Men On Board
Will Solidarity Replace Sexism?
As International Women’s Month draws to a close, I’d like to further explore an idea I wrote about 2 weeks ago, which is that as women have demonstrated increasing solidarity amongst themselves, men’s support for women has also grown.
The example I gave recently, in my post Solidarity Wins the Day, was of a turning point for me that came in late 2019 when I was delivering a women’s leadership workshop at the Construction SuperConference in Las Vegas. Expecting the usual female audience, I found to my surprise a standing room only crowd of 70% men.
They’d been inspired to attend because their industry was struggling to retain talented women. One of the executives was blunt. “Please don’t waste your time telling us why our companies need to become better places for women to work. We get it. Just help us learn how to do it!”
Since then, I’ve heard similar pleas hundreds of times. “Tell us how we can be better mentors, better champions, better supporters of women.”
This evolution in male attitudes has been one of the most positive aspects of the workplace changes we have all been living through.
I will be exploring it at length in the book I am presently writing, Rising Together.
Watching it happen has been profoundly encouraging, especially as many previous sprints forward for women have been inevitably accompanied by periods of backlash. Susan Faludi astutely chronicled the process in her 1991 classic of the same name.
As is often the case, adversity has been the springboard for the current forward movement that has ushered in important new ways of thinking and doing.
Just over 2 years ago, at the start of 2020, women’s continued advancement had gained significant momentum:
a strong economy
global competition for talent
highly visible women leaders in the public and private sectors
well-developed women’s leadership initiatives,
increasing solidarity among women coming out of the #MeToo movement
But as winter turned to spring and the pandemic took hold, all expectations-- not to mention work norms-- were upended. As we all now know, women bore the brunt of the negative impact across multiple fronts.
These changes have been so wrenching, so immediate and so far reaching that it is both hard and yet of utmost importance to note that the crisis also has a silver lining and has led us to the next turning point in our collective story: we are now all clear about what is valuable to us and what is not, what we will accept as normal and what we will not.
People throughout the developed world have started bailing on jerk bosses, poor pay and toxic work environments.
Healthcare and service workers, the majority of them women, many of them previously toiling unseen, have become highly visible, everyday heroes, celebrated by all of us.
Working from home has finally lost its stigma and has given many men a close-up view-- if not the actual experience-- of what it’s like to juggle child and elder care while also trying to earn a living and maintain professional equilibrium.
Men working from home have been leading their professional lives on “women’s turf” (i.e. from the private sphere) on a massive scale for the first time since the industrial divide began. The difference now is there is less division of labor along gender lines. And both spouses, not to mention their remote colleagues, are faced with a similar set of dilemmas.
As the chief human resources officer at a major global energy company told me, “Our leadership has always been very conservative and was never on board with people working from home. To be frank, this has limited our ability to attract women. Now, suddenly, they see that it works. They don’t see a decline in productivity. I can’t imagine that we’ll ever go back to how it was.”