How to enroll men and middle managers in D&I

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One of the world's largest human resources consulting firms – Mercer – recently published “When Women Thrive, Businesses Thrive,” a revealing study of more than 3.2 million employees in 583 companies and 40 countries.

One of the most startling findings: Less than 40 percent of middle managers and male employees — two of the largest groups in any organization — were engaged in their company’s diversity and inclusion initiatives. Long-term, systemic change for women will never occur without the active engagement these two groups.

I have found the key to engaging these two groups boils down to five critical elements.

1. Present a department-level business case. We throw around statements like “women control 83 percent of all purchasing decisions in consumer goods and retail” and “women are getting 60 percent of the master’s degrees in in this country.” As a middle manager this means nothing to me. I need to understand my role and my responsibility in supporting the company's vision. This is why companies need integrated strategies with scorecards, measures and metrics.

Key elements in the discussion include the business case:

  • More than 80 percent of revenue is generated or influenced by women.
  • More than 80 percent of new entries into the workforce are women and minorities.
  • “More than 80 percent” is the aspirational level of engagement in diversity and inclusion initiatives of high-performing companies

For each of these, you must go through an analysis process to create the business case for your business and business unit. Leaders must do the hard work so that every level of the organization understands the goals and tactics for success.

The business case discussion creates transparency and dispels the “zero-sum” mentality — the fear that gains for women create losses for men. The conversation highlights that everyone benefits from gender equality and serves to recruit men as advocates of the advancement of women and other underrepresented groups to leadership roles.

2. Cultivate genuine respect through inclusive behavior. Bringing all employees into the conversation about diversity, gender inequality and the future of the business means creating understanding, participation and engagement at all levels. Discuss unconscious bias in staff meetings and set an inclusive example. This doesn’t need to be a big training initiative.

Distribute reports on women’s leaders in retail and consumer goods published by the Network of Executive Women, available for free download at, use them as conversation starters. These discussions can help reduce intimidation, encourage empathy, create a sense of belonging and promote inclusive behavior.

Managers will learn to be more cognizant of others and give all team members an opportunity to contribute. Such understanding will help identify biases that are baked into company processes and systems.

3. Be passionate about talent management. Employee expectations are changing. According to Development Dimensions International, today’s employees are:

  • Increasingly interested in having challenging and meaningful work.
  • More loyal to their profession than to the organization.
  • Less accommodating of traditional structures and authority.
  • More concerned about work-life balance.
  • Prepared to take ownership of their careers and development.

Addressing these changes will affect how you hire, develop and retain talented people to achieve the best possible results for your company.

4. Tie it back to corporate culture. Having a great place for women makes your company a great place for all workers. Nobody wants to create or work for a “good” company. We want to create and work for a “great” company. Foster a culture that reminds all employees of the opportunities for men and women in a gender-inclusive workplace. This will help remove the barrier of fear of status loss or being seen as part of the problem or not being involved in the solution. Exposing employees to the opportunity cost of lower wages for women and their families may help to promote understanding.

5. Be a visible champion. Be visible within your company and outside the company. Leaders who truly embrace and understand this important will carry it with them in all aspects of their life. Encourage male champions to participate on panel discussions at women’s events. 

Disrupting the status quo requires courageous leadership. But systemic change must come from top management and requires courage. Long-term systemic change for women will never occur without the active engagement of middle management and men. It’s important to invite them into the conversation and make them part of the solution.

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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