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Can Putting More 'Men' Into Your Corporate Women's Initiatives Make Them Better? Women CEO Club
publication date: Apr 18, 2011
author/source: Wayne Tarken, Kathleen Cashman
Welcome to my world: “What the hell is a man doing running a women’s group” was a recent comment on our Facebook page. It was similar to comments that I receive occasionally. The inference is that as a man I have no basis for running a group focused on helping women. Some are very indignant, implying that I have a lot of nerve doing this. How can I know the struggles and frustrations of women? I haven’t paid my dues. That’s it’s better to leave women’s group run only by women. I can’t identify with their experiences so what right do I have to be involved.
And in some ways they are right to be indignant. There have been many roadblocks for women. The glass ceiling is still there. Many qualified women continue to struggle. It’s definitely not fair.
And I understand these frustrations. It upsets me when a talented woman that I know, has not achieved the success that she deserves due to a variety of factors many beyond her control. This is why I believe I should do everything I can to support her. I know many men who feel similar to me.
My interest is in future success of those women who trust me to guide them through whatever challenges are in their way.
So can men really help women be more successful? Well ask almost any woman who heads a Fortune company or is in a leadership role. Most will tell you that they won’t be there without the help of a few good men. Role models have been scarce for women. Where there have been women in positions, not all women had the time or the skill to help another women succeed. It is these reasons and more that have kept women from achieving a parity of success. It is time to change that.
In many organization’s today, women’s initiatives are changing the landscape of business. The new question to address is how to engage more men to support the programs efforts. The women leading the efforts can only do so much.
How about your women’s initiatives and programs. Do you have mostly women and very few men involved in your steering committee, running events, etc. Many of the women leaders of these efforts talk with me about the frustrations they have because of low participation, attendance and commitment. Two of the top reasons they learn when investigating this lack of success is:
What is in a women’s initiative for a man? Plenty. First, the awareness of differences. Differences in thoughts, actions and impact. All people want to succeed and be seen as successful together. There are so many things we could learn from and about each other through this focused lens and not leave it up to chance. Second, new ideas. Women and men think differently and notice different things. Through a focused effort, we can capitalize on these differences and leverage them for success. Third, general life awareness. We can talk all we want about who is better at what skills. Who does more of this or that and why.
The real benefit for men at work is you get to see what a women juggles first hand what must be addressed while focusing on business needs. It is more than “balance”. It is more than time. And it is more than goals. A women’s initiative can shed light on the challenges that women face and how an organization can take advantage of this knowledge to better serve both employees (for improved performance) and the marketplace (for increased revenue)
How about women supporting women’s initiatives:
The first sign of a problem is the lack of participation by a broad array of senior women. A few of the champions or sponsors may attend but often not many others. Time and energy and mixed company messages are all valid reasons.
On the one hand senior women are interested but on the other they are concerned. They don’t want to be typecast as participating in “women’s programs”. Some even feel that they've never been impacted by a glass ceiling. They want to be known for their abilities and performance and are concerned that being associated with these programs might have people thinking they got their positions based upon their gender (to satisfy affirmative action goals) versus performance.
What about your younger hi-potential women? Are they attending in mass? Not in many programs I’ve asked about. Younger women have different perceptions of the previous struggles and current reality. Women in leadership roles are not as rare any more. It may give younger women the perception that diversity issues may have been solved. According to Elisabeth Kelan of King's College in London:
So how do you remove this stigma that women’s initiatives should only involve women? Easy! Get more men involved. Start putting the men back in your women’s programs.
We’re doing that. In fact, Harry Griendling is going to be a speaker at our upcoming Billion Dollar Business Woman’s program http://www.ceowomensclub.com/categories/Women-CEO-Work-Life-Balance on “My Daughter Made Me Do It.”. We’ve already had some push back. Why is a man speaking at a women’s event? Harry is in our program not because of his gender but because of his story. The story is based on the creative way that he attacked a work-life challenge. The lessons can be used by anyone to help them in their own situations. Who should care what gender he is.
And it’s never been a better time to get more men involved. Men and women are both confused about their right place in the family, work arenas. Who wears the pants in the family nowadays? Actually they both do. This means that men are ripe to be engaged in efforts to help women in work.
It starts with role models. We all need them. As an example I’m on the board of the Alice Paul Institute http://www.alicepaul.org. Alice Paul was the driving force behind the ratification of the 19th amendment to U.S constitution that granted women the right to vote. She was imprisoned, forced fed and suffered greatly. But she succeeded. How? Because she got women and men involved in her cause.
If we think we have it tough, imagine how difficult it was and the leadership required to change our constitution. Her lessons are inspiring to men and women. Now take a look at Oprah. I don’t see her as a great woman leader but a great leader period.
And quite frankly how can a program with women leaders, women sponsors, women participants ever be considered main stream and attract everyone especially senior women. If your women’s initiatives steering committee, program attendance is 95% women, it’s probably time to add some diversity.
Diverse perspectives shape more effective organizations and get better results. An integration of men is what is needed without loosing the focus on women. It is easy to do and we all need to ensure it happens. Women need the initiatives for many reasons. Women’s initiatives should not be melded into diversity efforts, they are a separate part of diversity. Programs and education sponsored by the women’s initiatives can be molded into the firm culture and should be linked to the organization's success: If it is good for a women, it is good for the organization.
So how can you get more men involved? You need to start asking and making their participation easy and acceptable. This is not easy when there is already an atmosphere of misunderstanding. Focusing on making participation easy will be key. Breaking things down into specific requests, educating by showing benefits will be central to message delivery. Engaging leadership from the top down is crucial.
Getting your male CEO or other leaders to attend, speak or sponsor your activities is a great start. Change won’t happen overnight but with a gradual push. How will you know that you are successful? When more senior women start showing up on their own without prompting.
So who are the men most likely to be involved with your programs? I’ve observed at least three types:
1. The “do overs”or “second chancers”, men who had very little involvement in their own daughters lives as they were too busy with their careers, or other activities. They want to make up for lost time and are highly motivated to help younger women.
2. Men with daughters who are involved in their daughters activities. They’ve already made a commitment to their daughters out of work and could easily make more of a commitment to women in work
3. Other men who have worked in female dominated areas such as human resources, etc where watching and working for women in top roles is expected.
So how can you flush them out? Start having events that trigger an interest. Girl scouts events, bring your daughter to work day (add a father focused element to it), sponsor a girls soccer team, cheerleader competition, etc. Keep the focus on demonstrating support for women / girls. Recognize their involvement and engage their ideas on how to make these types of events better.
Don’t think that this will work. Here’s an example of how it can work extremely well.
I recently went to two events – one was the Healthcare Business Women’s Association (HBA) and the other was the Susan G Koman Race for the Cure Breast Cancer (Koman) event. At the HBA event, I was the only guy but at the Koman event, the room was full of men.
They’re both focused on helping women so why does one have very few men while the other has lots. Why is it okay for men to participate in one but not the other?
Because of their focus. Koman is focused in getting everyone involved in helping solve breast cancer, a major disease that mostly impacts women. Most men have either mothers, spouses, daughters, grandmothers, aunts or female cousins who could be affected. But the same mother, spouse, daughter, grandmother, aunt or female cousin could be stuck in your organization. Unable to reach her potential. Koman has removed the stigma from breast cancer and made it acceptable for both women and men to be involved.
Now I don’t want to compare the emotional impact of cancer versus a career. But your programs can get more men involved in helping women. The key to success is framing the “cause” or “challenge” to a bigger cause and not just a women’s issue / problem.
Just imagine if your organization’s sales effectiveness was similar to its effectiveness in getting many more women into c-suite jobs. How long would your company be in business before it went bankrupt? Pretty quickly.
Don’t blame the heads of the heads of your programs. There’s doing the best that they can. They’re fighting a lonely battle. But they can’t do it themselves. They need your help.
All you need to do it put the men back into your women’s initiatives so everyone benefits.
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