10 years ago – almost to the day – I got a phone call from CNN. Later that day, I got death threats for what I said.
I was 21 years old and a senior at Southern Methodist University.
They asked me to come in for an interview on CNN Live about my student organization called Men With Integrity.
On the air, I said “men should be the ones who stand up to say let’s stop [sexism and sexual assault]. Let’s make a difference. And let’s help these women who we call our mothers, our sisters, our girlfriends, our cousins, our friends. Men have to be the ones who stand up alongside those women… and that they shouldn’t be afraid because there are other men with integrity in every group [of men].”
The interview ended 7 minutes later, and I walked out of the studio on a high. I’d just said my truth out loud, to the biggest audience I could find. Sexism is a men’s issue… and men with integrity can solve it.
I went home, logged in to my email inbox… and sitting there were a few dozen emails from viewers. Most of them were from other men… and those men were angry. They told me I was ruining masculinity. A few told me in no uncertain terms that I would be silenced. They had my address. The words were brutal, hateful, and they made me fear for my family’s and my loved ones’ lives… oh, and my own.
In that moment, confronted with death threats from the dark corners of masculinities, I felt true existential terror… and I started asking myself, “do I believe in this enough to put my life on the line?” My second question was, “What would it take to shift societal awareness enough to be able to really make the change I so naively announced on CNN.”
I imagined a decade ago that real change would take two pre-requisites:
1. We have to make it acceptable – even cool – to talk about masculinity in new terms
2. We have to raise the value our culture places on women
– in actual terms this means we need to address 1. Masculinity in the Media, and we need to bridge the 2. pay equality gap for women.
Some things have changed.
- My partners and I just convened the Better Man Conference, talking about masculinity to a room full of representatives from Visa, Microsoft, PwC, Chevron and many others, and it was cool. Last year I appeared on Huff Post Live, said the same message as I did in 2006, and came home to an inbox full of support. We’ve made a big leap in awareness.
- We’re here, talking about the pay equality gap and how to fix it… and if you haven’t read McKinsey and Lean In’s recent report on women in the workplace, it makes a compelling case for how our global economy is suffering a $28 trillion opportunity cost while we allow that imbalance… for perspective, that’s 9 US-sized economies, annually, that the world is missing because we are holding women back.
But we have a new problem.
For me, and for a large part of the millennial generation, the talk is not enough. We’re impatient. We’re chafing under the bit of an outdated culture and economy. We’re disenfranchised by our employers and we’re quickly disavowing brands that don’t get it.
PwC published a report on Millennials and among their key findings is this:
“Work/life balance and diversity promises are not being kept. 28% said that the work/life balance was worse than they had expected before joining [their company], and over 50% said that while companies talk about diversity, they did not feel that opportunities were equal for all.”
Talking about sexism and gender norms like it’s a new concept – is not working. We’re tired of the disingenuous talk.
It’s time to actually flip the switch.
Companies that flip the switch on gender equality are going to thrive in the new century, and the ones who don’t are going to fail – soon.
So what does it take? What does it take to ACTUALLY do something? What is the solution?
Here’s our system at the Gender Leadership Group…
- Recognize the reasons for Gender Partnership (business case, personal case, moral case)
- Male leaders take this seriously and become accountable (get help from outside your bubble to help you find your unconscious biases and then CORRECT them)
- Filter this equality standard in at the grassroots level through ERGs for diversity and equality – let them know they have air cover
- Middle managers need to understand unconscious bias and how it holds back the leadership journey of the disempowered
- Tie it to business imperatives and involve women all along the way
Top down, bottom up, and through the middle.
In the next 10 years, I want to see systemic acceptance and proliferation of this system. I want to see companies treating Gender Partnership like a key performance indicator. I want to see a world where gender equality is expected, not a novel concept. I want to stand on a stage in 10 years and talk about the next step.
Also by Dale Thomas Vaughn
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