Gender equality can only happen when women and men are advancing toward that goal together. We call this conscious leadership. Here’s the thing: most men are ready, willing, and already enabling ways to change the equation and close the gender gap. We have seen it in action and we now have the data to prove it.
69% of men say they actively champion women in their day-to-day work.
64% of men say they believe men and women are equally willing to talk about gender equality.
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53% of men believe workplaces across the U.S. should be doing more to eliminate biases in the workplace.
While this is a small sample, it suggests that to create a modern equality guide that works for all, we must be intentional about bringing men and women to the table.
When we make the invisible visible, it becomes clear that gender parity isn’t just a “women’s issue.” It’s a human one. Not only do men care, but they want to be part of the solution. Our research also showed us only 38% of men say they regularly have conversations related to gender equality. So, we decided to get men more engaged.
We recently brought together a diverse group of C-suite men to speak on a range of topics that women don’t often hear executive men talking about – from sharing the care at home to raising the next generation of conscious leaders and even reproductive rights.
We gave them a safe, inclusive space amongst peers where all are welcome, vulnerability is the norm and our mantra is “a woman alone has power and together, we have impact” to discuss what’s on their minds as it relates to gender equality, how their views/attitudes have changed, and what drives them to action. In line with our research findings, these men didn’t hold back. They unpacked each topic – no matter how seemingly taboo – with vulnerability, humility, and an eagerness to shift the narrative. Here’s what we learned:
Fatherhood Makes Men Vulnerable
It’s not just girl dads who care about equality. Despite a certain logic that might have you believe that being a father of daughters would be a critical component for men leaning more into gender equality, our research bore out that becoming a father overall is responsible for this shift.
The executive men discussed how fatherhood unlocked a caregiving spirit within themselves. Kids, they agreed, made them more vulnerable to feeling, to listening, and to caring in ways that they didn’t have as much lived experience with before children. In fact, many of the men agreed that they were taught growing up that these weren’t traditionally “masculine” qualities. This realignment at home, they agreed, often results in a shift in how they lead at work.
The Pandemic Altered Attitudes Toward Care
When it comes to sharing the care at home, the pandemic was the social experiment that no one saw coming, and it had a profound impact on fathers. One CEO shared, “Pre-pandemic I felt I had to be the first one in the office. I missed the first five years of walking my kids to school every day. Post-pandemic there’s no chance I’m not taking them to school. As leaders we have to make it ok and give people the flexibility to do that. You don’t get that time back.”
This was a resounding theme. Although their individual circumstances varied, the men agreed that the pandemic showed them they could – and should – take a more active role in sharing household and caretaking responsibilities.
Showing Up Vs. Speaking Out for Reproductive Rights
Our survey found that 73% of men supported reproductive healthcare as a human right and that jumped up to 83% for fathers. We aren’t suggesting that this one survey is the be all end all on these topics, but perhaps we are on to something as we saw similar outcomes in our live discussions. Which begs the question: where are all the men in the fight for the right to abortion?
Many of the men admitted that their way of showing support was being strong support systems for women in their lives – wives, family members and daughters – who were faced with unwanted or unhealthy pregnancies. Several men admitted they weren’t sure where their place was in the discussion.
Yet, when asked, all the men were eager to be more active, use their platforms to take actions at the polls and advocated that “reproductive rights are human rights.”
Moving forward, it’s important for workplaces to take steps to add more men into the conversation and help men move from good intentions to intentional actions. This could mean creating policies and efforts that grant men equal opportunities to share the care at home (including parental leave and/or more flexibility), normalizing sharing experiences and conversations about gender equality within leadership (especially among men), and encouraging all leaders to start their meetings with a statement of care (whether that’s about care at home, reproductive rights, or their own personal vulnerabilities).
When we have open conversations in the workplace, we bring people closer together. That is what creates a culture of safety, security and belonging. One male leader felt so comfortable that for the first time in a work setting, he shared his invisible disability for the first time. He felt so “liberated” that he committed to leading with vulnerability moving forward.
This is important for everyone – for our daughters, our sons, our partners and our co-workers. Why do we want our children to grow up thinking that only one type of person can be a leader? We can change the culture by tackling seemingly intractable issues like closing the gender gap; when men and women are invited to the table and do it together.
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