It’s Time to Ask Men to Stand Up: How to Engage More Male Leaders In the Gender Equality Movement

by | Sep 8, 2020 | Leadership, Managing Teams, Uncategorized

Women make up about half of the workforce in the North America. Yet despite the clear value of having a diverse workforce, like improved operational and financial performance, increased innovation, and enhanced company reputation, organizations are still struggling to attract and retain women in leadership roles.

It’s not easy developing strategies for women to become senior leaders – whether they work in a corporate environment or in an entrepreneurial business.

Men can help. As I was researching perspectives on how and why men can and should open doors for women, I came across an interview between Kathy Caprino and Jeffrey Halter.

Caprino is a career and leadership coach, writer, speaker, and trainer dedicated to the advancement of women in business. Halter is a corporate gender strategist specializing in engaging men in women’s leadership issues and initiatives.

Halter has made it his mission to help other men join him in the gender equality movement.  He is the President of  YWomen, a strategic consulting company and one of the country’s leading experts on engaging men to advance women. Halter’s book Why Women: The Leadership Imperative to Advancing Women and Engaging Men is the first business book written by a man on why companies and their leadership teams must create a strategic mindset regarding the retention and advancement of women. He’s the former Director of Diversity Strategy of The Coca-Cola Company and has consulted with leading brands including McDonald’s, Deloitte, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Mercedes-Benz, GE and more.

Rather than try to rewrite what has been so eloquently and passionately expressed in their conversation, I’ve reproduced excerpts below. Halter shares his experiences and insights on how more men can support the gender equality movement and why that’s essential for today’s business success and growth:

Kathy Caprino: Jeffery, you were ahead of the curve with your book. What prompted you to write the book?

Jeffery Halter: We’ve been talking about women in the workplace and marketplace for more than 20 years, but the pace of change reveals a lack of a true sense of urgency. I wrote Why Women to generate powerful organizational conversations around the women’s leadership imperative, drive a sense of urgency for change and engage men as vocal, visible advocates for that change.

I focus on engaging men because you don’t have to convince women that advancing women is a good idea. You have to convince men. Men still hold 85% of the senior leadership roles in most companies. This says to me that we’re 85% of the problem but also 85% of the solution.

Frankly, men tend to be more receptive to hearing this message from another man. I approach the topic from the perspective of a business leader who’s been on the front lines with bottom-line responsibility and has the scars to prove it.

In the book, I provide facts and data that highlight the importance of gender balance to an organization’s bottom line and company reputation. I talk about what keeps CEOs up at night and how the advancement of women can address some of the most pressing business issues on their minds.

Caprino: What do you see today are the biggest obstacles that block senior male leaders from supporting gender equality and pay parity in their organizations?

Halter: There are four common barriers preventing active male engagement:

  1. (Lack of) Empathy (“I don’t believe men and women are having different experiences in the workplace.”)
  2. Apathy (”I don’t know why gender equality and pay equity is important.”)
  3. Accountability (“If it’s not important to my boss or my paycheck, why should I care?”)
  4. Fear (“I may say or do the wrong thing, or I will be judged by my peer group if I do this “women’s thing.”)

For each of these barriers, we have identified solutions that help men to develop an understanding of both the issues and their roles in creating a more equitable and inclusive workplace. The framework is Listen, Learn, Lead and Have the Will to Change.

Caprino: You often note that advancing women in measurable, effective ways takes the will to launch and lead an effective strategic initiative. Would you elaborate?

Halter: Two things must happen. You need steadfast, visible senior leader commitment and metrics and scorecards so you can hold people accountable. We measure everything that happens in companies, but we shy away from saying we want women in x number of jobs.

Many people see that as a quota, but it’s not. It’s not a pass on talent, and in fact, it reveals a bias that if a woman gets a job, she’s not qualified. When did we ever say a man got a job just because he’s a man? Organizations need to trust the process, and we need to hold leaders accountable for having ready-now women candidates. If they don’t, we have to ask why. I talk regularly about 10 metrics, both quantitative and qualitative, that every company should be measuring.

When we consider how senior leadership should respond in the #MeToo era, I believe there has never been a more important time for leaders to step up. Any company that says that men can’t meet or travel with women are quite frankly cowards who are abdicating their role as leaders. CEOs and senior leaders need to talk candidly about sexual harassment and hostile work environments, implement zero-tolerance policies, hold perpetrators accountable and dust off their company values and start living them.

Caprino: You often talk about the difference between advocacy for women versus allyship. What’s the difference and why is advocacy more powerful?

Halter: An advocate is someone who is intentionally taking action. It’s the next step on the continuum after being an ally. Becoming an advocate is a process that begins with understanding an issue and morphs into putting your beliefs into action on a daily basis.

Allies see the systemic and organizational issues that impact and often hold women and underrepresented people back at work, and they seek opportunities to get involved. They listen, find specific things they can do or influence and offer to partner with or mentor women. Advocates, however, make intentional choices and act to advance women in the workplace. They are visible with their support and invite others to follow suit. Said another way, allies are mentors, and advocates are sponsors. We know that women are often over-mentored and under-sponsored.

To further discussions on the awareness to advocacy continuum, Rachana Bhide and I created the online Male (and Gender) Advocacy Profile Quiz to encourage more people to leverage their voices, intentions and actions to support diversity and the advancement of women. The assessment shares ideas and tips to move people from awareness to advocacy. 

Caprino: What would you say are the 4 most important and doable steps that organizations and their leaders need to take to support gender equality in the workplace, and why do they need to?

Halter: Below are four tips to leading change in your sphere of influence. These actions are best executed in a sequential manner to drive truly meaningful change. The will to change is the single most daunting task for organizations, and the one most organizations are unprepared to do.

  1. Listen
    This is an often overlooked step. Leaders want to lead and take action. However, listening is a step that is critical to connecting to root issues in your organization. It is incumbent on senior leaders to personally listen first before taking action. That said, employees at any level in the company can listen to learn, hear new perspectives and understand the experiences of others before taking action. Increasing understanding creates empathy and new vantage points, which decreases fear.
  1. Learn
    Discover how to articulate the “why” of the change you seek to make with your team. This must be done at all functional levels of the organization. It’s not enough for senior leaders to have a conceptual understanding. What is needed is a locally relevant business case that answers the questions posed by middle management: “How does this connect to me and my work?” “What do I need to do on a daily/weekly basis?” “How am I being held accountable?” and, more importantly, “What’s in this for me?”
  1. Lead
    Leadership expectations start at the top of organizations. In studying the best practices of companies who are making headway advancing women for instance, visible, vocal leadership is always a critical characteristic. People in your organization look to the senior leadership team to set priorities. Is that commitment visible in the next level of management? While senior leadership plays a critical role, middle managers own the day-to-day experience and operations of your organization. Have they internalized the desired priorities, behaviors and goals? How are their actions supporting the targets being measured?
  1. Have the will to change
    A willingness to change means leaders must examine their organizations’ results, acknowledge they are not acceptable and choose to do something about it. They must openly and publicly commit to embracing change.It is easy to say this is up to everyone else. While you might not be responsible for huge organizational initiatives, you do control the areas that are within your scope of responsibility. If you lead by example, even in small ways, others will take notice.

Caprino: Finally, tell us about the one most effective way you—as a white male corporate and entrepreneurial leader—teach and engage other male leaders to experience the pressing need for this movement toward equality and finally do something concrete about it.

Halter: I’m going to share the most effective way men can engage with other male leaders. It is: Share and use your sphere of influence. If you followed my earlier advice, you’ve had a conversation with a female co-worker about her experiences in your organization, company and industry. And you’ve learned more about the issues she raised. Now, you need to act. Invite a male leader to attend the next Women’s Business Resource Group program with you.

Before leaving the session, ask how you can support the mission and get involved. Continue to listen and take your cues from the BRG leaders.

Finally, we still have a lack of women on boards in corporate North America (you can listen more about this problem here). Every CEO should introduce his top one or two women to their network of other board level men and women.

Nicki: While men can be a big part of the challenges that are faced in getting our workforce to experience gender equality and pay parity, it’s essential to understand that they can also be a big part of the solution.

Please share this article with other men who can become part of the solution.