One night last week I was curled up in bed reading (yup, I still am!) Lessons in Chemistry and the amazing Elizabth Zott on p237 nailed it…here’s what she said in conversation with her great mate Harriet.
‘Elizabeth only ever seemed to bring out the worst in men. They either wanted to control her, touch her, dominate her, silence her, correct her, or tell her what to do. She didn’t understand why they couldn’t just treat her as a fellow human being, as a colleague, a friend, an equal, or even a stranger on the street, someone to whom one is automatically respectful until you find out that they have buried a bunch of bodies in the backyard.'
Harriet was her only real friend, and they agreed on most things, but this, they did not. According to Harriet, men were a world apart from women.They required coddling, they had fragile egos, they couldn’t allow a woman’s intelligence or skill if it exceeded their own. “Harriet, that’s ridiculous,” Elizabeth had argued. “Men and women are both human beings. And as humans, we’re by-products of our upbringings, victims of our lacklustre education systems, and choosers of our behaviours. In short, the reduction of women to something less than men, and the elevation of men to something more than women is not biological: it’s cultural. And it starts with two words: pink and blue. Everything skyrockets out of control from there”...’
The regulatory and client pressure on companies to stop playing lip service to gender equality and actually address the root cause is dialling up, and rightly so. It’s the smart thing to do. Men’s role in achieving gender equality at work is essential.
Here’s a well-known stat: 73% of businesses that employ gender equality practices report increased profitability and productivity. But I think what’s equally interesting is the evidence that men’s life satisfaction is greater in more gender-equal companies, including improvements in men’s mental and physical health. Gender equality is not a women's issue. It is a business issue and increasingly critical for business growth.
There are five essential ways that men can improve gender equality:
Support flexible working policies
Flexible working is the most effective way for companies to create a gender balanced workforce. But don’t just advocate to have the policy, you need to explicitly and demonstrably use it! And the most important people to use it are the senior leadership team. Secondly you then need to support your team to also work flexibly. Data shows that men under the age of 40 are doing this more naturally anyway as more tend to be part of dual income families. That’s great and to be celebrated but it’s the men in their 40’s, 50’s and 60's that really need to be taking a darn good look at their working behaviour and move with the times! And not think ‘ah no, can’t be arsed, the way I work serves me.’ Because my friend, that is not progressive leadership.
Model the right behaviour
Team bonding over beers and curry or an away day on the golf course might well be your idea of heaven but whilst I am partial to a curry it wouldn’t be most women’s first choice for a team night out. In the same way I wouldn’t expect the men I work with to have a team away day at a spa!
Show up as an ally
Don’t hog the meeting. Allow women the space to contribute. In the meeting, pour the coffee. Take on some of the admin tasks or softer team tasks that women tend to absorb, stop stealing women’s ideas and passing them off as your own. And don’t assume that just because a female colleague is a woman, and highly probably a mother, that she doesn’t want the promotion or the chance for international travel. Ask the question, have the conversation.
Sponsorship in this context means advocating for a female employee at key inflection points in her career, such as bringing her to high-profile meetings, supporting her application for a promotion or a key international post, and ensuring that she gets the training and development she needs to move up in the company.
Lean in at home!
We won’t achieve gender equality in the workplace unless we achieve gender equality at home. Take your parental leave, help with school pick up/drop offs. Help with domestic chores - the dishwasher doesn’t empty itself nor does the washing machine. Women in the UK still do around 65% of the physical household work at home. Do the maths! This is simply wrong.
FEAR kicks in
Of course, many men support gender equality, but some may feel threatened by it or even actively oppose it. A lot of this resistance to what is painstakingly common sense is down to FEAR (which stands for False Expectations Appearing Real!).
This manifests itself in a number of ways. Firstly, “apathy,” or feeling like gender equality isn’t business-critical. If men in managerial roles feel the senior leadership team are simply playing lip service to it, then they risk being unsupported, knocked back and undermined. Why stick my neck out and risk my own career?
Secondly, “ignorance,” or the perception that gender bias doesn’t exist in the workplace; and thirdly, “fear” either of saying the wrong thing or losing out, such as the idea that asking for parental leave will reduce their chances of promotion. With the DE&I agenda really picking up momentum it can be difficult to navigate. Often a well-intentioned remark can cause inadvertent offence when in fact it is the opposite of what you were trying to achieve. I get that, it's tough.
Often it’s fear of what other men will say. The other day a guy told me that his male colleague said can’t your wife (who also works) pick your children up from school as we need to get this work done. Ouch, that stings!
So how do more men lean in?
- You need to be aware that you have an important role to play over and above meeting your quarterly targets. Model inclusive behaviour “from the top,” demonstrating leadership skills such as curiosity, cultural intelligence and collaboration, rather than cut-throat competition and excessive risk-taking. Tackle structural barriers to gender equality by, for example, introducing transparency to hiring, promotion, and pay processes.
- Speak to the women in your lives, at work and at home. Ask them (and listen) how they feel, what their experiences have been and how they would like your support so that these feelings and experiences can become a thing of the past. Ask the men in your team how they are feeling too and what it would take to create greater equality both at work and in their personal lives. Then act on what they ask of you.
- Develop specific policies that enable staff to undertake care-giving, including paid and non-transferable, gender-neutral parental leave and flexible working arrangements. Then encourage uptake. If you are eligible for paternity leave - take it.
- Sponsor/mentor women at your work. Ensure that big projects have gender-balanced teams and be open to the opportunity to be ‘reverse mentored’ by a junior woman in your team.
- Call it out and stamp it out when you clock unacceptable behaviour – and be on the lookout for more subtle signs of tokenism, bias, and stereotyping.
Acting on these initiatives will rapidly change the dynamic at work and at home for the good of everyone. It’s a win win. You will also see the women around from a different and more positive perspective and realise how much ambition, experience, skills and chutzpah they have to help you grow the productivity and profitability of your team, department and company.
Celebrating the changemakers
My first big shout out is to my wonderful friend Robert Baker who generously gave me his time to help me get my thoughts in order to write this blog. To the other men in my 2to3days life who along my journey care as passionately as I do about advancing gender equality. Firstly to my late father who was my first investor, followed by my husband Mark who was my second investor. To Ewan Colville who helps steer our marketing and website development. To our male champions, Nigel Clark, Peter King, Rupert Dean, Andy Hurst, they are collectively the wind in my sails.
Companies who I would like to give a shout out to who are taking male allyship seriously are Aviva, KBR, Inc., ENGIE, and Zurich Insurance.
My me time
Still reading Lessons in Chemistry.....
My training for the London to Brighton cycle race is gaining momentum. I can now do a steady 15 miles in 90 minutes. The legs are feeling good but my back is killing me!
The podcast that I am addicted to is Feel Better, Live More - Dr Ranjan Chatterjee is a phenomenal man and the podcast that I feel is appropriate to share here is #144 with Dr Edith Eger, a survivor of Aushchitz, who tells her amazing story and explains that the only prison we live in is in our mind.
Until next time, take care - and to the men in the world, question how you show up in the world and be open to having a different the conversation.
Who am I?
I am Juliet Turnbull, the founder of 2to3days, the company I set up because I believe that women in the 21st century have a fundamental right to reach their full potential at work. I believe the UK plc needs a female focused talent marketplace that supports women, inspires women and connects women to organisations that want to hire more women to work flexibly. I myself have worked flexibly for the past 20 years. I don’t believe you can have it all but I do believe you can ‘have both’ - a great work and home life which comes through integration.
I am a straight talking, crack on and make it happen sort of girl. I believe in speaking truth to power and being your authentic self. I am on the third chapter of my career - I started life as a Chartered Surveyor before moving into business coaching and now I am an entrepreneur building a purpose-led business