Since some years, working as a consultant, I am surrounded by female friends, colleagues and clients who are strongly engaged gender diversity or equity, or as some call it in the business environment, #FemaleLeadership. I usually am cautious about dealing with this issue, as I am well aware about how easily I may fall into clichés, be superficial or, even worst, discover myself as intimately sexist. But this is an issue that involves us men, both as a person as well as a professional: it is a business issue!
At the time when I was working as a social psychologist, some years ago, I had the opportunity and privilege to facilitate reflection groups for adolescent men during a workshop held by one of the founders of the #WhiteRibbonCampaign: #MichaelKaufman. The basic idea of this campaign is very clear: violence on women is not a women issue, it is a men`s issue, as they are the persecutors! It was a though theme: each of us had to question himself; this theme is cultural and goes far beyond the single dramatic act of violence, it is a matter of sexist mindset that is pervading most men and acted unconsciously every day.
Back to business: I consider this theme to be extremely sensitive and relevant in organizations. I am not addressing this a moral or value based topic, but as a business topic: who ever prevents an own team member, colleague or manager from expressing full potential is harming his company economically. And in the particular case of female colleagues this may occur also indirectly and unconsciously. Assuming that the most evident and sever sexist behaviors are widely recognized as wrong, I will highlight some traps that might be less obvious for us men:
Not being aware about how strongly the sexist education we where exposed to is influencing our way to build expectations and prejudice (even smooth ones) about professional competencies and attitudes of our female colleagues. I give also a positive example to make sure this point is not underestimated: "Female colleagues are precise, accurate, serious, in-time..." "Too detail oriented, not able to make compromises, too little controlled or submissive in conflicts...".
Let us guide by hypothesis we did not double check with our female colleague: "let´s take a man, at that age a women has the right for motherhood", "I do not want to put her into trouble", "it´s a too masculine environment", "it´s a position that is not allowing a proper work-life-balance".
Contribute to a sexist culture, also in absence of women with comments like: "...you know how they are...", ...she must have been in her days...", "..it takes balls like this...", "she is good, because she is a man"; or by moving the focus from professional efficacy towards esthetics in a more or less trivial way...
Be aware that even not taking a stand against above listed examples is contributing actively to generate a sexist environment: we need to take responsibility and be explicit about our disagreement, dissociating intimately is not enough.
Let me be very clear about this: I was and am the first to fall into those or others similar traps and, doing so, I caused economic harm to whom was working with me and most of all to myself. My thesis is that working on #FemaleLeadership within management needs to start with a work on the masculine component of the organization. We need to develop and promote a #MenLeadership that is oriented towards the #empowerment of #talent, not categories, and that is capable of promoting a sensitive and pluralist culture .
Obviously any initiative that contributes to this process is crucial, and of course self-awareness and leadership training for women are essential, but it is time that we too do our part: "If it is to be, it is up to me!" (William H. Johnsen)
I would love to have your feedbacks, integrations and comments to this very sensitive and complex theme.
I translated this post from a previous italian version as I wanted to share it with as many people as possible, so share if you like to.