Allies for Gender Equity

How to Engage Men in the Gender Equity Conversation

The lack of gender equity in today’s workplace isn’t just a problem for women — it affects everyone. Research shows that gender diverse workplaces are better for a company’s bottom line, leading to greater profitability, increased creativity and innovation, and less risk. Since both men and women stand to benefit from changing the status quo, they have a responsibility to work toward this goal together. In 2016, Forté launched the Men as Allies initiative to help top business schools and corporations find ways to involve men in gender equity efforts.

Elissa Sangster, Forté CEO, and Amy Orlov, VP Programs, often speak about Forté’s Men as Allies program at corporate events and professional conferences. To bring this important information to a wider audience, they led a special Women Lead webinar to share strategies on engaging men in the gender equity conversation. To encourage male allyship, Forté recorded the webinar, and it’s free to view for all of our members.

While some gender equity numbers are improving — like the fact that women made up 39% of the enrollment in MBA programs in fall 2019 — the business world has a long way to go before it reaches gender parity. As an example, Sangster said, “The number of Fortune 500 CEOs who are women: 7%. So we’re still in the single digits there.”

She and Orlov outlined five things that women can do to start engaging male allies in the workplace:

Invite men to the party.

If you want men to come to a gender equity event, Orlov emphasized that an emailed invitation isn’t enough. She said, “I don’t know about you, but if I received an invitation and I wasn’t historically part of that conversation or part of that group that was throwing a party, I’m not sure I would think about coming. But if someone extended a personal invite I might be more likely to.” She added that it’s important to make men feel welcome, involve them in the conversation, and allow them to make mistakes.

Focus on personal relationships.

Personal connections enable people to come together in a way that can overcome the rockiness of difficult conversations. Sangster explained that if things don’t go well at first, people who have personal relationships with each other are able to regroup and come up with a different, more creative approach.

Mentoring and role-modeling, which go two ways.

Orlov said, “Mentoring doesn’t mean a one way relationship. Mentoring looks and feels very different in different situations.” She offered a few examples of different types of mentoring, including peer mentoring and group mentoring, and recommended the book Athena Rising: How and Why Men Should Mentor Women by Brad Johnson and David Smith. Learn more about Brad, David, and their book in this interview.

Don’t feel like you need to engage every man.

Sangster suggested engaging men by understanding where they are and helping them move forward from there — whether they feel threatened by the idea of gender equity, they think of it as someone else’s problem, or they’re willing and able to take action.

Remember the power of positive reinforcement.

If a man walks into a woman’s event and realizes he’s the only man, he may feel uncomfortable. Thank him for showing interest. Orlov said, “Everybody wants to feel good about their actions. Everyone wants to feel welcome, so please just remember that everybody loves positive reinforcement.”

The webinar goes into more depth on each of the items listed above, and also includes a question and answer session with the webinar’s live audience. The Forté leaders concluded the talk by emphasizing that developing male allies takes time. Orlov said, “As you’re thinking about male allyship, and if you’re thinking about starting a male ally program within your organization, please don’t think of it as a training or a workshop.” Instead, she suggested, “Think about it as a culture shift. Make sure it ties into your company’s values and your company’s reward structure, and think about how you can tie all of these pieces together.”

Watch the full webinar.

To learn more about Forté’s work to involve men in gender equity, and get access to our male ally toolkits and resources, visit Men as Allies.

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