Different but the same

Odd One OutDifference is all around us. It’s easy to see others as being different whether it’s their gender, skin colour, size, clothing, nationality or lifestyle. But having worked with and trained people from all over the world it is clear that the challenges of leadership, handling difficult people and motivating your team are universal. So what else might we share….

We get frustrated about things we can’t control
We want to be respected and valued
We want to have a voice and to be heard
We want our life to have some meaning
We love our family unconditionally
We want to provide for, and protect, our family
We want to love and be loved
We want to have a place to call home and we miss it when we are away
We grieve for those we lose
We are all human

…perhaps we are more similar than we think.

How can men promote gender equality in the workplace

International Women’s Day 2015 is probably a good time to sit back and reflect on what men should be doing to help promote workplace gender equality. We can’t simply leave this to women or see it as a women’s issue. It impacts us all.

So here are my five ideas on what men need to do more.

1. Listen to women

When women are speaking listen to what they are saying. Sounds simple, but some of us are guilty of not really listening and taking on board what is being said by women. I heard a female MP (UK Member of Parliament) recently talking about how her fellow male MP’s would ignore women’s suggestions only to propose exactly the same thing later to wide acceptance and congratulations with their brilliant idea.

Recently while facilitating a session on gender equality two men completely ignored a young woman who was speaking and started up their own (loud) conversation. And this was from the men who cared about equality. (And yes I did interrupt them, pointing out the biased behavior which they accepted with a little embarrassment and apologized with good grace.)

2. Accept that women are as capable as men in challenging roles after having children

Once women have children their loyalties are split and they are not as committed to the company and its objectives as they were before, right? Wrong. Nothing could be further from the truth.

There was a very interesting study on MBA graduates from Harvard Business School and far from scaling back or forgoing opportunities women valued their careers just as much after having children. Women want more meaningful work, more challenging assignments and more opportunities for growth. In the study one of the reasons women left their companies was because they were being passed over for these opportunities.

3. Make more money, have a gender balanced team

So you run your own business or are a manager of a team, office, department or division. You are constantly under pressure to improve the bottom line from everyone – shareholders, your company board, senior management or your peers. A simple management strategy to improve the bottom line is to have a gender balanced team.

MIT recently published a study analyzing the offices of a white collar company that has over 60 offices (both inside and outside the US). Their findings are very revealing – offices which were predominantly male or female performed roughly the same in terms of revenue generation (that’s gender equality for you). Offices where men and women were broadly equally balanced had significantly higher revenues. How much higher – 41% higher. That statistic is hard to ignore.

4. Gender equality in the workplace starts at home

As men we need to acknowledge and accept our share of family responsibilities if we want equality for our partners (and our daughters). This is not about housework or DIY rather it is about the family responsibilities that chip away at a woman’s career.

Consider these questions. Who in the relationship is called by the school when there is a problem? Who takes your child to the doctors or goes home (on time!) to spend time with your children? Who decides not to socialize or go on “optional” week-end events to spend more time with their family?

Each of these decisions, while important for the family, can have an impact on a career. Missing out on the optional opportunities to build stronger relationships with your colleagues or being considered committed to your company or a project you are working on, could have a long term effect on a woman’s career. (I wrote a blog entry on this topic which you can read here).

As men we need to accept our fair share of these responsibilities and yes at times put our family ahead of our careers.

5. Don’t be afraid to speak up

Sometimes it seems as if everything we say has to be passed through a filter of political correctness. This can make men feel that they cannot be part of the conversation or can’t be themselves for fear of saying something politically incorrect or accidentally offensive. Don’t be afraid to get involved and talk about your perspective. If you make a mistake and offend someone then just apologize and move on. Don’t beat yourself up. We all make mistakes and it is better to speak up than not to speak at all.

Small decisions can have a big impact on gender equality

HOW SMALL DECISIONS CAN HAVE A BIG IMPACT ON HIGH ACHIEVING WOMEN.

I was listening to a very interesting podcast by Pamela Stone, a US sociology professor, who has studied the gender differences of 25,000 Harvard Business School graduates (mostly MBA’s). The conclusions debunk some myths (at least within this group), such as women opting out or scaling back work when they have children. In fact women leaving the MBA programme wanted similar levels of success as men, however it was in the outcomes where the differences occur.

In passing, Pamela mentioned that small decisions can reduce women’s financial bargaining power with their partners and can have long term consequences that favour men’s careers over women’s. We’ve heard of the chaos theory concept that a butterfly wing flap can cause a hurricane thousands of miles away, so I was wondering if indeed small decisions can have big impacts on careers.

When playing in poker tournaments I see the cumulative result of small decisions. Each player starts equal with the same number of chips but some simply play too many hands or just play badly. Over time this reduces their relative power and ultimately they get knocked out early by people with more chips (power).

DO MEN AND WOMEN MAKE DIFFERENT SMALL DECISIONS THAT HAVE A LONG TERM IMPACT?

I think perhaps they do. Take childcare for example, who in the relationship is called by the school when there is a problem? Who takes your child to the doctors or goes home (on time!) to spend time with your children? Who decides not to socialise or go on “optional” week-end events to spend more time with their family?

Each of these decisions, while important for the family, can have an impact on a career. Missing out on the optional opportunities to build stronger relationships with your colleagues or being considered committed to your company or a project you are working on, could have a long term effect.

“If you want promotion, do every extracurricular task that you can. Don’t worry about the quality of the work, as it is irrelevant.” (Sunday Times, 15/2/15).

I saw this quote recently from an employee at UK banking group Lloyds Bank which would seem to confirm this effect. The sad thing is that you don’t even have to be good; you just need to be there.

And once the small differences begin to create a difference in perception at work and then remuneration between a woman and her partner, the financial imperative begins to prioritize the partner’s career over the woman’s.

SO IF FAMILY RESPONSIBILITIES ARE NOT SHARED EQUALLY THEN UNEQUAL CONSEQUENCES WILL RESULT.

What is the conclusion from this? It isn’t very romantic but if a relationship was a poker game then the optimal approach is to make sure that before you have children you establish the rules of childcare with your partner.