Don’t wait. Kick-start the gender conversation

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One of the first things we learn in business is: Don’t discuss religion, sex or politics in the workplace — ever. But regardless of your political affiliation, gender and women’s issues are being talked about every day.

Whether our companies and leaders are ready for this conversation or not, it’s happening. Women’s — and some men’s — voices are rising. We are at a tipping point for women’s issues in the workplace. Headlines from Washington, women’s marches and high-profile allegations of sexual harassment at corporations have brought women’s issues to the forefront as never before.

We saw the Bud Light spot last summer with comedians Seth Rogen and Amy Schumer addressing gender pay equity, noting “Women don’t get paid as much as men and that is wrong.” The conversation was propelled forward with the Kristen Bell “Celebs Have Issues” Pinksourcing piece and Audi’s “Daughter” spot. To spotlight A Day Without Women on March 8, a Saturday Night Live sketch mansplained women’s issues.

It’s time to start talking

Each new headline, ad and video presents an opportunity to have an impactful conversation in the workplace. Are you ready to lead, join or encourage those conversations? Is your leadership team?

It’s easier to have difficult conversations when a facilitator is in the room, but how do you get people to talk freely and respectfully on their own? Try these Gender Conversation Quickstarters I developed to start open and honest conversations between men and women in the workplace. Each topic has a link to a video or white paper to share as pre-read. The topics can be used in your weekly staff meetings, for one-on-one conversations, for quick lunch-and-learns or at your employee resource group meetings.

There is only one golden rule to follow: Assume good intent in all conversations. Someone will possibly say something wrong or perhaps inappropriate. That’s okay  — the value in this tool is to have a dialogue.

Here are some recent headlines and questions to start the discussion:

Men leading the charge

Gender equality is not a “women’s issue” — it’s a huge political, economic and social opportunity. So getting men to lead the charge is a smart decision to foster change.

  • Are men encouraged to participate in your women's resource group?
  • Is your company progressive, pretending or plodding? Discuss this with your team and leadership. Provide the rationale and steps to improve.

Diversity in the workplace

Google is setting an example for the conversations companies should have about hiring. They are striving for diverse teams in terms of gender, age and ethnicity, as well as varying skill sets, backgrounds, sexual orientations, education and experiences.

  • Are there any other groups besides women at your company who also experience inequality?
  • What types of diversity is your team missing?
  • Does your company have a clear recruiting strategy?

Coffee conversations

Challenge yourself during the next quarter to have one coffee conversation per month with a male colleague.

  • What’s the most effective way to create male champions?
  • Can you help find more male advocates in the company?

The conversation on advancing women’s leadership isn't going to be going away. The time is right to start conversations with men and women to create greater understanding and awareness and to drive collaborative action to create change by taking personal accountability.

Blog Author Bio

Jeffery Tobias Halter is the President of YWomen, a strategic consulting company focused on engaging men in women’s leadership advancement. Founder of the Father of Daughter Initiative, creator of the Gender Conversation QuickStarters Newsletter and the Male Advocacy Profile, Jeffery is former Director of Diversity Strategy for The Coca-Cola Company and is the author of two books, WHY WOMEN, The Leadership Imperative to Advancing Women and Engaging Men and Selling to Men, Selling to Women.

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