Gender diversity in the workplace is a hot topic right now. Organisations recognise the need to balance their teams, particularly their senior teams, with more female participation.
It is challenging for organisations to understand the best approach to changing this balance.
Many organisations believe that female leaders who are have made it need to support their junior colleagues. On the face of it that makes sense but in a recent HBR article Ann Welsh McNulty speaks powerfully and personally about the harsh reality of female support.
She hits home on this hidden and rarely acknowledged truth when she says “When I was a first-year accountant at a Big Eight firm (now the Big Four), I kept asking the only woman senior to me to go to lunch, until finally she told me, “Look, there’s only room for one female partner here. You and I are not going to be friends.”
The lack of female support may be down to a perception that supporting other women is not what gets you noticed and since men are often the career decision makers it may be smarter to build a male network if you want to get ahead in business.
All of it is toxic and quite sad. The solution I believe lies in both women and men supporting the rise of female leadership.
What it comes down to is power and privilege. Men still hold the balance of power and while the word privilege can be loaded and mean different things to different people, we need to talk about them if we are going to create fair, equitable and inclusive workplaces.
www.gobeyonddiversity.com defines privilege as “unearned benefits given to members of one social group as a result of the systematic targeting or marginalisation of another social group”
Men have enjoyed positions of power in organisations to the disadvantage of women and are consciously and unconsciously imbued with male privilege as a result.
Tiffany Jana articulates this in her TEDx talk when she says “I had to work twice as hard to be seen as equally competent”
Therefore, men are vital contributors to supporting the balance and effectiveness of female leadership and the organisation is missing an important piece of the jigsaw if the role of men in supporting women in leadership is not clearly defined.
Male privilege is held in place by systems in the organisation, by social conditioning, by cultural expectations that place men at the top of a hierarchy. This means that they are the gender that succeeds constantly.
To be a white educated male is to reside in the number one position of privilege. Men make the decisions about who succeeds in organisations, so it makes sense that if women are to succeed then men and women need to work together.
Men need to become allies to tip the balance in favour of more women in leadership positions.
This means that they need to understand what it is to experience being female in an organisation.
Men who attend women in leadership programme and hear their female colleagues sharing their real experiences of being talked down to, interrupted in meetings and passed over in favour of less experienced male colleagues express surprise as that has never been their experience and some guilt as they realise that they may have been party to this negative experience for women.
Men need to understand that male and female styles of leadership, influencing and communication differ in significant ways.
For years many women believed that the only way to succeed was to mimic the male style and hide those aspects of personality which are considered intrinsically female such as empathy and caring.
The modern organisation needs leaders who are authentic, have diverse styles of thinking and communicating and who are capable of collaborating with all types of people.
Many organisations have become advocates of HeForShe.
Created by UN Women, the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, the HeForShe solidarity movement for gender equality provides a systematic approach and targeted platform where a global audience can engage and become change agents for the achievement of gender equality in our lifetime. This requires an innovative, inclusive approach that mobilizes people of every gender identity and expression as advocates and acknowledges the ways that we all benefit from this equality. HeForShe invites people around the world to stand together as equal partners to craft a shared vision of a gender equal world and implement specific, locally relevant solutions for the good of all of humanity.