Engaging Men

Engaging Men to Advance Women in Business
October 29, 2013


Men Are Critical Players in Creating Workplace Equality

How can it be that in 2013 women hold only between 10 and 15 percent of C-suite positions in corporate America, and why are we having the same conversations about women’s role in the workplace as we did 20 years ago?

These questions were posed at the CWB’s most recent Best Practices Forum, “Engaging Men to Advance Women in Business,” which was held on the Bentley University campus on October 29, 2013. The Forum brought together male and female executives from a variety of companies, including MFS Investments, Marsh and McLennan Companies, Morgan Stanley, State Street, Liberty Mutual Insurance, Analog Devices, Hologic, Wellington Management, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Southern Company, Dassault, Cisco, Forrester Research, Sun Life Financial and Thermo Fisher Scientific, among others.  Thought-leaders and executives who lead efforts to engage men in diversity and inclusion initiatives shared their strategies and best practices for collaborative leadership.  Throughout the Forum, attendees participated in several polling exercises,  answering questions about their perceptions of how many men in their companies are engaged in gender diversity, the effectiveness of their companies’ efforts in engaging men, and metrics for tracking progress toward gender equality.

What Does Inclusive Leadership Look Like for the 21st Century

CWB Founding Director Betsy Myers opened the program with reference to the successes and failures of diversity and inclusion practices historically.  Yes, there has been progress when it comes to diversity and inclusion in business; and, yes, today we have more female leaders than a generation ago, but very few of them are sitting at the top of organizations. And, to make matters worse, the conversations we are having about gender and work today are the very same conversations we were having during the mid-1990s. Looking beyond the numbers, both women and men in organizations find themselves in a confused – and even conflicted – workplace today. Confused, because gender behavior and stereotyped male-female roles in companies create uncertainty about how to behave, and because we have mixed reactions  when we observe men acting like men, women acting like women, women acting like men, or men acting like women. This is why, Myers stated, engaging men to advance women in business is the next best step towards action.  “Men are not the problem, but the key factor for a productive solution.

Keynote Speaker Chuck Shelton, Managing Director of Greatheart Leader Labs, added: “Ultimately we want this day to point us toward leadership success and acknowledge the ancient and mysterious differences that exist between the genders,” he said. “We need to focus on the things we have in common as human beings in order to lead more effectively in our organizations and in our own lives.”

Shelton set the tone for the day, emphasizing three behaviors that drive inclusive leadership and are required of all individuals and organizations that want to retain, support, and advance women through inclusive measures:

  • Committing to continuous improvement to live better, to improving leadership strategy, and to getting better results.
  • Listening with discipline and humility, no matter how high up you are in an organization.
  • Building solutions with mutuality and trust by making and keeping promises over time.

Shelton went on to describe what he calls “priority competencies” associated with advanced inter-gender collaboration and high performing teams.  He encouraged participants to aspire to building diverse teams that are fun to work with and to exhibit “fearless reciprocity” with colleagues, based on mutual respect and candor.  He also noted the critical importance of accountability and metrics to the success of any initiative.  Finally, Shelton said that once a critical number of men are engaged in advancing women, a tipping point will be reached and the benefits will spill over into other areas of diversity within the organization.

Best Practices for Engaging Men: Effective and Sustainable Models for Inclusivity and Collaboration

Later in the morning, Betsy Myers and Chuck Shelton moderated a panel of four business leaders, each of whom has devoted considerable time and expertise to creating the kinds of collaborative efforts that Shelton previously described.    

Mike Barriere, Executive Vice President of Human Resources, Alcoa; Chris Brassell, Director, Office of Diversity, PricewaterhouseCoopers; Bill Lyon, Managing Director/U.S. East Zone Leader, Marsh; and Leslie Mays, Vice President & Chief Inclusion Officer, Avon Products shared both personal stories and examples of how different companies have gone about engaging male leaders in advancing women.  Although they come from different industries and types of organizations, the four panelists seemed to agree on several core propositions. 

As Mike Barriere stated at the outset, “Business success comes from having talent in all parts of the company. It starts with the fundamental belief that talent itself is a competitive sustainable advantage, and once you have that belief, a lot more can happen to get everyone engaged.”   At Alcoa, the CEO saw low representation of women at the company as a business problem and went about addressing it as such – by setting measurable targets, requiring regular reporting from business leaders on recruitment, retention and advancement, and adopting incentive programs in all of Alcoa’s lines of business.

Echoing some of the advice offered by Chuck Shelton earlier in the day, Chris Brassell focused on the process of encouraging the kind of behavior that builds trusting relationships.  In his words “It’s all about watching the incremental leadership capability expand.  Men are a lot more focused on product over process… but you have to go through the process of learning, loving, trusting — then leading.”  Based on his work with large numbers of men at all levels of the PwC organization, Brassell pointed to several ways in which trust-based relationships among men and women have been built, stressing the importance of qualities such as really listening (rather than immediately trying to “fix” a problem), humility (it’s not thinking less of yourself, but rather just thinking of yourself less), vulnerability and tenderness, feeling comfortable with failure (quoting Samuel Becket’s advice to try again, fail again, fail better) and unapologetic sponsorship of women (making special efforts, not adopting special standards).

Adding to the list of attributes essential to successful male engagement in establishing a culture of collaborative leadership, Bill Lyon stated that men sometimes need to be willing to call out other men for behavior that is counter-productive, and need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.   As Lyon and the other panelists all pointed out in various ways, there is an underlying challenge that must be addressed by everyone, male and female alike: the challenge of blind spots that cause “micro-inequities” which can build on one another and defeat efforts to create a culture of trust.

In this regard, the panelists agreed that becoming self-aware and developing gender intelligence is critical, as is the creation of safe environments in which men and women can express themselves and engage in the kinds of conversations that have to happen if progress is to occur.  Sometimes, however, it takes some courageous steps to jump start the process. 

Leslie Mays gave the audience a particularly compelling example of what can happen when male and female leaders are willing to step forward and start these conversations.     At a former company where she served as a senior executive,  a number of  the most successful women in the organization agreed to  a videotaped conversation about what it was like to be a woman in that company.  When the tape was shown to a group of top male executives, many eyes were opened as these men witnessed, mostly for the first time, the effect of unconscious bias and structural challenges on the careers of their talented female colleagues.  As Mays reported, two male managing directors actually had tears in their eyes by the end of the video.  This event proved to be pivotal in engaging the male leaders in the effort to create a gender-inclusive workplace.

Speaking directly to the men in the audience, Mays encouraged them to:

  • Do rather than say; transform thoughts into action.
  • Be an active learner.
  • Be vulnerable and embrace mistakes.
  • Be courageous.
  • Have a sense of humor about the learning journey.
  • Apply the same leadership behaviors you use in business success to advocate for change.

Luncheon exercises with Professor Duncan Spelman focused on differing perceptions held by men and women about a variety of diversity and inclusion metrics. For example, there was an 11.7% gender difference in polled responses to the question, “To what extent do both men and women learn from and value the ways of each other?” and a 13.3% gender difference in perceived levels of gender discrimination in their companies. As one might expect, on both issues, women were more critical than men about company practices.       

Having Courageous Conversations

Later in the afternoon, Ray Arata, Co-Founder, GenderAllies, ARATAcode, Author and Lise Edwards, Former Managing Director, Oracle Women’s Leadership, Co-Founder of GenderAllies provided the audience with insight on communication strategies that transcend gender bias.  Among other things, they suggested that women engage men by appealing to men’s sense of fair play and men’s tendency to take action and solve problems.  It is also effective when men encourage other men to ask their wives, daughters and female co-workers about their views of gender equity.

The Importance of the Business Case – Put the Facts First

Jeffery Tobias Halter, Consultant, Author, Gender Strategist and President of YWomen wrapped up the sessions with an energetic and insightful presentation on the importance of the business case and engaging men through research, numbers, and facts.

Halter impressed on the audience the critical importance of tracking everything that is relevant to women’s career advancement.  Further, he expressed the view that organizations can and should set hard targets and goals if they are serious about using metrics to track progress.  After summarizing the business case for women’s advancement in terms of factors such as increased revenue generation, profitability and employee engagement, as well as enhanced company reputation, Halter turned his attention to the “how to’s” in the areas of marketing and selling to women as customers, moving women into operating positions, effective talent and workplace strategies and developing an integrated leadership scorecard.  In each area, Halter provided examples of companies that have initiated effective programs.

The New Frontier for Advancing Women in Business

Shelton and Myers concluded the Forum with a call to action.  “Accept the invitation to take responsibility and locate this work personally, at the executive level and in your relationships day-in and day-out,” Shelton concluded. “This is the only sustainable path to advancing women in business.”  Myers echoed her comments from the morning, asserting that to make real progress, to truly support, retain, and advance promote women to leadership positions in corporations around the world,  we must learn to engage men  as full partners in the process. “That’s why engaging men in the advancement of women is the new frontier for every company in America that wants to compete and grow in the 21st century.”

Our Partners

The CWB would like to thank all of the presenters, especially Chuck Shelton, who played a key role in helping us to frame the program and who recruited the panelists based on his experience working with companies that are true leaders in engaging men.  Special thanks as well to our partners at Swarmworks who assisted us in tapping the wisdom and insights of all participants though a variety of polling exercises.

Learn more about our Best Practice Forums and how you can partner with the CWB for future events.

Thank you to our Founding Corporate Partner