At the recent Women's Business Council Guildhall Reception to celebrate the efforts of companies and individuals who are pioneering innovative, industry-led solutions to support the advancement of women in the workplace, I was pleased to see a number of senior men in attendance and to hear that one of the Council's 5 Action Groups is Men as Change Agents. Women need men to be part of the conversation to encourage change and create more equality. Being part of a business-led and government backed group there are now 6 men amongst the 20 council members, which is great news.
In the US, Men Advocating Real Change (MARC) is a community for men committed to achieving gender equality in the workplace. The MARC website showcases member-generated advice, insights, and best practices to inspire men who wish to expand gender diversity within their organizations. It is an initiative of Catalyst, the leading nonprofit accelerating progress for women through workplace inclusion within the United States, Canada, Europe, India, Australia, and Japan. The beauty of the web is men everywhere can access this information.
In Australia there are Male Champions of Change whose 4 guiding principles:- encouraging men to step up beside women; taking action to create equality as a business priority; holding each other accountable and changing the culture and system (not trying to "fix" women") underpin the work they do. Having worked in corporate Australia and previously engaged to a very alpha Aussie, it's refreshing to see the change at CEO level that is now taking place.
Men who are taking a stand talk of the shift they see from other men. The conversation has moved from "Why are you involved?" to "How can I be involved?" At Davos this year, 10 Corporate Impact Champions made gender equality an institutional priority as part of HeforShe's UN initiative. The group of 10 includes: AccorHotels, Barclays, Koç Holding, McKinsey, PwC, Schneider Electric, Tupperware, Twitter, Unilever and Vodafone. The group disclosed details on leadership roles and board membership in the inaugural HeforShe Parity Report. The transparency displayed will help them measure commitments and hopefully inspire action from other employers.
All this is wonderful but as a maternity coach and diversity consultant I see and speak to men in business daily floundering with exactly what they are meant to say and do, and how they can be more inclusive. Men and women think and act differently so if you are a man wanting to help women at work, here are my 3 recommendations to help make life a little easier:-
1. Ensure you know the true scale and financial impact of maternity discrimination - and recognise it is a business imperative to change.
According to EHRC data 84% of businesses say they want to help pregnant women and new mothers yet 77% of women say they feel discriminated against. In recent research 1 in 5 say they were treated negatively when they asked for time off for antenatal appointments or tried to negotiate a flexible return to work. We have a huge disconnect between what business says and what business does, especially around middle management. Not all middle managers are men but if this is you, please think about the wider picture and take responsibility for your actions. Female capital has a huge worth to our economy yet women are undervalued by their companies and managers, every day. This could be your wife, your girlfriend, your sister, your daughter. Bumps and the Boardroom is leading the way in helping women and business experience a new normal where pregnancy is recognised and valued for the transformational experience it is and men, women and business all thrive. Look at the behaviour or bias you may instinctively adopt and challenge yourself to think differently.
2. Develop your own empathy and emotional intelligence (and demand your rights as a Dad).
We all have feminine and masculine energies within us. And both forces need to be lifted up, respected. Emma Watson
Empathy has been shown to be positively correlated, with growth, productivity, and earnings. Token Man was established to help men in the UK creative industry gain a better understanding and empathy of the challenges women face when they're in the minority. Men are natural "fixers", your competitive interest is piqued when you know other men are stepping up around you and being seen to advocate change (see the success of the 30% Club if you are in any doubt). Happy, healthy, emotionally intelligent men is what we want to see. Research from the Fatherhood Institute advises that UK mums and dads are the worst in the developed world at sharing childcare responsibilities (where as a man, you can stretch your EQ and develop softer skills). Both sexes are guilty of perpetuating outdated stereotypes of women as natural carers and men as better providers and many women struggle to share their maternity leave even when partners are willing. But the facts are these: British men spend an average of 24 minutes caring for children for every hour done by women. If this isn't enough for you speak up! In countries like Portugal, Sweden and Germany it is a sign of masculinity and the accepted norm for men to help out at home and be hands-on Dads. Please shift your thinking and create this culture here.
3. Find the tools you need and invest in change.
Men don't automatically know how to speak to women about pregnancy or any conception related issues, or handle maternity or paternity requests effectively, but neither do all women. If you are a manager or work with women:-
- Don't give pregnant women a wide berth or treat a pregnant colleague as if it's business as usual. Learn how to connect and support effectively.
- Don't allow maternity leavers in your team to manage their own "Keeping in touch" days, as new mums need support not space.
- Don't leave it to your female colleagues to send flowers if you're the boss. My coaching programs offer group and one-to-one support for male leaders and men becoming parents to ensure men feel confident to deliver best practice so if you need some help, just ask.
- As a man find out about your company's entitlement of shared parental leave and challenge it. Unless you work for a very enlightened company it won't be good enough. Encourage men you work with to take SPL rather than mock them or make them feel it will be frowned upon.
Current data shows we are not expected to reach gender parity in my lifetime or possibly even my children's but if we work together improvements will be made that benefit our collective emotional and economic wellbeing and use all of our skills more effectively. The research in The Athena Doctrine: How Women (and the Men who think like them) Will Rule the Future confirms feminine values are on the ascendant so please man-up and move mountains so we manage maternity differently and make gender equality a reality.
Not convinced things can change?
How Meetup Ditched Its Boys Club In 3 years. It's do-able when you commit and take daily action.
Male executives need to stop spitting the dummy when women get promoted on merit From our colleagues Down Under.
This article was originally posted on Linkedin as 3 Ways Business can Man-Up and support Women but has been edited to support #BuildingModernMenSuggest a correction