Men’s Role in Workplace Equity: Achieving Our Full Potential (Blog Post)
Attending a MARC Leaders Workshop affects leaders in different ways. For me, it was transformational.
I always thought I was rather enlightened in my attitudes towards gender equity. Through MARC, I realized that the depth of thinking and self-awareness I needed to make a real difference was simply not there. That doesn’t mean I didn’t “get it,” but rather that what I saw before MARC as my enlightenment and championship was only scratching the surface. I wasn’t getting it wrong; I just wasn’t getting it all.
It is not enough just to say “I am for gender equity,” lead diversity reviews, or ensure that an affinity group has facilities to meet on a regular basis. To be an effective leader of a diverse workforce, I must make a deliberate, continuous effort to deeply understand the dynamics involved, engage in dialogue, and then act.
This is no different from any other area of the business. If we want to launch a new product, we need to immerse ourselves in consumer and customer dynamics, and build capabilities to manufacture and market the product. The same applies when we aim to lead a diverse workforce and engage people through inclusion.
We cannot hope to become effective leaders unless we apply the same quality of analysis, strategic thinking, and execution to diversity and inclusion as we do to running the business.
Building on that principle, the MARC workshop puts men front and center in gender dynamics.
This can be uncomfortable at times. I realized that for me, over the years, most diversity and inclusion talk has been about the “others” (women, non-white, LGBT).
When men talk about gender-related issues in the workplace, for example, we talk about the issues women face in their careers. It’s almost like white men don’t have a gender, race or ethnicity. We just “are,” and others are defined by their difference relative to us. Essentially, we leave ourselves unexamined. In a diverse environment, this undermines our growth as effective leaders.
Not seeing ourselves through the lens of gender, or other forms of diversity, inevitably leads to conscious or unconscious assumptions that:
- D&I is someone else’s problem.
- It’s about “helping someone else” and has nothing to do with me.
- If “others” just behaved like us, everything would be fine.
While intentions in this area are usually very good, we need a much deeper level of understanding and engagement if we truly want to make a difference. For me, MARC sparked a dialogue with other male colleagues about what we assume to be normal (but is not), to what degree business culture is a man’s culture, and the privilege we have in belonging to the dominant culture from the beginning of our careers.
I found that once I examined what it means to be a man in the workplace from a gender standpoint, I recognized that there has always been a “light tailwind” behind me. Yes, we can call it privilege, even if it has nothing to do with money; privilege can take many different forms. Don’t get me wrong, I worked as hard as I could to get where I am today—no silver spoon. And it’s not my fault that this tailwind exists; I didn’t create it. However, it is there.
“The main question that MARC poses to men is, ‘how do I live my privilege honorably?'”
If I have a newborn baby at home, I don’t have to worry about others making assumptions about my career ambition or readiness to travel or relocate. I’ve never had anybody question my ability to do my job because I have a family. This isn’t true for many women.
As a man, I am also far less likely to be judged as “overly assertive” or “not communicating appropriately.” I can be assertive when I feel it is needed, but nobody has ever described me as “bossy” or “bitchy” because of this.
I don’t have to worry much about security while on a business trip, or about being judged on my appearance. I am far less likely to be harassed on the way to work or even at work.
Nobody could argue this is fair. Things aren’t equal. This is the essence of invisible privilege: not having to worry about things that others do.
The main question that MARC poses to men is, “how do I live my privilege honorably?”
It is senseless to feel guilty or blamed about it—it comes from a long tradition and centuries of history. However, we need to accept the responsibility to spread and share the benefits we enjoy (like those I named above) to people who don’t have them. It is not a zero-sum game.
To achieve our aspiration of a truly equitable and inclusive workplace, we need to embrace this dialogue, enable men and women leaders to be effective role models and advocates of progress, and work to provide everyone with access to the “tailwind” that has been disproportionately blowing behind men for far too long. The responsibility is ours to share, and so, too, are the benefits.
Isn’t this the essence of inclusion?
An edited version of this article was first published in P&G’s 2017 Citizenship Report, detailing our progress in improving social conditions for those in need, advancing Diversity & Inclusion, building a world free from gender bias inside and outside the Company and reducing our environmental footprint. To find out more about P&G’s efforts to be a Force for Growth and a Force for Good, visit: https://us.pg.com/who-we-are/citizenship/2017-citizenship-report
Vice President, Human Resources, Procter & Gamble