This is a series of posts designed to help people approach diversity and inclusion. These are questions and scenarios we’ve actually heard or seen in the wild. This is part of our corporate programming for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. For more information, click here.
Question: I became an ally and started learning about this stuff because I want the world to be better for my daughter. Now there are feminists telling me that I shouldn’t have to become a father to want to be a feminist. I don’t know what to say to that. I bring up this stuff around my fraternity brothers – guys I really care about, and they just shrug their shoulders. Like, they know sexism sucks, but they’re not going to do anything about it. How do I get them engaged when they seem so apathetic?
Answer: Thank you, very much, for these questions! They go to the heart and soul of what, in my humblest opinion, needs to change.
First, although those words may have been hard for you to hear, women who have suffered their entire lives because of the patriarchy are coming from a place of exhaustion–years of battling for equality in both opportunity and wages, a lifetime of sexual objectification, not to mention abuse, harassment, debasement or shaming, all as just as the tip of the iceberg–they may feel some frustration hearing from a man who didn’t care about THEIR plight (or his mothers, sisters, significant others, etc.) until it affected his daughter. I considered myself a feminist long before I had my daughter, but she boosted my interest to the point it has become part of my life’s purpose. The power of progeny, and legacy, is one of the great unknowns until you’ve lived it.
This said, I’d like to echo a quick and very appropriate title by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, We Should All Be Feminists. It presents a balanced, non-combative definition of feminism that is palatable to most while positioning the term as distinctly positive––something to be adulated and celebrated––rather than demeaning. It also encourages much-needed dialogue between genders about topics such as success, roles, appearances, and sexuality, themes whose rapid evolution seems to have outpaced society’s cruise control tendencies, which have resulted in literal road rage, which I suspect is what you were the target of in this case. It paves the way for an inclusive, respectful, and human society, one in which our daughters can flourish right alongside men, who also meaningfully benefit. You may want to buy a stack and hand them out to your frat bros who have daughters, as this may spark a competitive desire for those without to read it too.
I have spent the last few years trying to get male executives on the “balance” bus. Copious amounts of corporate data, both operating company and investment returns across asset classes, reveal performance is optimized by minimizing what we call “dominant culture groupthink”. It turns out, too many of whatever < > background on a team can curtail performance. It’s all about balancing as many different voices as possible.
A few learnings from these escapades that may apply. Note, while some may need some modification to fit the scene, understanding the “why” behind them can oftentimes drive how they are delivered. As a general rule though, we have found broaching the topic head-on, from a position of strength and confidence, yields the best results; sadly society currently perceives many allies as “high in likability” yet “low in competence”. A final caveat: remember, your mission here is simply to plant seeds that may take some time and nurturing to sprout. Don’t expect your friends to walk away reciting the 19th Amendment after one interaction.
Some men, maybe in the 25~30% range, can’t be liberated and will go to their graves believing they are “better”. It must really suck to be related to these juveniles, never mind having to do business with them. Many, around 50-60%, intellectually “get it” however for reasons usually revolving around fears of various sorts and (willful?) ignorance––there is this nifty tool called Google––they sit on the sidelines unintentionally maintaining the status quo, smiling caryatids supporting a fallacious and archaic order.
“Yes honey, of course, we are equal… and btw, on your way home, don’t forget to snag me a sixer of Stella at the market and pick up my dry cleaning.” Your fraternity brothers may notch along this yardstick.
The rest, a high percentage of whom have been blessed with at least one female hooligan, are emotionally engaged with the topic, and their numbers are happily growing. They, like yourself, are open to change and are willing and courageous enough to dally outside their comfort zone; once people get to this stage, it’s difficult going back. A prime question emerges: how can we help the male “sayers” transition to “doers”?
A guiding principle I’ve found to be effective is not making cases in the context of “this is good for society” or “it’s morally right.” No, using the shrouded angle “how will this change benefit you?” seems to produce positive reactions. We are dealing with men, after all.
In corporate settings, we have actually calculated the impacts on individual executive’s equity holdings presuming their company’s management was 50% female, using historical, aggregated stock price performance data that beats the market by 60+% as the beacon of potential. It was all fun and games until that data smacked eyes. Again, the numbers, like the truth, are out there.
Note: one study can be easily discounted for a variety of convenient reasons: “the sample size wasn’t large enough”, “the time horizon wasn’t long enough”, “they are focusing on too few sectors,” yadda, yadda. Many reports, from branded sources, that cross thousands of companies with decades of research are oftentimes termed “a trend”, though the potential has always been there. We find using data is an effective tool in pushing men, sometimes protectively clutching their crotches, down the intellectual awareness slide.
So once profitability has been clearly established, how do we facilitate the jump to emotional engagement? Make things familial, again with the focus on personal benefit. Simply ask the question: could your daughter/wife/niece/etc. get that plum job if they met the criteria? And would they want the job, given your counterpart’s knowledge of the culture and characters the position would work with? “Hey, that’s my family you’re talkin’ about!” Exactly!
Framing things as a legacy for women can also yield emotional engagement. Simply pose some questions along these lines: How do you want your firm to be perceived by the talent markets (both women and engaged men🡪~75%), customers (women make 85% of retail purchase decisions), suppliers (48% of purchasing agents are women), and investors (retail and institutional as appropriate), who are increasingly demanding more balance? Do you want to lose out on all these key drivers of financial performance, not to mention avoiding lurking lawsuits, if you don’t change your ways? To what degree do your current practices support inequality and biases?
In this context, we have found asking mixed-gender groups to convey “what they do on a daily basis to avoid sexual bias, harassment or assault” and then writing the answers on a whiteboard in gender-specific columns can provide a profound peek into how “current practices” may need to change. Most men are completely unaware of what their moms, spouses, and daughters, etc. have been and are currently doing, every day, for most of their lives. This echoes the response you have gotten from women who feel you are late to the game in championing women’s rights.
While equality at work is critical, from my vantage point––my daughter is a senior at an Ivy League university––it’s the examples set at home that simultaneously have the most catching up to do and have the greatest impact on our children’s mental benchmarks as to how relationships function. These proxies will accompany, influence, sometimes haunt, and may become fodder for “what I don’t want!” for decades to come.
A fascinating study by Dr. Michael Kimmel, and shared in a great TedTalk, reveals that when the daily chores and childcare are split (balanced!), everyone––fathers, mothers, and kids––record happier, healthier, and more productive lives. The kids show up to class more often, do better in school, and are less likely to be diagnosed with ADHD, require child psychologists, and need medication. Men use less alcohol, tobacco, and recreational drugs, are less likely to visit the ER but are more likely to show for annual screenings, and are less likely to be diagnosed with depression, need a therapist, and require scripts. So far, this is sounding pretty good, yes?
If this wasn’t enough though, going back to male benefits, men (and women!) in this syndrome have more sex! (If this doesn’t work as a driver of emotional engagement, I don’t know what else might!) Women are less stressed, are less likely to need therapy, etc., can get to the gym or exercise more (read: are healthier!) and report happier spousal relationships. Men’s Health Magazine, which ran an article on the study, termed the dynamic “Choreplay”. Over time––just snagging your Stella and dry cleaning this evening won’t cut it!––and by establishing some new structures, you might be blissfully surprised at what unfolds.
I’d like to close by sharing some of Dr. Kimmel’s observations as they boil everything down to some delicious, caramelized nuggets:
…gender equality is in the interest of countries, of companies, and of men, and their children and their partners… gender equality is not a zero-sum game. It’s not a win-lose. It is a win-win for everyone. And what we also know is we cannot fully empower women and girls unless we engage boys and men. We know this. And my position is that men need the very things that women have identified that they need to live the lives they say they want to live, in order to live the lives that we <men> say we want to live.
What kind of life do we want to live?
We should all be feminists.
This post is republished on Medium.
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