A dear friend of mine, a friend of more than 30 years, invited me to a luncheon event titled “Stand Against Racism.” The event was not a local one, but I agreed to go because a dear friend asked. Also, anyone that knows me and/or has been reading what I write knows that the topic would be a draw for me. During the drive to get there, I had time to contemplate what I thought this event would be like. I expected to hear lots of compelling data about the current state of racial equality and another rallying call to “stand up” and do something about it. I did hear some of that. But, counter to my expectations, there was so much more. Amongst a very diverse group of attendees there was real dialogue. There was vulnerable sharing about the lives impacted by inequality and the ways in which those impacts create ripples across areas that affected everyone in that room in some way. It was powerful.
During my drive home, I was still moved by what I had experienced and introspective about the work that I do. My primary focus has been on the inclusion and elevation of women. As such, most of my time and talent is spent with women. We discuss the data and all of the reasons why there is a clear, compelling business case for the full inclusion and elevation of women. We even have open and vulnerable dialogues with women about the ways in which we – women – are held back and down by systems and biases; acknowledging that some of the biases are our own. The question that I asked myself, alone in my car, is since men must engage in order for there to be real movement in response to the compelling case; why am I not spending some of my time and talent engaging in real dialogue with men.
Jeffery Tobias Halter, President of YWomen, a strategic consulting company focused on engaging men in women’s leadership advancement, was interviewed on the topic of engaging men.
“Men don’t consciously conspire to hold women back. We’re not that mean. We’re not that manipulative. We have never made the connection. My peer group and I lead compartmentalized lives. I’m a young boomer. We raised strong women. And whether it was soccer or art or dance, we supported our daughters. We made sure they went to a great school, got a good degree. And when they walk out the door and they make 78 cents to my son, we choose to do nothing. Because we never made the connection. If I’m not advocating for gender equity and pay equity, I’m actually letting my daughter down, one of the most important people in my life. That’s the heart piece.”
Women, particularly, get the difference between engaging the head and engaging the heart. However, when it comes to this topic, I must ask myself and other women, are we seeking to engage head and heart.
My business partners and I have been asked on many occasions whether we also work with and engage men. Admittedly, our answer to this question has lacked some clarity. Of course, we understand that we must. But, what would we do that would be significantly different from all that has already been done; resulting in little to no movement. What could be a game changer is real, vulnerable, and honest dialogue that engages the hearts of men and women.
Of course, the push back is that it is very difficult to get men to engage in this kind of dialogue. I can honestly say that I have met many women who are just as resistant to engaging in this type of dialogue. Mr. Halter was asked why men are reluctant to engage in this dialogue.
“There’s a complicating factor here. Most men are scared to death to have a conversation around gender differences. HR and legal have scared us to think that we may say or do the wrong thing. Or our cultural norms are, “I see no value in having this conversation.” And by the way, as a white male, I can have a very long, healthy career without ever choosing to do this work. So it’s just as easy for me not to engage in this conversation. But that’s not what great leaders do.”
Honestly, I hear something like this and my first reaction is why should I be the one to offer the olive branch. After all, I am the “disadvantaged” party here. Then I am immediately reminded that in this situation I really do have an advantage. Power is held in many different ways. Knowing how to engage the heart and being comfortable being in that space is a significant position of power.
The question is, are we ready to concede that even with all of the compelling data, the most powerful tool we have is our ability to open real dialogue that engages the heart?
Finally, a significant factor in engaging in real dialogue committed to finding common ground and solve what can at times be sensitive problems is that it is hard.
“…When I go in front of senior leadership teams and say, “Do you really want to retain and advance women?” and they say, “Yes.” I say, “It’s as simple as this: Ask them what they want and give it to them.” It’s that simple and that hard because it flies in the face of every cultural and programmatic and policy issue you have. But it’s the only way you’re going to keep talent today…”
We, women, must come to terms with the fact that this movement to include and elevate women has to be a partnership with men. Partnerships succeed because of common purpose and passion, and a willingness to tackle what is hard together. Are we prepared for this? I hope the answer is yes because if not we will continue a journey of painfully slow progress and leave the potential for real breakthrough on the table.