More male advocates are needed to address gender imbalances in the workplace, says ADP UK's Jeff Phipps
Discussions around workplace diversity have dominated headlines this year, yet few focus on the role of male advocacy in addressing historical gender imbalances.
We are currently seeing society, government, educators and employers all point fingers, while talking of progress and optimism for the future. However the reality is that we all have work to do and we must look to ourselves first. What is critical is that men are not just part of the discussion but have a clear and positive role in driving change, otherwise we risk disenfranchising them.
So how can men help? The key thing is to start with an open mind and be willing to get out of your comfort zone. At ADP we have a women’s inclusion network called iWIN which invites men to their events, recognising that they also have an important role to play.
At one session a male colleague was asked if he would like to attend a coffee morning and he responded brashly, “What me, sit in a room with a bunch of women?” I gently reminded him that for many women the opposite is the case for most meetings they attend. He saw my point and nervously accepted the invitation.
Listen and learn
It is also important to only enter into conversations when you can demonstrate you are genuinely interested in listening carefully and asking questions. I’ve learned that however tempting it is to offer solutions and your own anecdotes, keeping quiet is hugely underestimated as a development tool. It’s difficult to learn when you are talking.
In this domain, mentoring is a key way male leaders can help. I’ve always found mentoring one of the most rewarding and educational professional experiences. I mentor people inside and outside ADP and deliberately try to mentor more women than men. It’s an opportunity to gain an insight into different people, different generations and work challenges.
I’m still learning how to be a good mentor so I would cautiously offer the following advice. Try to help people formulate their own solutions and plans rather than dictate yours. Use your personal stories but also remember that questions can be powerful aids to give effect. When people own their plans and strategies they have a better understanding and commitment to them.
Awareness of sub-conscious bias is also of great importance and it is something that is particularly noticeable when hiring. Two years ago I was trying to hire a new CFO and multiple male candidates came forward. I went to our talent acquisition team and said that I was not going to hire until I saw at least two female candidates. This instruction forced them to change their approach and it led not only to them finding female candidates, but better male candidates.
When recruiting for senior roles we unwittingly use a male playbook to find and judge candidates because we apply predominantly male experience to our judgement. I have heard Sheryl Sandberg talk about the need for women to lean in, but surely men also have a responsibility to lean out and meet them halfway in order to identify what is leading us to judge men and women differently.
Ultimately I hired a female CFO with two young children and she is a strong and important member of the team. That shouldn’t be a proof point, it should be normality and then we will have healthier businesses and a better society. In order to do this though, men need to step up and change. If you don’t, your smarter competitor, with a diverse, talented and energised workforce, will leave you in its tracks.