Jennifer Burge
CEO
WorldWise Coaching

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The Role of Men as Allies in Gender Equity and Diversity Programs

By Jennifer Burge | Tue, 06/07/2022 - 09:00

The conversation around equality and the power of diversity in the mining industry has been dominated by women. It’s logical, of course. Women are the individuals most impacted physically, emotionally, and psychologically. We have the most at stake — the most to win and the most to lose. As much as conversations and dialogues in women-only groups are important, especially within male-dominated industries where our numbers are few and support groups are vital, men cannot be absent from these initiatives. Their success depends on the visible and consistent participation of male leaders. In addition, for any cultural change program to be effective, merely showing up is not enough.

In my various workplaces worldwide, I’ve heard many reasons why men are not interested in participating in the discussion, let alone being an active sponsor for inclusion and diversity. I’ve heard it said on numerous occasions by men in all types of positions and industries that the “Me too” movement made them too nervous. Another common theme has been, “Women make false accusations to ruin the careers of men.” The one that is most troubling, however, is, “Why would I participate? It doesn’t affect me.” Yes, yes it does. Toxic workplace cultures have an impact on every employee, the morale of the organization, and on the industry. Women in Male-Dominated Industries and Occupations: Quick Take (2021) from Catalyst states, “women sexually harassed at work are 6.5 times as likely to change jobs, often to one with lower pay.”

Losing good employees, now that the war for talent has been exacerbated by COVID-19, when it can be avoided by creating a zero-tolerance harassment environment on the job is senseless. So why does it continue to happen? It’s a great question, especially when “Researchers also show that most men (86%) say they want to interrupt sexist behaviors in the workplace, but far fewer men (31%) feel confident in doing so.” (Kerr, G. & Pollack, A. (2022). Engaging Men: Barriers and Gender Norms. Catalyst.) The most recent research, which is now focused on men’s participation in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs instead of keeping the emphasis solely on women indicates the three reasons men do not participate are fear, apathy, and ignorance.

Having known many supportive male champions throughout my career, I know for certain that lots of men see the differences in our work habits and skills as a strength for the company. They want to be engaged in the discussion but lack the confidence in flexing this muscle called empathy. Many fear that they will make mistakes by attempting to join the conversation and create some sort of backlash, either from the women they are intending to help or from their male colleagues. What I can offer here in terms of advice for well-intended readers is simple. ASK a female coworker what her experience is like and LISTEN to her reply. For the most part, men are unable to relate to the uncomfortable feeling of being the minority that women experience daily. Solving that problem is simple: talk to us. We’ll tell you what we need and where we want to go in the company. Once you have that information, share it with those who can make a difference. We aren’t asking to be treated with kid gloves. We don’t need gentle handling. We are only asking that you stand beside us. This is not a high bar.

Company programs to create more inclusive cultures are new for many, regardless of gender. Part of the work involves establishing environments that normalize the reality that mistakes will be made. Most women, I certainly cannot speak for all, do not mind when men try to lend support but don’t hit the bull’s-eye the first time. Most women appreciate that you tried. Most women will help you to do it better the next time. Another strategy for success returns to my earlier point: If you don’t know what the approach should be or how it might need to be tweaked to make everyone feel included, ask.

The most compelling argument for the allyship, participation, and contribution of men in diversity and inclusion work is also very simple: we are unlikely to succeed without you. Very unlikely. “Men are a crucial and often untapped resource for promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in organizations. Indeed, research shows that 96% of organizations report progress on DEI when men are actively involved, compared to only 30% that report progress when men are not engaged.” (Kerr, G. & Pollack, A. (2022). Engaging Men: The Journey Toward Equity. Catalyst).

If you are reading this, chances are that your organization is either actively working on or in the planning stages of a diversity, equity, and inclusion program. If your organization hasn’t considered this to be a priority, I don’t expect you’ll need to worry about it because, “If your leaders are operating like we’re still in the 20th century, you need to act fast. Otherwise, your employees, your customers, and the world at large will act for you.” (Smith, Johnson, & Stromberg (2021) How Men Can Be More Inclusive Leaders: Harvard Business Review).

Photo by:   Jennifer Burge