning who had never really thought about inclusion before but came because his wife told him she thought it was a good idea. When I saw him again at the end of the event, he spoke genuinely about issues of parental leave and what he could do better to mentor and sponsor women and people who work around him who may feel excluded. And he said these things while acknowledging that he didn’t know it all! He wasn’t thinking about diversity and inclusion as some box to be checked or viewing himself as some white knight to come help the women or “non-normative” people around him. He had a genuine desire to become better himself. And man (pun intended) that was awesome!

It made me wonder if, in our professional work of inclusion, we are missing a powerful opportunity to change the issues around inclusion and diversity when we fail to engage privileged men and to invite them to enter into the discussion in safe spaces. At Greatheart Consulting, we have seen the transformative power that can happen when executive men are given space to do their own work around inclusion. My experience at the Better Man Conference reinforced the importance of this.

I’m pretty well known for being an optimist. But I’d be lying if I didn’t say that the past few months (or years) have challenged my hope and belief in the good of the world, and of men in particular. I know that talking about how to engage men, especially white men, can sometimes cause a knee jerk reaction from people working so hard every day on diversity, equity and inclusion. In a professional setting, people are often working within tight budgets with seemingly impossible goals. Why should the men get the resources to do the work they should have already done and/or be doing on their own? These are valid questions.

However, I can tell you that after spending time watching men, and in particular white men, honestly and authentically start or continue their journeys on how they themselves can be part of the solution, I think there’s a pretty solid argument for expanding budgets aimed at diversity and inclusion to actually include everyone in ways that make sense for them! It shouldn’t be an either/or. Real change comes from both/and. Engaging men in a generative way is both practical — men continue to dominate the business leadership world — and an inherently powerful way to expand the bridge building nature of the inclusion work that we must continue to do.

As I was on the plane ride home, I was struck with a thought that hadn’t occurred to me before. I attended the conference to speak to men about the power of reciprocity, about the exchange of value to the benefit of us all. I showed up that morning thinking I would be imparting my small piece of wisdom, advice, and guidance to the men I would meet. But as is always the case with reciprocity, I find now that I benefited from their bravery to be honest and open, their courage to enter the discomfort of authentic growth and not let the it stop them from becoming better. It called out the work I know I need to continue to do regarding my own privilege within the context of the world.

 

Intercepted: Gender (In)Equity On and Off the Field

 

When you google the word “intercepted” this is what you find:

verb

past tense: intercepted; past participle: intercepted

/ˌin(t)ərˈsept/

obstruct (someone or something) so as to prevent them from continuing to a destination.

"intelligence agencies intercepted a series of telephone calls"

synonyms: stop, head off, cut off; catch, seize, grab, snatch; obstruct, impede, interrupt, block, check, detain; ambush, challenge, waylay"the ball was intercepted"

It’s normal—and even encouraged—to intercept passes from the other team. This can help you win a game. But what happens when you intercept passes within your own team? Who wins then?

This is a story about flag football, gender socialization, and how it all shakes out in the workplace.

Setting the Stage: A Guys’ Hang-out?

 
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That was the message one of my classmates posted to our cohort’s Facebook page. After spending 9 years living in Shanghai, China, I was in the “repatriation” process into a city that I had never lived in—or even visited. I knew very few people outside of those in my classes, and being a decently extreme extrovert, I was eager for opportunities to connect with more people. And, of course I would never pass up on the opportunity to do something active—I loved sports and the outdoors.

However, the probable reality of the situation swirled in the back of my mind: My male classmate’s male friend was getting people together to play flag football. All signs pointed in the direction that this was a “guys’ hangout ” to which the presence of a woman would not be welcomed. I was assured by my friend this was not the case: “Of course you can come! It’s open to anybody!” I didn’t quite believe him, but I was hopeful his statement that anyone was welcome would prove to be true.

The Problem of Gender-Socialization Soup

To be clear, my hesitancy to play had nothing to do with the fact that I might be the only woman in attendance. My hesitancy instead had everything to do with the environment into which I might be stepping if I was the only woman at an event billed as a “guys’ hang out”. These were often environments that explicitly or implicitly communicate “you don’t belong”. Environments many women both on the field and in the workplace are all too familiar with. I believe that it is this environment—not that women are for some reason less willing or able to play sports or do STEM—that fuels the lack of representation on the fields as well as in some workplaces. Let me explain.

Boys and girls are socialized from a young age as to what is appropriate for their gender—both what they should like and how they should act. Throughout life, boys, girls, men and women are either rewarded for living into their gender role, or punished for going outside of it. By the time we are adults, we look at the sports field, STEM workplaces, nursing field, education, etc and, seeing a noticeable imbalance between the representation of men and women, we conclude that this imbalance is because of a person’s gender. Boys, girls, men, and women must just innately like and be good at some things more than others. This “soup” that we’re all socialized in creates mental-models, stereotypes, and biases that we then reinforce through who we invite to certain functions, who we hire for certain positions, and who we see as the “best fit” for a role (be it professional, political, or personal).

This environment of the flag football game was likely to be an environment which would not by default embrace me. Women in tech, or women who like to game, too often have a similar experience. These women must courageously opt into an environment that will do much to exclude them, simply to be a part of something they love. This day, I too chose to put sport above the possibility of exclusion.

For the Love of the Game

Myself, my friend who had made the invite, and another male classmate arrived late to the field. As we walked toward the game, already in play, I visually scanned the field. Nine men. No other women. My heart sank. I had indeed “crashed” what was clearly a “guys’ hangout”. My mind flitted quickly through other potential activities: going for a long run instead...watching...my mind went blank and it was too late anyway. They had seen me, I had my cleats, I was obviously there to play flag football, not to ride with my friends and do a run or watch. Additionally, my competitive streak and my desire to prove that yes, women can play sports, kicked in: there was no way they were going to think that I wasn’t playing because I couldn’t and there was no way I was going to perpetuate a stereotype of women just because I was a little uncomfortable.

Plus, they needed me for the teams to be even.

We all gathered in a group and randomly put our hands face up or face down in the center of the circle to break up into teams. My two classmates ended up on one team. I was on the other. Great. The few guys in the group who actually knew I was competent at sports and would be potential allies in the upcoming game were now on the opposing team.

 
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I’m athletic, and know that I can not only keep up with, but even potentially outplay, many guys (as can many other women). As the classic rebuttal goes, they don’t have to worry about me “bringing down the level of play”—a statement which is akin to a hiring manager asking if they should hire the most qualified person, or the person of color. The words we use say a lot about the assumptions, stereotypes, and biases we carry. These particular statements reflect how the default assumption is that on the sports-field any man will outplay any woman, and within hiring, is that the white person is always more qualified than the person of color.

What a Flag Football Game Has to do With the World of Work

We began playing, and in this one small game I experienced a sample of the gender and power dynamics many women and people of color face in their everyday life and work.

Potential vs Ability

Since I had never met—let alone played a sport—with anyone on my team before, I knew that I was going to have to play exceptionally well to convince them that I could be trusted to catch a pass, guard an opponent, or outrun a defender. As we started to play I felt the pressure to perform perfectly, to not drop a single pass—and especially not the first pass as this might ruin any chance of future receptions.

As with sports, in the workplace, many women and people of color have the same experience: their abilities are not assumed, they have to be proven. And proven again. And proven again. White men, on the other hand, more often have the subtle advantage that people assume their abilities until proven otherwise. Research on hiring and promotions shows that more often, men are evaluated on their potential, while women are evaluated on their proven ability [1] [2].

 
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Prove it Again Bias

In a soccer game if a guy tries to dribble through four people and loses the ball halfway, those watching often focus on how amazing his ball handling skills were through those first two players. On the other hand, if a woman tries the same thing, what is often focused on is the fact that she lost the ball, or didn’t pass when she could have. It is too often assumed that the guy could have dribbled through all four players, and it just didn’t work out this time, while for the woman this same event would infer that she doesn’t have the ball handling skills to dribble through that many players. Even if she is successful, her skill isn’t necessarily proven—maybe she just got lucky. In social psychology this is called “prove it again” bias. Within my game of flag football, I knew that I would need to prove myself...and prove myself...and prove myself.

 
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The Scripts We Live By

While we are all socialized in the same soup to believe that some things are “for” women and some things are “for” men, bias operates differently—and to various extents—across people. In this personal and thoughtful TEDTalk, actor Justin Baldoni (who you might recognize from Jane the Virgin) talks about the gendered scripts we all grow up with, and shares his attempt to redefine masculinity. Within the flag football game, it was interesting to note how these types of scripts and biases caused various men on my team to interact with me.

In general these scripts could be generalized into three categories: The Protector, The Ignorer, The Ally. Each of these characters played a different role in my feeling either included or excluded from the flag football game. Each are characters I have come across not only in this flag football game, but in other sports, in social environments, in the workplace and in stories shared by other women. In reality, each of us is a mixture of these characters—living out to various degrees the scripts of Protector, Ignorer, and Ally. By putting these scripts into three distinct characters my hope is that each of us will be able to better reflect on the things that we should keep doing as well as the things we should stop doing in the quest to create an inclusive environment for all. I will outline each character next.

 
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The Protector

“How are you doing?” One of my teammates asked with a slightly concerned tone about half-way through the game. I was a little thrown off by the question. It seemed to imply that something about how I looked or how I was acting would indicate I was not doing okay. However, as far as I could tell I was doing fine. “I think I’m good” I replied laughing a little, then continuing, “why?”.

“Oh, no reason. Just thought I’d check in.”

It’s not that this is a terrible question. But it’s also a question that he didn’t ask of anyone else on the team. Underlying this question (and the fact that he did not ask it of anyone else on the team) is the conscious or subconscious thought that because I’m a woman I might not be doing okay. He was really just trying to be nice, and I knew that. The intent was good, but he didn’t take into account the context of the question (did he feel the need to ask others on the team the same question?) or it’s possible impact (when I was the only person asked and the only woman present). For me, the impact was a subtle reminder that I’m the only woman in the group and that the assumption (generally speaking) is, as a woman, I might be struggling to “keep up with the guys”.

The Protector approaches this situation not from a desire to keep women out—but with the desire to “protect” them in a space where women aren’t the majority. To make sure that they don’t get “hurt”. The thing is, we don’t need or want protecting—we want partnership and to be treated like an equal part of the team, just like anyone else. As on any good sports team, within the workplace people want to know that their co-workers are looking out for them, trust them, see them as capable, and are ready to offer a hand if needed. In the workplace The Protector may be the person who questions suggesting that a woman be considered for a promotion because they know she has kids at home and isn’t sure she’ll want the increased amount of travel that comes with the new position. If you ask The Protector directly whether or not  they think a woman can do the job they’d likely say “of course!”. A report by Catalyst showed that a statistically significant greater number of men had the opportunity to work on global teams (88% of men, 77% of women) and to relocate internationally (28% of men, 17% of women) than women. This is an important gap, as international experience has been shown to be a key factor contributing to advancement within a company. Don’t assume anything about a person’s situation and how that might affect what they want to be involved in or don’t want to be involved in—simply ask them.

 
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How ‘The Soup’ Informs Action

Give women the same opportunity to make decisions about their involvement in the workplace that men have. Give men the same option to focus on family that is too often assumed only something women “should” do. Let’s find a balance. As Sheryl Sandberg says, we all need to lean in together.

Yes, it can be a fine line between simply being nice or thoughtful and becoming The Protector. One thing to ask yourself is: would I ask this same question or make the same assumption of people like me? Do you hesitate to offer a promotion that requires more travel to the men on your team who have young children at home? In my flag football game, this teammate was not asking all the other people on our team how they were doing, he was only asking the woman on his team how she was doing—and therein lies the rub.

Another question to consider is: How will this question land with or impact this particular person or group? A good example here is the question: “Where are you from?”. Ken Tanaka’s viral YouTube video has a comedic but painfully true example of this. The experience of many people of color is that the underlying assumption of the questioner is that they are not from the US. This is displayed through the follow-up question they too often receive: “No, where are you really from?”. If I truly care about other people, and have taken the time to better understand their particular experience, I’m going to allow that knowledge of their experience, and the felt impact of certain questions, to influence the way I interact with them, get to know them better, and support them. I’m going to realize that even though my intent is good (getting to know a person), the impact may be bad (making them feel like an outsider) and that these two things should inform how I act on my intent. It’s the practice of building empathy.

So what could this guy on my flag football team have said?

“Wow, I’m getting so tired, haven’t run this much in a while.”

Or he could have been direct: “Your face looks a bit purple, are you okay?” To which I would have been able to laugh and assure him that the color of my face was a blessing disposed on me at birth because of my red hair, fair skin, and the fact that my capillaries are either closer to the surface of this fair skin or dilate more than average (or both), thereby making my face turn red way too quickly upon exercising. I would have been able to assure him that it was merely the luck of genetics, and not an indication of my impending doom. But he did not ask this, he asked me, and only me, “are you okay?”.  

The Ignorer

This one is pretty straight forward. The ignorer operates as if the other person doesn’t exist. In the flag football game there were a number of guys that never really acknowledged me as a part of their team. They weren’t necessarily mean—they didn’t tell me that this wasn’t “for” women or tell me to leave—but, as far as they were concerned I didn’t exist. They didn’t yell at me if I missed a pass. They didn’t give me a high five if I caught a pass. They did run in the exact route I had been told to take by the quarterback. They did cut me off as I was making a run (and out-running my defender) to catch a pass. They didn’t see me, nor did they try to.

The Ignorer in the Workplace and Life

The Ignorer is the person who shares an idea, only moments after a woman has shared the same idea, and doesn’t even notice. The Ignorer is all the people sitting around the conference table who act like the idea was indeed shared for the first time. The Ignorer is the person who “absentmindedly” cuts a black person off in line, then says “Oh! I’m so sorry, I didn’t see you!”. In a gendered and racialized society, the Ignorer has been socialized to not “see” certain people. And the not seeing is oddly correlated with race or gender or dis/ability.

The real bummer is that as a woman, I too can pass to the men on my soccer team instead of the women because I have been socialized in the same soup. I have grown up (for the most part) with the same narratives and scripts about what women are “best” at and what men are “best” at. Being a woman doesn’t make me immune to acting on these scripts that have been deeply imbued on my way of being. In meetings, women get interrupted more than men. The Podcast More Perfect has a fascinating episode that dives into this “epidemic of interruptions” in the Supreme Court. The default thought is that if women are getting interrupted it’s men who are doing the interrupting.

 
 

However, in practice, all genders interrupt women more than they interrupt men. So bias and not “seeing” is not only a male problem or a white problem or a heterosexual problem—it’s a human problem. At the same time, there is a lot to be said for the power of the lived experience. It’s hard to know what you don’t know (and being able to recognize this is a powerful thing). For this reason, those of us from dominant, in-power groups are less likely to notice when we are not “seeing” something. We have to be intentional in our learning.

System 1 & System 2 Thinking

Awareness and acknowledgment of our own tendency towards bias and not “seeing” is the first step in offsetting socialization. In the book Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman brilliantly explains the way our brains operate through the use of two systems: System 1 and System 2. System 1 is automatic, involuntary and often operates with little effort—helping us process the many unconscious decisions we make every day without being overwhelmed. System 2, in contrast, requires deliberate thinking and energy—and thus can be quite lazy. To change any of our automatic behaviors that have become programmed into System 1, we need the intentional help of System 2.

Because I am aware that I am socialized to generally favor men over women when it comes to athletics, or to interrupt women more often than men, I can then take conscious steps to counteract these tendencies. I have to actively engage in changing the narrative and scripts that have shaped me, not simply passively believe that because I want to treat all genders equally that it will automatically happen.

 
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The Paradox of Meritocracy

In fact, believing that we treat people equally and not intentionally being conscious about our actions has the potential to actually make some actions more biased. Crazy right? In a study Emilio Castilla and Stephen Benard found “when an organizational culture promotes meritocracy (compared with when it does not), managers in that organization may ironically show greater bias in favor of men over equally performing women in translating employee performance evaluations into rewards and other key career outcomes”. They call this the “paradox of meritocracy”. Recently, the company SalesForce realized that it had a gender pay gap. At first CEO Marc Benioff was incredulous. His experience was that SalesForce had a great company culture, had received awards as one of the best places to work, and he believed that paying people differently based on a dimension of difference was simply something that didn’t happen there. Until he saw the data. Benioff and his team then had to be intentional about not only closing the pay gap, but also about putting systems and processes in place to make sure the gap stayed closed. They started with awareness, and then took intentional steps towards putting systems and processes in place to support their desire to treat people equally—they knew that just wanting to treat people equally wasn’t going to be enough.

The Ally

The Ally actively engages System 2 thinking, believes the stories of those in non-dominant groups, intentionally behaves towards those who are different from them with reciprocity, and humbly acknowledges that they won’t always get it right.

The Power of Allies

Looking back on this flag football experience, I had one ally on my side of the field—luckily, this ally was also the quarterback and he held a unique position of power within the realm of football. He noticed that I could (often) outrun my opponent and that I could catch a football—and he gave me opportunities to do so. When another teammate took the running path he had assigned to me, he called this person out for cutting me off. Feeling supported, trusted, and having my skills as an athlete recognized helped me to feel less pressure to perform perfectly or to need to prove myself again and again. This freedom likely increased the level of my own playing as, being less fearful of the possibility of opportunities being limited as a consequence of failure, I was willing to try things even if I might not succeed.  

The same scenarios play out in the workplace. Allies leverage their power alongside—and for the benefit of—those with less power. French and Raven outline six types of power that a person can have including: being in a certain position (management, leadership), the surrounding society or culture and the norms this society/culture has, the value this culture gives certain groups (being able-bodied, male, cisgender, heterosexual, white), through holding information (education, expertise), having the ability to give rewards, or simply being in the spotlight (professional athletes, actors).

The ally from flag football has since become a close friend. We’ve laughed many times while retelling the story about the first time we met when, in his words: “My friend brought some woman to a guy’s hang out and then she totally killed it”. We’ve also had candid discussions about the stereotypes associated with women in athletics, his own default assumptions that he has had to challenge, and how this relates to the work we both do within the field of diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

Intentionally Pause and Engage System 2

Ironically, this ally’s first response when I showed up to the field was not to be inclusive, it was more of a: “Great...my friend brought a girl.” And this “great” wasn’t the: “Great, ice cream!” great. But instead the “Great, the dog peed on the floor again”, great. However, even after this thought, he took a key step: he paused and intentionally engaged System 2 thinking, recognized the bias operating unconsciously in System 1, and decided that it didn’t matter, he was going to welcome me and make me feel included no matter his initial hesitation.

It always takes intentional work to be an ally—to recognize where System 1 thinking renders someone invisible, causes us to not “see” them for all they are, or causes us to make assumptions about what a person can or can’t do.

The Imperfection of Allies

Most of all, being an ally doesn’t mean that we’re immune to making mistakes. Socialization starts early and the behaviors it embeds run deep. This doesn’t mean that we don’t have a responsibility to be intentional about changing these scripts and providing better, more accurate, ones for future generations, but it does mean that sometimes (often in times of hurry or stress) we will fall back on our more ingrained System 1 behaviors and narratives. When we do this, or when the consequence causes someone else pain, an ally is responsible for humbly seeking reconciliation—starting with a recognition of their own contribution and behaviors in this wrong. Since this could be an entire other post, I’ll instead direct you to two articles I feel give good ideas in this area. One provides 9 phrases allies can use when they make these mistakes and are called out, rather than getting defensive. The other looks more broadly at how we should respond when an ally becomes a perpetrator within the exact sphere they are supposed to be an advocate. Each article contributes valuable tips and reflections for those seeking to do their own learning in how to be a better ally to those around them.

At Greatheart Consulting, we frame the trajectory of progress towards being an Inclusive Leader within 5 Stages: Pre-Awareness, Interest & Necessity, Careful Skill Progress, Adventurous Competence, and Relative Expertise. Within these stages we emphasize intentional engagement, that progress requires challenging ourselves and stepping into new environments where we might make mistakes, and that the process of becoming a person who leads inclusively is one that is ever-continuing. We may find ourselves in a different stage depending on the dimension of difference in question. In some areas we may exercise Relative Expertise due to our lived experience or intentional learning, while in others we will flounder and make mistakes as we practice careful skill progress. The important thing for each of us is that we work to become more aware each day of how people who are different from us experience the world, and that we seek to be allies to those around us, using the type(s) of power we hold to increase universal liberties for all to live as their authentic selves.

Illustrations by Cyrena Johnson

 

Art in a STEM World

 

The STEM movement has done a lot of good to bring women into fields that are traditionally male dominated, but I want to tell a story about my personal experience with the movement and what I perceive as its drawbacks.

It’s great to want women to succeed in STEM and I 100% support that. However, in my experience, STEM is often pushed as the only legitimate career path, at the expense of traditionally feminine lines of work. Pushing women into one line of work or another is never the solution—we should be trying to get rid of gender roles in the workplace altogether, and allow individuals to pursue whatever it is that they are passionate about.

Movements like the STEM movement always grow and change, but sometimes they are misinterpreted or watered down to a different message altogether. I became aware of the STEM movement in high school and started internalizing its message then. However, the message I was receiving wasn’t “women should be able to go into STEM if they like it and want to” but rather “women, if they are good at it, must go into STEM”.

I have always been a creative person at heart. While I’m good at ‘playing school’ and have the tenacity to get by in most subjects, that doesn’t mean I enjoy them. When I was growing up, if asked the infamous question, “What school subject is your favorite?”, I would always shrug, even when the voice inside me whispered “art”. By the time I got to college, I had been telling myself for years that I couldn’t go into a creative field because an art major wasn’t ‘academic enough’. I felt that I had the responsibility to pursue a career in STEM because I was good at it, despite my lack of interest. So, first quarter freshman year, I signed up for an intro class in computer science.

 

 
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Computer science was a STEM field that I had no prior experience with, so I thought maybe I would enjoy it more than the other STEM fields I had already tried. I told myself that computer science was ‘creative enough’ and because I got to build things maybe I could trick myself into being happy with it. It took me two years to come to terms with the fact that computer science wasn’t creative enough for me after all. STEM without art wouldn’t give me a satisfying career.

It took a lot of courage for me to switch majors. I applied to the graphic design major at Western without a backup plan and got really, really lucky that it worked out. Getting into the design major changed my outlook on college entirely. It’s not because design is less work—I’m even more likely to pull all-nighters working on projects now than I was as computer science major. However, because I am now passionate about my work, it’s not as stressful anymore. I don’t get burned out the way I used to; when I would tell myself to just keep my head down and not think about it. And that means that I can put even more effort into what I’m learning.

I chose design for a lot of reasons: it’s one of the most applicable art degrees, it’s got tons of subfields, and it can pair very well with computer science. After getting into the design major I continued taking computer science classes and completed a minor in it. My goal was never to quit computer science altogether—coding is still something I enjoy—but rather to find a way to incorporate art with it. By getting a degree in design I now have the ability to do that, by pursuing a career in UX Design, UI Design, or front-end development.

STEM isn’t the be-all end-all academic field, and shouldn’t be treated as such. And while I have found a way to combine STEM with the arts in my life, I don’t want “STEAM is the answer” to be the takeaway from this story. STEAM—being STEM with art—is definitely an improvement, but I’ll say it again—pushing any one field over others as the ‘only legitimate option’ alienates people who have passions elsewhere. Pushing STEM, a traditionally male field, over arts and other women-dominated fields, like literature or nursing, just enforces the idea that women should be more like men to compete in a “man’s world”. We should instead strive for a society that respects all fields of work, where everyone can pursue their passions regardless of gender.

 

A Girl Playing... What?

 

What activities did you enjoy while growing up? Did you ever feel shame, embarrassment, or even harassment for participating? Or were you lucky enough to play carefree as a kid should?

Growing up I participated in many stereotypically labeled “boy” activities—jet skiing, gaming, snowboarding, rock climbing, and more. I generally included myself in these activities as my family and family friends were predominately male. If I wanted to play with the group, I had to be willing to try activities that were “not for me”.

While I thoroughly enjoyed all these activities, I generally had to prove why I was in the sport or game, and I had to repeatedly demonstrate that I was as good as or better than the boys who were participating. At the time, I found it to be a slight annoyance for other boys my age or older to continually question the validity of my participation. However, as I grew older the constant questioning also grew more tiresome.

“Oh, so you play video games… which ones? For how long? What’s your K:D (Kill:Death) ratio?” After I responded to the barrage of questions, I would almost always get a response similar to “sure, you ‘play’ them..” that completely undermined my interest and enjoyment in doing something that wasn’t for my gender. While these comments never discouraged me personally from continuing to do what I enjoyed, similar comments have caused others—who feel more pressure to live within society's gender role— to give up some activities all together. I know that other female friends around me did not feel the same flexibility.

 

 
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After experiencing having to repeatedly validate why I was enjoying a “non-female” activity while growing up, my hope for the future is for all people to feel the freedom to express themselves and participate in whatever they enjoy, regardless of their gender. The barriers produced by confining people to social gender roles are especially at the forefront of my mind as my 1-year old son is growing up quickly. I want him to feel the freedom to try out whatever piques his interest and to be able to fully express his emotions in a healthy way.

The downside of gender roles is that they could prohibit him from healthily expressing his feelings or stop him from trying out a “girly” sport that he has a genuine interest in. He could feel pressured to conform to what is expected for his gender and feel shamed or disappointed that he wasn’t able to try something he likes. My fear is that over time this avoidance could cause him to feel constant guilt over being interested in different sports or activities. To me, this is not a healthy way for a person to operate.

Instead, I want him to be able to grow up as a carefree kid and explore freely. I don’t want him to experience the same embarrassment or pangs of shame for liking something that wasn’t “okay” for his gender. In order to ensure this, I have made a point to introduce a variety of toys and activities to him as he is growing. I hope that my encouragement to explore and learn freely will allow him to truly find what he loves and pursue his interests as he gets older.

 

The Need to See Yourself in Those Who Lead

 

I was one of the several million moviegoers who went to see Marvel’s Black Panther earlier this year. The film exceeded my expectations and I left feeling inspired, empowered, and hopeful. It’s interesting how a fictional movie can have such a powerful impact on the human psyche. I’m not alone either, I know several people from different walks of life and backgrounds who were equally captivated by what I consider a cinematic masterpiece. One of the most compelling elements of the film for me was that finally, we (black people) had a superhero with which we could identify. I love Batman (who was my favorite super hero up until that point—just being honest) and Iron Man, but, Chadwick Boseman (aka Black Panther) took the cake for me. It is rare to see positive powerful images of people of color in mass media. Thankfully this is (slowly) changing for the better.

 

The film exceeded my expectations and I left feeling inspired, empowered, and hopeful.

 

I cannot speak for all, but I’d wager most black people would agree that watching a rich, successful, authentic, and sovereign black superhero along with his equally impressive entourage on the big screen was cathartic. Although we don’t live in a world where humans exhibit such massive physical powers, we still walked away with a little more pride because we saw ourselves in the mighty Wakandians. At least that’s the feeling that I had after the film. So much so that I quickly went to see the film a second time with my 5-year-old son, hoping to plant the same seed in him. In a must watch Brown University panel discussing the social impacts of Black Panther, Jim Gates, the Ford Foundation Professor of Physics, asserted “the most important thing about this movie is that it will set light to fire to imaginations for a whole generation of young people and especially young people of color on the issue of how they are capable of engaging in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.” I highly recommend that you watch the Brown University panel that he and other academics sat on to discuss the social impacts of Black Panther.  

Identifying with others who look like us and hold influential positions boosts the collective self-esteem and dignity of our respective groups. Think about it, if someone from your hometown goes on to do something amazing, you probably feel a sense of pride. With them occupying such positions, we believe that we can aspire to do the same or even more. Their example shows us that progression is possible. When we don’t see others who we identify with in key positions, it can kill morale and prevent us from giving our whole self to the work we are doing. Here the phrase, “you can’t be what you can’t see” rings true. For those of us who do blaze a new trail where no one who looks like us has been before, anxiety often results. If there’s no point of reference for you regarding something you’ve never done, or a position that you’ve never occupied, you have to work twice as hard to be successful in that space. Not only are you striving to prove to yourself that you can do it, you feel an unhealthy pressure to show others that you deserve a seat at the table. Your not only tackling the challenges that come from a new position that holds more weight, you are battling against the stereotypes and biases that those around you may hold. We all need role models, mentors, and advisors that we identify with. What makes figures likeJackie Robinson, Madam CJ Walker, and Barack Obama so phenomenal is that against incredible odds, they became the representation that was either sorely lacking or non-existent.

 

 
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The presidency of Barack Obama represented an idea that we haven’t fully uncovered the ramifications of yet for the next generation of emerging leaders. This idea is that black and brown girls, boys, men, and women can reach and grab ahold of the same dreams as their white peers. If not the presidency, they could aspire to be the CEO of a fortune 500 company, the president of an Ivy League School, and/or  heck… the owner of an NFL team. Imagine that! While this belief can be euphoric, it can also be disillusioning. Currently, there are a meager three black CEOs who head Fortune 500 firms, one black president led one of eight Ivy League institutions (who retired last year and was the lowest paid among her counterparts), and no black ownership amongst the NFL’s 32 teams. When you go from the mountaintops of Wakanda to present reality, it’s disheartening. Our nation still has a lot of work to do.

With these types of stats, the question begging to be asked is: Is there a sincere desire by those who currently occupy the conclaves of power and influence in our corporations, governments, and institutions to increase the representation of blacks in prime leadership roles? One of the reasons why diversity and inclusion is so tricky is because it really disrupts the status quo when it is operating in its truest form. In my estimation, minus all the buzzwords, fancy jargon, and wonderful Employee Resource Group (ERG) events, inclusion equates to EVERYONE having an equitable seat at the table of power and influence. Inclusion is not only being invited to the dance, but also having a say in which venue it will be, deciding what type of music is played, and what the dress code is. For true inclusion to take place, those who usually plan the party would have to be okay with giving up some of their control. This is not an easy task, but for other groups to be empowered, those with power must share it. In truth, this is the direction our world is heading in, one in which there is more shared power.

 

 
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It is my firm conviction that if we want to get inclusion right, at its deepest levels, there must be representation of diverse groups in key leadership roles. If we want our employees and stakeholders to do their best work on our behalf, we must show them that there is a real path to advancement for their efforts. This is demonstrated—in part—by having people who look like them in upper level management. If this is not seen and something intentionally put into place, people may smile and grin when we tell them that they too can become president of the US or king of Wakanda one day. Yet, in their hearts, they won’t believe it. Let’s help them believe!

 

Appreciating my Privilege

 

I don’t remember all the words that my friend Alexandria used but I remember the feeling they gave me. I was out catching a movie with a group of friends that included two black women, two black gay men, and me—a straight, white man who was now utterly failing at a newly learned dance move, the Nae Nae. Saxton, who looked incredibly cool doing it, was teaching me. While he was helping me figure it out, Alexandria made a comment (in jest) to the group about my awkwardness which she attributed to my whiteness. This was the fifth or sixth time that she commented about the color of my skin. I felt incredibly uncomfortable and singled out all of the sudden. The whole group looked to me for my reaction to her comments. With a flustered tone I asked her, “Why do you do that so often? Bring up my skin color?". With a giggle she said, “Oh I do it to all my white friends!”. After that, we walked into the movie and didn’t talk of it again.

In the weeks since, I’ve been trying to put into words what I felt when she called me out. I felt shame for just being myself. I believe it was the smallest taste of what it’s like to be a person of color. Feeling (or for many POC, being) excluded because of the color of your skin is awful. I felt powerless because my skin color is an aspect of my identity that I have no control over. That encounter may seem insignificant compared to what Alexandria and other people of color experience throughout their lives, but it was very informative to me. The truth is, when compared to the experiences of women and POC, my experience with discriminatory situations is small. That truth helped me reframe my interactions with Alexandria. I don’t believe there was any malice in her words or actions. In fact, I think making light of my skin color was a very normal thing for her. Though, I also believe she understood where I was coming from and won’t make it normal thing in our friendship in the future.

 

My privilege gives me the expectation that I can speak to anyone about anything without fear of retaliation.

 

One aspect of my privilege that I am now aware of is my ability to challenge those around me. When I speak I expect to be heard. It only took a handful of jokes made by Alexandria for me to feel the need to speak up about it. I wanted her to hear my words and understand how her words affected me. My privilege gives me the expectation that I can speak to anyone about anything without fear of retaliation. This expectation gives me an unfair societal advantage over people who have been conditioned to believe that their opinion is lesser. Alexandria is not one to take comments or jokes about her race lightly. She rightly expects that those around her will treat her with respect. The difference between us is that she has had to actively fight stereotypes and stigmas to reach the same mindset that I’ve taken for granted my whole life.

I’m sure it wasn’t her intention, but Alexandria widened the lens through which I see the world. She helped me grow my empathy muscles and with that, a better understanding of white privilege and how it plays a role it my life.

And to be honest, I did look ridiculous trying to do that dance!

 

When White Male Leaders Ask “What’s the Problem?”, Here’s One Black Woman’s Answer

 

Recently, I found myself in a discussion about my personal experiences, as a black woman, working with white men in corporate America. (Loaded, I know!) I found myself trying to describe my experiences. How things were for a 19-year-old young black woman working in Kirkland, Washington as an office administrator, being paid $5 less an hour than my white, female, gothic, 26-year-old predecessor.

I recalled moments when my supervisor, a white male in his late 40’s, would rub his pen down my arm as he talked to me. How one of the sales reps who was a white male called me while he was intoxicated late one Friday night and begged to come to my house and do things I won’t mention in this blog. How the one white male in the office who did not participate in the sexual and drug related jokes about me sat and said nothing. I took a stroll down Lake Washington Blvd for lunch one day, and a man more than twice my age pulled to the side of the road in a drop top BMW, so over-tanned he could put a penny to shame, and tried to “give me a ride”.

 

the one white male in the office who did not participate in the sexual and drug related jokes about me sat and said nothing.

 

By now you may be imagining what I must have looked like—perhaps I was inviting these advances? But I was a wool-pencil-skirt-to-my-shin-wearing kind of girl—the kind of skirt you get from the Dress Barn. My friends called me “granny” when we went out. I was the one to get all the girls home safe and without company at night. I’m not oblivious when it comes to sexiness and I’m not claiming that I’m a nun, but I have enough sense to know the difference between professional and provocative.

I was laid off that gig in Kirkland (perhaps as a result of my intended ignorance to my manager’s advances) and found myself another position in Kent, Washington. A team of 30 women… and I was the only black one. There was a lot of dumb shit said to me by white women, as well, but we’ll focus on my experience with white males, as this was the scope of the conversation. My most vivid memory—and one that changed the course of my life—happened one day while I was chatting away with my coworkers about my new car. Somehow, I proudly announced my interest rate of roughly 14% and jaws dropped, faces sunk in, folks became sick immediately.

But one good thing came from my jabber. The retired CEO, an older white man, just happened to be at work that day. He called me into his office and put a newspaper in front of me. There was a pie chart; a visual representation that advised readers not to use more than 30% of their revolving credit. I don’t remember much about that conversation, but I took away the concept that good credit was important. That one moment afforded me a much more comfortable life in the present day, and I couldn’t thank him enough for that.

 

 
Image Credit: Pexels.com

Image Credit: Pexels.com

 

Fast forward a few years. I’m a college graduate with a Bachelor of Applied Science in Information Technology and Administrative Management. I have a specialization in cyber security, and I’m a certified Microsoft Technology associate in Software Development Fundamentals. I was told by a white male Senior Developer that once I became Microsoft certified I’d be a guaranteed hire with the company that he worked for. When I passed the exam for the certification 6 weeks later, I was tossed around briefly, until I was finally given a “great job, you’re making my job harder because now I have to fulfill my promise” speech from the white male CEO of the company. Once again, I did not get the job. However, a white male who did not pass the exam received a paid internship.

I may not be the most decorated gal, but I have enough proven skill that I should be able to get a job interview for an IT help desk position, right? I’m currently working as a housing navigator for a non-profit.

When I think and talk about my experiences with white men, most often I feel the temptation to sugar-coat my story. I fill the dialogue with jokes and laughter. But not in this recent conversation. My truth is this: I’ve had many traumatic, life-changing professional experiences with white males, which have shaped in me a deep reservation about them.

So here’s why I have trepidation around white men in the corporate world:

  • They’ve withheld opportunities from me
  • They’ve been surprised by my skill and competency
  • They’ve judged me and assumed that because I was black I was “cool” and into drugs and sex (specifically with them)

 

When I think and talk about my experiences with white men, most often I feel the temptation to sugar-coat my story.

 

Every blue moon I’ll come across an old-good-hearted-white-male-who-gets-it, but I don’t come across those fellas much in my circles. My viewpoint isn’t formed by your everyday-coming-across-a-smiling-face-in-a-grocery-store. These views specifically tie to my experiences trying to pursue opportunity, attempting to exist in circles that I should have an equal opportunity to.

These traits seem to show face in the presence of power, and are deeply established in environments that nurture the negative behaviors.

And now, as a 31-year-old black woman I find myself writing this blog with tears in my eyes, because though I’ve been beating on the door of the technology industry, I’m scared to death of someone letting me in. I weaken at the thought of entering a field of work which I know I’d love, but that would be riddled with white men who have historically mistreated, misjudged and at times outright hated me; a field that has reportedly been toxic for women like me.

But alas, I’m fueled for change and there’s been no better time for it. If I can be, what my husband likes to call, a “speck in the deck”, then perhaps I can change those ideas and images of what technology professionals look like. Perhaps I could be one to help push that percentage of black women in technology north, so that we aren’t so underrepresented. Perhaps the next coding black girl won’t feel so intimidated after she sees my smiling face occupying a software developers job title.

 

 
Image Credit: WOCinTechChat.com

Image Credit: WOCinTechChat.com

 

A Q&A with Anonymous and Chuck Shelton, CEO, Greatheart Consulting.


Chuck: When I read about your experiences, I was amazed at your honesty, and I was appalled that you have been treated these ways by white men. I felt the familiar shame about people who look like me mistreating people who look like you.Given these experiences, why are you even willing to talk with me? How do you explain your courage and hope?

 

Anonymous: I am willing to have this conversation, as uncomfortable as it is, because if we as black people just keep saying about white people, “Well, you have privilege”, then there is often a reaction, and we are all no further along. This is a unique opportunity – I have to be part of the solution. I need to do this. I have a level of trust in talking to you – you drove some distance to meet me here, other people said good things about you, and our conversation via email made me think that you want to listen. And you haven’t done anything to make me doubt having this conversation with you. (Laughter)

 

Chuck: In your blog, you identify so many behaviors and attitudes that white men (and everyone) should stop doing, never do, and stop other people doing. What do you want white male leaders to start doing?

 

Anonymous: I’d really like white people to stop saying “I don’t see color.” I need you to start seeing who I am, which includes my color and my gender.

Acknowledge reality—yes, it can be awkward—but have the insight to see people for who they are. And recognize that something is going on when almost all the people of color are in lower-level positions.

I also want men to simply behave with respect and speak up when people are being mistreated. As I got older and had children and thought of my children in biased workplaces, I realized that it is so painful when the guy who sees what is happening and knows it is wrong stays silent. I expect more from the person who knows better. I was just trying to get through every day in a tough environment, and his silence hurt me as much as the people saying stupid things and doing stupid stuff.
Another thing: don’t be afraid to “call the black girl in” to have an honest, useful conversation. I appreciate feedback, and when white male leaders give feedback for improvement only to other white people, people of color miss out on showing how we, too, can get better at what we do. This isn’t about “helping out the black people” – it’s about me being seen for who I am (i.e. a human, a person, who yes, is also a black woman). It’s not giving black people extra things – it’s about a leader doing their job with every team member.

We need to make sure that leaders are not part of the problem, so examine yourself. Interrupt hurtful jokes inside and outside the office. So much good comes when you build a diverse leadership team: everyone feels like they have a voice in the meetings, more people learn about upcoming opportunities. If I don’t see anyone who looks like me, it seems that racial bias is already operating. Seek out diverse candidates – keep looking until you find them. Take bias and favoritism out of promotion decisions, and tell the truth about actual qualifications and the way decisions are made about opportunities.

Grace and laughter can also come with being part of diverse, healthy team, and having real conversations like this helps a lot. We’re not judging one another – we see our differences, and the beauty of it is that we can actually get to the work we are here to do, together.

 

Chuck: You mention your worry at taking a tech job where so many white men would work. What needs to happen in the workplace to help you feel welcome and safe?

 

Anonymous: It matters that the leadership team is aware of how diversity works, including a commitment to equality and no tolerance for bias. Are the leaders willing to listen and to become allies?

I would also feel safer if the workforce was diverse, where’s a healthy mix of people. There’s so much stress going into a white workplace every day, and worrying that opportunity won’t come my way is demotivating. I need the environment to be okay with me being me, bringing the energy I have. I feel welcome when I don’t feel like an outsider – when I can be comfortable in my own skin – without being seen as the representative of a group.

 

Chuck: You close with such a positive motivation to be a model to black girls who code. What would you like to say to them right now, that will help them be even stronger and more confident women twenty years from now?

 

Anonymous: I’d tell them to not be afraid, to continue to pursue their dreams even if they don’t fit some image, to keep building their skill set, to work hard. I’d tell them that they are amazing, because they probably haven’t heard it enough. And I’d tell them that they will get there.

 

Chuck: You are very inspiring – thank you for your courage with this blog and this conversation.

 

Anonymous: Thank you for including me. It was unexpected.

 

The Transformative Potential of Male Engagement

 

It was a few weeks before Christmas and the office was starting to look like an old western town with tumbleweeds moving through. As everything slowed down for the holidays, I had just filled an opening on my team with a young woman, Jenny. Jenny had just finished her graduate degree and was working her first job. Before leaving for my own vacation, we briefly talked and I left her a stack of papers and templates to familiarize herself with the work. I didn’t know it then, but that conversation in an empty building would lead to a transformative place in both of our lives.

English wasn’t Jenny’s first language which caused her to be reserved. She interacted with the team, but it was always about the work at hand. Jenny and I worked together to figure out what we could do to make her more comfortable with the team and business partners. Through many discussions, I learned that Jenny was looking for a way to improve her English and meet other women. Around that time, the company’s Women’s Team Member Network (WTMN) was hosting an event for new member orientation. Feeling a little shy to meet forty to fifty strangers, Jenny asked me if would go with her to the meeting. I had “joined” the network a few months earlier by clicking a button and hadn’t thought much more about it. Here was a chance to support Jenny and really see what it is like to be a man in a women’s network.

 

At the beginning of the orientation, the co-lead was excited to have two men joining the network and specifically called us out for being there. I hadn’t felt like I had done anything special by showing up.

 

A few weeks later, Jenny and I entered a large meeting room with 8 large circular tables and a row of chairs near the front. Standing by the chairs was one of the WTMN chapter co-leads along with representation from the 6 different committees. I looked around the room and noticed that there was one other man in the room with me and 50 women. At the beginning of the orientation, the co-lead was excited to have two men joining the network and specifically called us out for being there. I hadn’t felt like I had done anything special by showing up. My first reaction to the co-leads comment was about Jenny and why it wasn’t special that she or any other women were there. That spotlight for just showing up planted a question in my mind—“What does the women’s team member network really want from men? Is the bar only set at showing up to something to be successful?” As the meeting was wrapping up, they had a Q&A session and I asked them those questions. The answer was that they weren’t really sure, but they would love to explore that idea more.

 

 
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Later that day, I received a 30 minute coffee invite to talk to both co-leads with the title "Catch Up". Without realizing the way that this catch up and other conversations would change my life, I clicked accept. The network had been thinking about the questions that I had asked and many more. Traditionally, they were a place for women to get away from the gender issues they faced at work. It was a safe space for them to voice ideas, hear from others’ experience in the company, and develop professional skills. Those things were needed, but it was becoming clear to them that future progression needed to include men as allies or sponsors. Our 30 minute coffee meeting turned into an hour. They asked me to help explore the idea of engaging men in the network. 

Through a lot of discussions and listening to women’s experiences, there were some key things that we thought were important about engaging men. 

Men could not be the fixers: The role for men was not to come in and explain or tell women how to fix their problems. It was vital for a man to come in and listen and work with the women to address issues that he might not even be aware of. 

Men were allies when a woman said so:  Male engagement is not a self-selecting process. Engaging with women effectively is a continual process of deepening your own point of view of what it means to be a man and an exploration of your own experience. 

Men’s progression is vital: As supporters, allies and mentors, there is a wide spectrum of engagement. Some men may be less engaged while others may have spent time practicing inclusive behaviors. Wherever you currently find yourself on that spectrum, continued practice and involvement is key.

A few years later, a peer of mine reached out with me to get a coffee with him to discuss life after I left my role. While we were talking, it came up that Jenny was working for him. He expressed that she was receiving top ratings and was seen by the business as an integral partner to the work they did. It felt great to hear about her growth and stepping into her potential. I know that a lot more went into her reaching that point than me spending time with her at the start of her career. Still, my hope is that my own growth and presence helped her along the way. By mentoring Jenny, she helped connect me to the Women’s Team Member Network and my awareness around male advocacy. That passion for gender inclusion and leadership development has brought me to Greatheart Consulting. Thank you Jenny for sharing part of your journey with me.

 

The Only Man in the Room

 

I am a feminist, a man, and proud to make that statement.

What does it mean to be male and a feminist? To answer that, I turn to a colleague, Distinguished Professor of Sociology at the Stony Brook University in New York, Dr. Michael Kimmel. “Feminism expects a man to be ethical, emotionally present, and accountable to his values in his actions with women— as well as with other men. Feminism loves men enough to expect them to act more honorably and actually believes them capable of doing so.”

Was I always someone whom feminism would embrace? No. There were periods in my career when I was, by declaration of some, a “DB,” a jerk, and far worse pejoratives. I did not always consider women as, at the minimum, workplace equals.

Thankfully, I matured, improved, and become more inclusive. I developed into a feminist.

 

Feminism expects a man to be ethical, emotionally present, and accountable to his values in his actions with women — as well as with other men. 

 

My opinion of and attitude toward women were benefited by such men as Michael Kimmel, Chuck Shelton, and Ray Arata, as well as organizations such as AnitaB.org (formerly the Anita Borg Institute), NCWIT (National Center for Women and Information Technology), and Greatheart Consulting.

As a child and a young adult, I admired and respected the women in my life: my mother, grandmother, neighbors, school teachers, and Cub Scout leaders. I respected and admired each for what she knew and what each taught me. Yet, I did not see them as career oriented.

When my career started, the women at work were primarily in administrative and Human Resources positions. The graduating class from the engineering schools at San Jose State at that time included fewer than a dozen women. It was very much a world for male engineers and technicians. Seldom did I meet women engineers or technicians. The few I did get to know were during business travels outside of the US.

 

 
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During my career, there were times when maleness was very pronounced. I heard of workplace “contests” in which female employees were ranked and rated by many of the men. At one San Jose-based company there had been a bulletin board that listed the “top” women in the company by categories such as – legs, figure, smile, and other attributes.

Though the lists were removed before I joined the company in 1980, its legacy and removal were lamented by many male employees. At a different Silicon Valley company, several of the men would display flash cards with the numbers 5 – 10 as women walked by their desks. Why 5 and nothing less? Because, “we wanted to show a level of respect.”

Such were the days of my early career (yes, there are more horrific tales – possibly to tell in a future blog) and my journey towards being an advocate for women.

Regardless of my respect and admiration of women, some persuasion was required of me before I promoted a woman who managed our sales orders to a sales position. She wanted the role, knew the customers, and though not a technical person, understood how our products were manufactured and tested. Promoting her was a lesson well learned -- she surpassed each of the salesmen in new business creation and revenue generation. From that moment on, I sought out the potential in others especially women. If a female employee demonstrated the interest and the potential, she won the opportunity to advance.

Though progress towards equality was occurring in me and around me, it was nonetheless customary to be in meeting rooms occupied almost exclusively by men. Any woman present was likely there to take notes or offer advice relative to personnel issues. The women present, if any, were not there to serve as decision makers.

 

Though progress towards equality was occurring in me and around me, it was nonetheless customary to be in meeting rooms occupied almost exclusively by men.

 

A few years ago, while working at a college radio station, I played a James Brown classic, “It’s a Man’s World.” The song served as the lead-in to a gender-equality talk-show I was hosting. The theme of the show was the emergence of women and women’s voices in the technological sector. A topic especially pertinent to the area in which I lived and worked – Silicon Valley. The song was significant because to many “leaders” with whom I worked the workplace was/is a man’s world. Men take much of the credit of creating and inventing what we use each day.

So, how does it feel then to be on the obverse side of the “coin”? To be the man who walks into a meeting room filled with only women -- a workplace where the CEO, CFO, VP’s, and individual contributors are women. My awareness and awakening came in July 2014. The meeting room was occupied by twenty-five articulate, creative, educated, and highly capable women… and, me.

The CEO was delivering her opening remarks to the team when I entered. She halted her delivery as the Senior VP, my first-day-of-work escort, entered the room with me at her side. Forty-eight eyes were upon me, some welcoming, some suspicious, and others curious.

“Ladies,” the CEO said, “I am pleased to introduce our new Director of Operations, Michael Ivers.”

I smiled, and hoped that my shoes were tied, my shirt wasn’t stained, my hair was nicely combed, and that there weren’t any rankings, listings, ratings, or flashcards.

I wondered for a moment if I should offer to get coffee. That thought, and others quickly dissipated as my manager offered me a chair and instructed one of the younger women present to find another one in the adjacent meeting room.

“Welcome Michael. Please tell us about yourself.”

I stood up, walked to the front of the room, and explained what I have done in my career and why I was there: to work with you, our partners and sponsors to improve opportunities for women technologists. The words weren’t rote or lip-service, they were spoken from the heart. As I provided information about myself, I recalled the Bulletin Board, the Flash Cards, the scribes in the meetings, the coffee servers, and all of those male technicians and engineers with whom I had worked. I considered my daughters and the world they are entering as they begin their careers. I smiled at my new coworkers because I was now part of a corporate world far different than the one I joined in the early 1970s, and one that continues to change thanks to the efforts of many.

 

 
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A few months after hosting the radio talk-show, I was on-the-air again. This time I mentioned James Brown’s song, “Yes, it still is a man’s world James because parity has not yet been achieved; but, it is also a world that is different from the one you sang of. It is a world that is becoming more like the one Helen Reddy recorded. A world that is becoming more inclusive.” I cued up and played “I am Woman.”

“I am woman hear me roar, in numbers too big to ignore…”

Yes, I am a male feminist, and proud to be working with Greatheart Consulting, an organization that develops inclusive leaders and connects with women and men across all levels of leadership and dimensions of difference. I fully believe I have evolved into the sort of man who is ethical, emotionally present, and accountable to his values in his actions with women.

 

The Power of Reciprocity for Inclusive Leaders

 

There is a lot of conversation about the problems people face across differences.

Diversity and Inclusion is often pursued as the answer.

Reciprocity is the missing key.

 

“Diversity” focuses on the distinctive nature of individual identity, and how each one of us is shaped by the cultures of which we are part and by our particular life experiences.

“Inclusion” speaks to our human need to belong, to join with others in a family, a community, a team, a company.

The essential task for inclusive leaders: sort out how diversity is individually operating in themselves and in their people, in a way that builds team performance, retains talent, and serves customers.

For inclusive leaders, reciprocity is a powerful mindset and skillset. As such, reciprocity can be defined as “the equitable and generous exchange of value in a high-performing relationship”. We build reciprocal relationships with our colleagues by giving with the expectation of receiving, by growing mutual influence through turn-taking, and by developing trust through interdependence.

 

Reciprocity can be defined as “the equitable and generous exchange of value in a high-performing relationship”.

 

Reciprocity for social survival runs deep in us. Archaeologists Richard Leakey and Kurt Lewin said: “We are human because our ancestors learned to share their food and their skills in an honored network of obligation.”

A productive and healthy work environment may be viewed as “an honored network of obligation.” In such a workplace, reciprocity is a remarkable leadership asset, because it opens the door to understanding and managing diversity positively. Imagine what can happen when I, as a white male executive, commit to growing a relationship of mutual influence with a colleague of color. When I show up as a true learner and an authentic contributor, and they do the same, then the differences between us fuel intrigue and innovation rather than conflict.

In such a context, reciprocity invites the practice of appreciative inquiry, where both people in a relationship expect giftedness in the other, and also explore their deep similarities.

 

Reciprocity is a remarkable leadership asset, because it opens the door to understanding and managing diversity positively, in the context of rich similarity.

 

Reciprocity involves equitable exchange. This does not mean that the parties receive identical value, but rather they give to one another that which each individual may not be able to give to themselves. For example, in Greatheart’s Reciprocal Mentoring Lab, executive-level men mentor and sponsor director-level women, so these women rise and stay with the organization. These talented women help their mentor/sponsors to become more inclusive leaders. The Lab also enables reciprocity between executive women mentors and their gender-savvy male mentees. Every participating leader builds reciprocity muscles they will flex across their careers. In this program, reciprocity operates not only across gender but also across hierarchy, which is a potent context for expanding mutual influence.

Karen Firestone, the CEO of Aureus Asset Management, describes reciprocal mentoring as “the bilateral transfer of knowledge.” When an inclusive leader constructs reciprocal relationships, a couple of remarkable outcomes occur:

  • The back and forth in reciprocity brings unintentional bias to light, and helps to mitigate its frequency and damage
  • The gaps between Intent and Impact decrease, because the people in the relationship accept accountability for giving and receiving what each other value.

The power in reciprocity for inclusive leaders is clear: when we ground our work relationships in generous and equitable exchange, we engage each individual with honor, and we live into mutually-excellent expectations with one another.

Reciprocity is vital to inclusive leadership, because it accelerates two-way trust, by making and keeping promises across human differences. I heartily recommend reciprocation, as a powerful and practical opportunity to explore mutual self-interest and ignite collaboration.

 

Chuck Shelton can be reached at chuck.shelton@greatheartconsulting.com.

 

Leadership: A Necessary Craft

 

One of my clearest and earliest memories is of a piece of wood that rested under the light switches and single outlet of my childhood garage in Le Landeron, Switzerland. My board was under four feet tall, but that felt big to me. My drill and bit were probably on their last legs, having been rotated out of my dad’s regular usage, but it didn’t matter as I did not require much power to get through the softwood board. As a five-year old, I recall spending hours down in that garage while my dad worked on a variety of projects, riddling the board with holes, as plumes of sawdust cascaded down, collected on the garage floor and the sweet smell of pine filled the air. It is a powerful and visceral memory for me because of the camaraderie I felt with my dad, but also because even at that age, as I leaned my body weight against the drill and felt the wood fibers slowly tear, I experienced a sense of joy and awe that I believe has been felt by craftspeople throughout human history. This was my introduction to craftsmanship.  

 

As a five-year old, I recall spending hours down in that garage while my dad worked on a variety of projects, riddling the board with holes, as plumes of sawdust cascaded down, collected on the garage floor and the sweet smell of pine filled the air.

 

After my parents divorced and I left Switzerland, my first-generation American grandfather continued my education in Central Pennsylvania. In addition to his work as a contractor and small-town lumber yard owner, he was a gifted poet, sculptor and furniture maker. I have memories of hounding him for more wood scraps from the lumber yard so that I could add to my stock of material for the countless stools that I would build in his basement. They were the perfect gift for a 7-year-old to build; simple to assemble and decorate, and above all they were practical — everyone in my extended family had their own handmade stool. I gained more skills as I grew older and others in my life mentored me in my learning. High school and college summers were spent stacking lumber, putting together customer orders and working as a shop assistant in my family’s lumber yard. Lunch breaks and humid afternoons were spent dreaming of new projects, drawing plans and learning new skills.

 

 
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In college I was part of my school’s Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps (NROTC) unit, one of the programs through which a young person can gain an officer commission in the military. My college summers were spent embedded in a Navy unit for six weeks of experiential learning/training or back in the family lumber yard. My first two years of service as a Surface Warfare Officer (SWO) with the rank of Ensign — a ship based role focused on gaining navigation and combat systems qualifications and learning to lead a small team of six to eight Sailors — were designed to be an intense experience of learning and development  that would make me a more valuable asset to my command (ship) and the Navy.

When I reported to my ship based in Everett, Washington, one of my first priorities outside of work was to connect with the local Seabee (Naval Construction Battalion) detachment and see if they would let me use their wood shop after hours.  After verifying I knew my way around a shop, they agreed, future shop supervisors did too, and as the Navy moved me around the country over the next six years, I found the time to build a storage trunk in Everett, a mortise and tenon book shelf and workbench in Norfolk, Virginia, and an endless stream of projects out of the shop in Charlestown, Massachusetts.

 

It was this sense of duty, of being in relationship with and of service to others, that helped start maturing my idea of what it meant to be a leader.

 

Spontaneous “eureka” moments of clarity and vision seemed surreal to me; experience had taught me that those moments were the reward of years of work and dedication. Amidst the adventure and upheaval of two cross-country trips, three duty stations, and four deployments in four years, in the fall of 2011 I found myself underway on the USS TYPHOON (PC-5) in the Persian Gulf. Tired, stressed and lamenting the seemingly endless list of computer-based administrative tasks, I found myself longing for the days when my work involved handling power tools, calluses and splinters. In a rare moment of peace that allowed for private reflection on a 174’ ship with 28 other sailors, I recognized an important connection between my love of woodworking and of leading Sailors.

When I first stood before my small division of Sailors, much of the confidence and self-assuredness that comes from the ascension of the social and institutional ranks of a four year college evaporated, as I was confronted with the reality of just how much I had to learn; from them, about them and perhaps most importantly, about myself. In those first months I felt an overwhelming sense of duty, not to country or ship, but more fundamentally, to them. It was this sense of duty, of being in relationship with and of service to others, that helped start maturing my idea of what it meant to be a leader.

 

 
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For me, the craftsperson is someone who takes a raw material and alters it in some permanent way, to serve their own purpose (we assume, not always accurately, that it is a greater/higher purpose than the material’s original one). The immutable nature of craft is critical, as it testifies to the deep responsibility and care with which the craftsperson (or leader) must approach their work. Though an obvious concept on the surface — a felled tree cannot be replanted —  discounting the impact we can have objectifies both the craftsperson and the material, the leader and the led. I realized that as a leader, I had been entrusted with a different type of raw material—the complex, challenging, and inspiring—the human. With all of our skills, stories, hopes, ambitions, emotions and fears, we truly are both a beautiful and complicated raw material.

There is an inextricable and fundamental connection between what I believe is a primal sense of fulfillment that the alteration/modification of natural materials brings us and the way in which we conceive of leadership. Too often, and to its great detriment, leadership is reduced too simplistically to a collection of tangible traits and interpersonal skills that one can master. I believe that if we instead took to conceiving of leadership as a craft — engaging with it in the appreciative way that a furniture maker considers a rough-sawn piece of cherry (a healthy, unfelled tree for the purist)—that our pursuit of leadership would result in a far richer and more fulfilling experience for us and those we are entrusted to lead. The leader who aspires to greatness could benefit from considering members of their team as beautiful and complex resources who have been entrusted to their care in the pursuit of a greater good (goal, mission, or purpose).

 

The leader who aspires to greatness could benefit from considering members of their team as beautiful and complex resources who have been entrusted to their care in the pursuit of a greater good.

 

The journey from rough-sawn board to finished coffee table is a long one giving the opportunity for many lessons to be learned along the way. I recently undertook such a journey and it was that experience, considered together with the inclusive leadership development work that we do here at Greatheart Consulting, that served as a launching point for this piece of writing.

Here are three lessons I believe craftsmanship can teach us about leadership development.

The first, and perhaps greatest, is the necessity of humility. An eager young carpenter or furniture maker makes countless mistakes. At the start of their learning, their material seems to work more on them than they on it. Craft is reciprocal in nature because we are shaped through our alteration of the material—perhaps this is the price we pay for causing permanent change. There are clues that should guide our decision-making as craftspeople (e.g. deflection, grain patterns, knots and past lessons learned); however, these clues can easily be missed if we are not open to them. Our individual complexities make these clues far less obvious for the leader, but noting them requires that we listen with intention and accompany others genuinely in their journey.  As leaders we must approach our relationships with humility and the expectation that they are essentially reciprocal. Time and the demands of our roles will impact the degree of reciprocity we might experience, but our expectation and hope should not waver.

The second quality is that of intention, the committed and thoughtful consideration involved in the planning and achieving of our aims. The work of the craftsperson with regard to intention entails careful discernment and deliberate acts in their crafting. Similarly, the leader must approach their work with foresight and thoughtful consideration. This means seeking to know those they are leading on a deeper level — which often results in their own opportunity to be known and seen as their full selves. It means understanding the strengths, merits and skills of each team member intimately. This knowledge means that they don’t ask their team member to do things that they have not been trained or prepared to do without offering the requisite guidance and support. Finally, it requires relinquishing the illusion of total control — people, like raw materials, rarely react exactly as we hope — acknowledging our limitations, and managing the expectations that we have of ourselves, others and of the process in which we are engaged. No matter how much influence, knowledge or experience a leader exerts over a team or situation, total control is a dangerous illusion to rely on; one that blinds us to the possibility of innovative ideas and the beauty of the unexpected. 

Finally, the keystone quality of deep respect; of admiration, esteem and of being present enough to bear witness to beauty. This is perhaps the most essential quality of the craftsperson—and is something that has the potential to transform the way anyone does their work. Artisans, actors, designers, builders, singers, teachers, engineers, painters, coders: all are called to create and bear witness to beauty. In my case, this coffee table was to be a central piece of furniture in our family’s new home. In considering its journey from tree to furniture, I knew that this coffee table would continue to bring me great joy for years to come as loved ones gathered around it.

 

 
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There is an honoring that comes from deep respect that must be recognized and discussed as a leadership imperative. The leader must respect and value those they lead as unique individuals who deserve to bring their best selves to work. That respect means honoring their stories and lived experience. The leader should experience esteem and admiration for the individuals they lead, recognize the beauty in the successes of their team and celebrate the shortfalls as opportunities for learning/growth. Finally, the leader of any sized team must recognize and respect the organizational culture for which they are responsible. Curating that culture and nurturing an environment that allows for these qualities to flourish is critical to the long term health and success of the individuals and team as a whole.

By virtue of our humanity, I believe we all are inclined to  seek fulfillment through the crafting and making of beautiful things. We are a people of craft—and craft can provide a valuable lens through which to view our own work as leaders whether we’re making furniture, writing program code or preparing a family meal. Pursuing leadership as a craft will help us to see the humanity, potential and brilliance in each person we interact with. It will help us to acknowledge our own needs and gaps—and to value the contributions others offer. It will cause us to value not only the end-goal or mission, but also the way in which we achieve this goal, and the impact we have on those around us along the way. I believe we will find that approaching the components, tools and results of our work with the humility, intention and respect of a master craftsperson will lead to unexpected lessons and yield unimagined results.

 

Using Superheroes to Discuss Race in America with My Five Year Old

 

This past February, I had an interesting but tough conversation with my oldest son Philip Jr., who is now 5 years old. During Black History Month, my wife and I told him that we would be telling him about great black leaders, Marcus Garvey being one of them. On this particular day, he had reminded me that I hadn’t shown him the video about Garvey yet. For one reason or another, I kept forgetting. So finally, my persistent little guy got daddy to make good on his promise. He climbed into my lap and I clicked the YouTube app on my phone, searching for a video appropriate for a 5-year-old to watch on our desired historical figure. We lucked out and found a 4-minute mini-documentary on Garvey which I thought would be perfect for a pre-kindergartener’s attention span.

As we watched the video, Philip Jr. asked me “daddy, why is the commentator talking about white people?” I think he couldn’t figure out what role white people played in “black history.” I struggled to find the explanation that would adequately suffice for his current level of understanding—especially since the only mention of the word white in the documentary was connected to white supremacy, something very negative. This topic was not the jumping off place for a discussion on white privilege and the power that comes from it that I wanted to have with my 5-year-old. As a dad, I do my best to paint humankind in the best light possible to my kids in order to not jade their developing worldview and perspective. With that said, I had to respect my little guy’s intellect because Philip Jr. has been aware of race and ethnicity since the age of about 4½. He’s a very sharp kid—I’m led to believe it’s genetic! So I still had to come correct.

 

 
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After some thought, I was able to come up with what I hope was an accurate explanation that I felt he could relate to. Both Philip Jr. and I are superhero buffs. So, I began explaining: “Son, at times, the power used by people in government, big companies and organizations are kind of like super powers. There are some people who can be heroes because they choose to use their power for good and others who can become villains, using their power to hurt people.” In this way, I did my best to express how power dynamics work in the U.S., specifically around race and white supremacy, without using those terms directly and without leading him to believe that white people are superior to black people (i.e. the super hero complex) nor that all white people chose to use their power for evil.

What I hope he took from our conversation is that people who have power can make the decision to use it to help rather than harm other people. At that point the conversation shifted from race to talking about actual superheroes, much to my relief.

This was a hard conversation to have because I want my kids to afford everyone the same appreciation and respect no matter their skin color. Unfortunately, our society still places a very high premium on white skin and I’m often hardpressed in trying to explain this to my five-year-old without exposing him to all of the negative reasons why this is. I’m not in a rush to tell my sons that their ancestors were enslaved by white people under U.S. Government sanction for over 246 years, even though one day I will have to. I will also have to explain the many lingering after-effects wrought by that point in our not-so-distant history. I have anxiety just thinking about it.

 

As difficult as these conversations are, it is imperative that we as a collective have them and do our best to facilitate them in a respectful yet authentic way.

 

Processing the conversation I had with my son has given me an even greater appreciation for the work that I am a part of at Greatheart. For one, we are helping those with power and privilege effectively use it for the good of everyone impacted by it. And we are doing it in a way that shows them that they don’t have to lose in the process. There is a common misperception that touts: in order for one group to win the other has one to lose. This isn’t the case and we are laying this fallacy to rest when we help our clients leverage the diversity on their teams so that individuals thrive and businesses can better reach their objectives.

Additionally, we are slowly but surely making it safe to talk about race in the corporate space—and lets face it, discussing race in the workplace is very difficult for most of us. If I struggle to have these types of conversations with my 5-year-old, the pressure is ten-times more when discussing it with my peers and colleagues even though I get paid to do it! As difficult as these conversations are, it is imperative that we as a collective have them and do our best to facilitate them in a respectful yet authentic way. It’s easier said than done because the seemingly everlasting wounds around race are so pervasive, insidious, and can be salted with the lightest touch, even if unintentionally.

Still, we must have these conversations. If we don’t, whether in our homes, communities, businesses, or places of worship, we will never heal together. One of the toughest truths to come to grips with in this challenging conversation is this: Blacks and whites must heal together in order for there to be any healing at all. Why is this? Because both sides have been negatively impacted by the effects of racism, albeit in different ways. With that said, I believe for this crucial conversation to happen, both blacks and whites have to get good at listening to each other. One of the things that we emphasize and strive to practice here at Greatheart is Listening to Build Trust. When we listen to build trust, we keep a powerful leadership promise: we hear what colleagues and customers actually mean. We show our respect, we build relationships, and we collaborate more effectively.

Again, easier said than done.

But it is a step toward the healing process. In my view, the way of our conversations (as a U.S. collective) about race play out goes a bit like this; black people (myself included) get angry and voice our hurt and pain. And rightly so, we’ve got a lot to be angry and hurt about; the unjust and disproportionate killings of black people by police, the wealth/opportunity gap between whites and blacks, black unemployment rates, and mass incarceration are utterly unacceptable and continued work must be done to solve these issues.

However, please hear me on this, when we (black people) come only with a pointing finger and not an ear to listen, white people on the receiving end become defensive and either stonewall or deny the black experience in the U.S. altogether. As biased as I am as a black man — one who is very in tune with his blackness — I can understand their reaction even if I can’t always stomach it. I can understand one group being defensive against another if they feel they are the recipients of a one-way attack. I also understand that this is a loaded statement because many of us (black people) feel we are attacked every day due to systemic inequalities.

With that said, I don’t think most (there are exceptions I know) white people wake up in the morning thinking about how to make life harder for black people. As a husband, I have a habit of becoming incredibly defensive when my wife criticizes me, even if the criticism is warranted. I then share these criticisms with my male friends who feel the same way that I do when they are criticized by their wives. It may feel good in the moment when my friends agree with me, letting me feel like I’m right, but no ultimate progress is made in my relationship with my wife. My view has remained one-sided because I haven’t done the work necessary to build more trust with her by listening with an open heart and mind.

 

At the same time, there are some things we simply have to do together, because as much as some of us may not like it, we share the same planet with ever-increasing proximity.

 

The result of finger-pointing and stone-walling is that no one gets heard and the path to healing is blocked yet again. From my point of view, we’ll never get anywhere with this approach. The status quo will carry on, tensions will continue to escalate, and no progress will be made in our communities, businesses, nation, and most importantly, our very own humanity. I do believe that there are some aspects of the healing process that we as black people have to put in motion. There are things that we want to do ourselves, we are already doing, and only we can do. At the same time, there are some things we simply have to do together, because as much as some of us may not like it, we share the same planet with ever-increasing proximity. Just to reiterate, I’m under no illusion, I know this is hard, hard, hard, hard, (one more time for the people in the back) HARD WORK for both sides!

 

 
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At the heart of what I’m trying to teach Philip Jr. is what Uncle Ben said to Spiderman, “with great power comes great responsibility.” In this social media age, we can see that the days of power without accountability are coming to a close at lighting speed. Leaders, influencers, governments, institutions, anyone with power, no matter their background, will be best served and serve others best by using their power, privilege, prestige or whatever name we call it, for the good of all and meaning it from the heart.

Did I mention that this was hard work?

 

What Happen When Men Listen to Women to Build Trust? Part 3

 

Men influence other men.

Read the previous posts here: Part 1, Part 2.

The clarity and courage of women’s voices is compelling in this #MeToo era. As men, we may feel like we’re back on our heels, on the defensive, unsure not only of our actions but perhaps our motivations. Our confidence in the ways we relate to women may be shaken. If we hold a leadership role, these concerns may multiply.

So how do we lean in, move up onto the balls of our feet, and engage in gender collaboration in a new way? How do we make sure that women see us not as part of their problem, but as part of the solution?

Put another way: What can happen when men listen to women, in ways that establish trust? We also influence other men.

When we as men truly and deeply hear the pained voices of women, their stories echo in us even when they are not around. Empathy is about ‘being with’, and when we care enough to listen, we remember what we’ve heard, and that changes our behavior. We know women expect us to step up when other men misbehave.

Women grow to trust men when they discover that we are attending to gender when only men are in the room. We’re bringing up what we’ve learned from women, and we are learning to speak about gender among men. How do we do this?

 

  • We find effective words when other men say things like:
    • “I’ll never understand women.”

    • “It must be a great time to be a woman, since they are getting all the jobs.”

    • “I can’t offer tough feedback, because she will cry.”

    • “This is why it’s better not to hire or mentor women.”

  • We speak up when other men comment inappropriately on a woman’s appearance, or interrupt her in a team meeting, or take credit or give another man credit for a woman’s ideas.

  • We help other men see and acknowledge the ways that the workplace is stronger and more caring because women work here.

  

Men need to help other guys see that now is the perfect time to build a reputation among women as a person to collaborate with. This is the worst time for men to go quiet and avoid becoming an ally – we’ve already been silently colluding by not responding effectively when other men hurt or disrespect women. That’s no way to lead.

 

What can happen when men listen to women to build trust?

 

Women are more likely to respond well and expect more from men who truly hear them. They will more likely step up and lead, collaborating with teachable men, who themselves influence other men.

These powerful outcomes call to all of us, in the midst of so many women reporting pain caused by men. Women are finding their voices and speaking with courage. As men, we can respond by committing to listen to them, so that we do our part to establish mutual trust.

Image Credit: WOCinTechChat.com

 

What Happens When Men Listen to Women to Build Trust? Part 2

 

Women will more often lead the conversation and drive the solution.

Read the other posts here: Part 1, Part 3.

The clarity and courage of women’s voices is compelling in this #MeToo era. As men, we may feel like we’re back on our heels, on the defensive, unsure not only of our actions but perhaps our motivations. Our confidence in the ways we relate to women may be shaken. If we hold a leadership role, these concerns may multiply.

So how do we lean in, move up onto the balls of our feet, and engage in gender collaboration in a new way? How do we make sure that women see us not as part of their problem, but as part of the solution?

Put another way: What can happen when men listen to women, in ways that establish trust? Women will more often lead the conversation and drive the solution.

Let’s be clear: women are not a problem for men to solve. And women have no business trying to fix men – we don’t respond well to being fixed.

But to collaborate with women requires men to invest in humility and teachability. This means that we do not doubt the voices of women, call their character into question, or in any way blame them for speaking up.

Research indicates that around 95% of women’s reports of sexual assault are truthful. So when our self-talk sounds like this – “Hey, that accusation may not be true” – it is time to listen even more carefully, because almost all the stories are true. We should also acknowledge that sometimes we don’t know what or who to believe.

One key practice for collaborative men: making more room for women to contribute. This builds trust, and ultimately enhances our relational influence. Male leaders, in particular, can:  

 

  • Step out of the spotlight in presentations sometimes, when it will position a woman to speak with her own voice

  • Organize projects so our female colleagues will lead in their own way and gain credit for doing so

  • Delegate responsibility to women, while providing the support they need

  • Learn with women who report to us through reciprocal mentoring

  • Defer decision-making to our peers who are women

  • Do everything in our power to help the women above us succeed

  • Pay attention to the ways women disagree with one another, and hold our opinions about their diversity lightly

  • Temper our advocacy ‘for’ women through accountable relationships of trust ‘with’ women

 

It’s not that women can only move ahead when men make it possible. But every professional benefits from having influence partners, so when we, as men, stand down, more women will stand up. As allies, we can also intentionally resist the temptation of accepting accolades as a ‘male champion’ – such credit-taking belies the humility that informs sharing the spotlight.

For us as men, it is time to experiment with finding ways to open opportunities with women in ways that do not damage our own options. The resulting collaboration will be powerful.

The next blog in this series of three: What happens when men listen to women to build trust? Men influence other men. Read it here.

Image Credit: WOCinTechChat.com

 

What Happens When Men Listen To Women To Build Trust? Part 1

 

Read the other posts here: Part 2Part 3.

The clarity and courage of women’s voices is compelling in this #MeToo era. Women are detailing many ways that men have acted and continue to behave inappropriately and disrespectfully toward them. Women are speaking up about their experiences in being assaulted physically and bullied verbally. Women and girls around the world are testifying to the pain coming from some of the men in their lives.

It’s difficult, no doubt, for them to tell their truths. And it’s hard for us as men to listen.

It’s not just about gender, either. The stories that women are sharing speak from the mix of cultures and experience that shape their identities – their race and nationality, their age, faith, education, language and economic status. Listening is complicated because people are complex.

 

Women are more likely to respond well and expect more from men who truly hear them.

 

Perhaps listening is especially challenging for men in leadership roles. We struggle with the pressure to solve problems and lead change, which can put us at risk for quick decisions that do not sufficiently include others. And, generally, we do not 'speak gender’ as fluently as the women we work with.

But when the stories come from our mothers and sisters and wives and daughters, and our female friends and colleagues and customers and students, well, it’s simply time to listen. As men, we can summon our own courage. We can invest in listening to women because our success as human beings requires it.

We may feel like we’re back on our heels, on the defensive, unsure not only of our actions but perhaps our motivations. Our confidence in the ways we relate to women may be shaken.

So how do we lean in, move up onto the balls of our feet, and engage in gender collaboration in a new way? How do we make sure that women see us not as part of their problem, but as part of the solution?

Put another way: What can happen when men listen to women, in ways that establish trust? Women are more likely to respond well and expect more from men who truly hear them.

As human beings, we know when we are being listened to. And we like the care and validation that we feel when we are heard.

 

A man is an ally when a woman says he is.

 

Trust is the making and keeping of promises over time. And listening is a fundamental relationship promise – when we truly hear what another person says, we open the door to being seen as worthy of trust. And then higher performing relationships emerge.

So there’s a crucial relationship accountability in the act of listening. At Greatheart Consulting, we say that ‘A man is an ally when a woman says he is.’ This does not mean that women are always right, or that all women will respond well to any man’s collaborative intent. It does mean that women get to decide if they trust us as men.

To earn a woman’s trust and respect, what does world-class listening from men look like? (These skills, of course, work well with interaction between any two human beings, however they may differ.)

 

As a Man, I’m Listening Well to a Woman when... I’m not Listening Well when...
I’m genuinely interested and curious about her views, and invested in engaging appropriately with her. I don’t really care to hear her views, and don’t care if she finds me go be a good listener.
I quiet the chatter in my head, and focus on what she means to say. I’m thinking about what I need and want to say while she is talking, and run the risk of interrupting her.
I work to stay present in the moment, so she will experience me as attentive. I show verbal or non-verbal impatience by multitasking or tuning out.
I check my understanding and ask questions to clarify what she means. I assume I know what she means.
I consider how differences between us might impact our communication and relationship. I ignore differences or don’t consider how they may be relevant to how I interact with her.
I convey appreciation, interest, agreement or disagreement, or empathy for her perspective. I make little or no effort to convey interest, appreciation, or empathy for her point of view or experience, or I question the validity of her voice.
I value her uniqueness as an individual, honoring her as a woman and seeing other points of identity that she values (e.g. her race or religion). I tend to view her as representative of women in general, and miss seeing her uniqueness.
I listen because I care that she is a person who has something to share with me. I push to problem-solve, and it does not occur to me that she may only want to be heard.
I build trust by offering my honest views with respect, and make it okay to disagree with me. I avoid conflict by appearing to agree with everything she says, or I refuse to explore disagreement.
 

 

Listening well is the heart of inclusion.

 

Listening well is the heart of inclusion. It will go a long way toward healing the rifts between women and men that we now hear about every day.

The next blog in this series of three: What happens when men listen to women to build trust?: Women will more often lead the conversation and drive the solution. Read it here.

Image Credit: WOCinTechChat.com

 

Donald Trump is Forcing White Male Leaders to Step Up

Donald Trump is Forcing White Male Leaders to Step Up

Mr. Trump may play the super-hero for angry white men. But his anti-human ethic is now forcing a hard set of choices upon white guys who lead for a living. We increasingly feel the pressure to step forward as inclusive leaders, because Trump is tearing apart our quiet, normative space.

I was talking with a black woman recently – she is a successful executive, a lovely person, and a trusting friend. She surprised me with this empathetic observation: “I feel badly for white male leaders this year. They can’t hide anymore from the expectations of followers who want courageous leaders.”

How Men Can Decenter So Women Step Up

 

For men who lead as allies with women, decentering is a daily choice and a key skill.

Decentering means that we, as male leaders:

  • Step out of the spotlight in presentations, when it will position a woman to speak with her own voice
  • Organize projects so our female colleagues will lead in their own way and gain credit for doing so
  • Delegate responsibility to women, while providing the support they need
  • Learn with women who report to us through reciprocal mentoring
  • Defer decision-making to our peers who are women
  • Do everything in our power to help the women above us succeed
  • Pay attention to the ways women disagree with one another, and hold our opinions about their diversity lightly
  • Temper our advocacy ‘for’ women through accountable relationships of trust with women

It’s not that women can only step up when men step down. But every professional benefits from having influence partners, so when we, as men, stand down, more women will stand up. As we decide to decenter, we can also intentionally resist the temptation of accepting accolades as a ‘male champion’ – such credit-taking belies the humility that informs stepping out of the spotlight.

This is gender-savvy leadership – understanding how gender operates at work, and how to get things done based on this understanding. When women and men work together, is everything about gender? Absolutely not. And is it necessary for an inclusive leader to sort out the salience of gender at work? Absolutely.

The concept of male decentering requires an understanding of the ‘center’ that men still largely occupy. This is the normativity of men in leadership jobs – especially those of us who are also white, highly educated, upper middle class, straight, Christian, and healthy. I call it ‘super-normativity’, the superpower of a center where we are remarkably over-represented.

This is the normative culture of men in leadership, where our ideas and values define the 'norm' to which women are pressured to attend, for the sake of better opportunities. People who are members of normative cultures assume that they are 'normal': there are prescriptive and often unspoken standards of correctness for all, and especially an expectation of conformity from those who clearly differ from the norm, requiring accommodation like the pull of gravity. This is the center in which many of us as men still ‘naturally’ reside. It’s only in the last generation that a new ‘normal’ has emerged, demonstrating how a mix of talent and teams produces superior results.

Decentering is a core competency of the inclusive leader. Intriguingly, it offers us the chance to focus on ourselves while we attend to others: psychology teaches us that it’s not always healthy to believe our own quick-cycling and sometimes biased thoughts. We can choose to listen to women with care, and consider stepping back as an opportunity to build credibility for our colleagues and for ourselves.

Decentering is a direct and capability-building investment in the Other. At Greatheart we hold this statement to be true: a man is an ally when a woman says he is. Women will recognize usas allies when we decenter in their direction, with discipline, day by day.

And an extra bit of good news: the competency of decentering also helps us lead more effectively as influencers among other men, which many women expect from us.

 

An Invitation to Straight White Male Leaders: Decide What it Means to be a Good and Connective Man

 

For many men, what it means to be a man is defined in contrast to women: “Women are emotional, I’m analytical.” “Women are relational, I’m action oriented.” “Women are collaborative, I’m decisive.” If we’re straight, we may think of our sexual orientation as ‘not gay’. If we are white, we may filter that as ‘not being black’.

But being a man is more than the absence or antithesis of the feminine, being straight needs to mean more than ‘not being gay’, and it’s a mistake to distill being white down to ‘not being of another race’. Limiting our identity formation in these ways can confine us to stereotyped thinking and compromised results.

To become a better leader, you may find it useful to define your masculinity specifically and positively. That helps us take personal responsibility for acting as men of honesty and integrity.

How do men define men? Here are typical descriptors generated by men in our firm’s training courses over the years. When asked to generally describe men, these learners say that men:

  • work long and hard to protect and provide for their families
  • care about giving and receiving respect
  • solve problems well
  • can get so caught up in work and achievement that they lose sight of their relationships
  • teach their children and others about courage and risk taking
  • like to learn how to make things work
  • build trust by making and keeping promises
  • enjoy food, sports, sex, and laughing (not necessarily in that order)
  • find change stressful
  • are shaped by their physical, mental, and spiritual health
  • may feel threatened by people who are “different.”

Granted, the phrases above also describe many women, and not all men. And the list does not emphasize all-too-common caricatures of men (greedy, emotionally stunted, clueless), because we are already fed that demeaning diet. Before its demise, Washington Mutual ran a series of ads skewering a herd of stodgy white male bankers; WaMu’s investment in inclusion should have produced a higher rate of return.

Here’s the point: you need to define your own masculinity, and then live and lead as the man you want to be. Women in your life may tell you what to think, how to be, who to be. (I’m not sure why they do this; they seem to feel we need a lot of help.) Advertisers, pundits, and filmmakers often portray masculinity with a negative twist. You need to understand on your own terms what it means to be a good and connective man. You are the boss of you, and only you can generate your own clear purposes as a man.

A Personal Take

My personal take on being and leading as a “real man” involves two key practices: integrity and intimacyIntegrity is the congruence between who I want to be and how I act, it’s about making and keeping promises to build trust, giving and receiving respect, leading with courage and following with honor, getting clear on and staying true to my values, speaking the hard truths constructively, pursuing accountability, living with spiritual discipline, seeking wholeness and balance. Intimacy is about focusing on connectedness in relationships, living in a spirit of play, owning my part of being in love, nurturing safety and touch, adventuring and laughing, listening and responding, working through conflict with confidence, expressing gratitude, looking for creative opportunity, expecting growth. Women and men of all races tend to reciprocate when I show up as a man of integrity and intimacy.

Kevin Costner, the director and actor, leads with a clear view about what it means to be a good and connective man. Take a look at his 2003 film, Open Range. The movie portrays integrity and honor, respect and intimacy among men and women under stress. His commentary as the director profoundly illustrates how he led the project from the inside out.

Find and study The End of Men, by Hannah Rosin. Not a fun read, but it will challenge you to step up and engage as a man, for your own sake, and for the boys, girls, and women in your life.

And one more thing: as white men, Diversity ‘R’ Us. Here’s a multiple- choice quiz question:

Put twenty white male leaders in a room together, and what do you have?

a) Four golfers, four video game guys, three runners, a b-ball player, a swimmer, a tennis wannabe, and six who think the rest of us get too much exercise.

b) Too many opinions and a lot of interrupting.

c) A striking assortment of hair loss, sore muscles, fashion blunders, and bad jokes.

d) A power struggle.

e) Twenty utterly unique individuals.

Answer: e (okay, maybe all of the above)

A battalion of white men in business suits features awesomely diverse characters.

I invite you to decide who you are as one of those unique men. Specifically write out your own ‘Personal Take’ on what being a man means to you, like the box above. Then the adventure gets underway: living out your decision to get what you want and to become the man you want to be – at home, as a leader at work, and across your life and lifetime.

 

Make Decisions Inclusively

 

To build trust as you lead, make decisions inclusively. As much as possible, involve those who will be affected. Colleagues who differ from you by identity points like gender or race, in particular, will scrutinize your decision-making: how you make decisions, how you involve those impacted, and the results of your decisions. Why? Because decision making is a function of leadership where your character is revealed and your use of power is interpreted.

Are you clear with your direct reports, peers, and manager, about how and when decisions get made? For key decisions, make sure the stakeholders to the decision understand and accept the method for decision-making. Here are six ways to make decisions, in descending order of their potential for inclusion:

  • A self-directed team decides: With high-performing individuals and teams, there are times when you can delegate decisions and implementation. You are informed of their decision and their progress, but they are responsible for getting the work done and achieving results. If they need your input along the way as their manager, they can be trusted to come to you.
  • Team decides by consensus: Here’s where the group decides. It’s a useful approach when the decision will affect everyone, when relevant information is available, and when each person on the team (including you as the manager) can openheartedly agree to an “I can live with that” outcome.
  • Stakeholders vote: When the stakes are not too high and time is short, voting can be an efficient way to get a decision made. Just make sure that those who “lose” the vote are still on board for implementation.
  • You seek input and you decide: Stakeholders need to know upfront that you value the best information and opinions they can provide, and then it is your responsibility as the leader to make the decision. Their job? To advise you, follow your decision, and improve on it if they can.
  • Leaders above us decide: Many decisions are made above us in the organization, and given to us to implement. So we provide context about why the decision was made, and then include our team in figuring out how to get it done.
  • You decide privately: There are times in leadership work (with corrective action or termination, for instance) where you must make the decision, and there may be limits on what you can share. This puts people in the position of following on the basis of whatever trust you’ve established with them. So it’s advisable to use this decision-making method infrequently.

As leaders, each decision we deliver — “We need to decide what we can all live with on this project deadline”, or “Here’s the draft budget we've been given for next year – I need your input so I can go back to my boss”, or “I’ve decided to promote Jamal” — quantifies the promises we make to our direct reports, peers, and manager. Consequently, inclusive decision making generates trust, and the decision is more likely to be implemented successfully.

Clarify how inclusive decisions get made in your sphere of influence, by intentionally using these six methods with your manager, peers, and employees.