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3 ways to engage men in gender equality

Male hands stacking blocks

“Since the recent media reports of sexual harassment, almost half of male managers are uncomfortable participating in a common work activity with a woman, such as mentoring, working alone or socializing together.”  — and SurveyMonkey Sexual Harassment Backlash Survey

I find the above finding puzzling. Are men going to stop talking to and mentoring 50 percent of our workforce? Stop traveling with women leaders?

I believe surveys like this do not capture the actions of the men I know who are advocating for the advancement of women in our companies. Who are these men? They are your co-workers. They are advocates and allies, who I want to thank for putting their beliefs and values into action.

Being an advocate starts with an understanding of what we believe is right and continues into how we put these beliefs into action to demonstrate our values.

Walking up to a male co-worker and asking, “Do you believe in and advocate for gender equity?” isn’t the subtlest approach. But recognizing the actions of a male advocate and deciding to work together to create change is an effective strategy.

Men, ask yourselves: What is my response when I hear an offensive remark or joke at work? Do I address it, change the subject or let someone else handle the moment?

When a woman colleague isn’t given credit for her ideas in a meeting or is talked over or “mansplained,” what do you do? Do you regularly brag about women co-workers to highlight their talents, contributions and skills, even when they aren’t in the room? When was the last time you suggested a woman lead a special project?

Here are my three tips for women and men to engage more men as allies, champions and advocates:

1. Begin the conversation. Gender equality in the workplace continues to be framed as a “women’s issue” and our organizations are only having half a conversation if men are not part of the discussion. Joanne Lipman, the author of That’s What She Said, reminds us that half a conversation “can solve, at best, 50 percent of the problem.”

Evaluate the level of men’s engagement at your company by asking these two questions: Were men invited your Women’s History Month program last? Is a senior male member of the leadership team involved with your women’s employee resource group?

2. Take the quiz and send it to a male colleague who believes in gender equity. Rachana Bhide, founder of The Corner of the Court Project, and I partnered to create the Male Advocacy Profile to help men determine where they are on the male ally continuum. This short quiz focuses on the workplace dynamics of gender equity and, based on the score, suggests practical steps that will drive change and enhance advocacy of women in the workplace. Have a debrief session to discuss your findings.

3. Have a one-on-one conversation to learn more. Men, invite a trusted women colleague to coffee or lunch. Women, invite a man who might be on the fence about gender equality.

Men should ask, “Do you believe men and women are having different experiences at the company?” Then genuinely listen to the answer. Don’t interrupt, don’t be defensive or justify company policies. Just shut up and listen.

Women, be candid and share your experiences with the industry and company with your colleague.

To help men better support women and advocate for women at work, we need to engage in candid conversations at all levels of the organization — they can be the catalyst for change in the workplace.

Members: Post your comments in our NEW Member Community.

Jeffery Tobias Halter is president of YWomen, a strategic consulting company focused on creating integrated women’s leadership strategies through male engagement. He is the author of Why Women, The Leadership Imperative to Advancing Women and Engaging Men.

Views expressed in blogs, posts and user comments are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Network of Executive Women or its Officers, Board members and corporate partners.