On this International Women’s Day there will be numerous events and activities to mark the day. It is necessary to have such days to create awareness and start conversations around key issues. Unfortunately, many of the activities on IWD are organized and managed by women, for women. I believe International Women’s Day is not just meant for women. Women do not need to be reminded about their greatness. Or why they are a critical force for the world to live in peace and harmony. Quite certainly, not how important it is for them to have their rights. Women have known these truths for many centuries. It is the millions of men that need reminding and educating, such that we begin the process of creating a more balanced, just and an inclusive world.
Here is my list of 12, that we men can do, to mark the International Women’s Day. They are visible and tangible signs of new awareness. And if we do them sincerely, they can help fulfill the intent behind the International Women’s Day.
1. Replace He with She or He, as appropriate
We always refer to a third party as ‘he’ -a customer, a manager, team leader, the surgeon. They are always assumed to be men, irrespective of their sex. Find out whether the person is female or male and use the appropriate pronoun. If not known, why not use “She”?
2. Offer. Do not assume
If you need someone to play a “demanding” role, or a role requiring travel, do not automatically assume the women on your team will find it difficult to play the role.. Or that they may not be interested. Always offer. Do not assume. You will be surprised by their readiness.
3. Read the article on second generation bias
Go online and read an HBR article titled Women Rising: The Unseen Barriers. It is a powerful article, that talks about the subtle and the invisible bias coming in the way of women’s growth. Reflect on where you see it, where it exists in you. Get your team to read the paper and talk about it as a team.
4. Explore how to increase the number of women
When in a meeting, if there aren’t any women around the table or only one or two, and proportionately lot more men, bring that imbalance to everyone’s awareness. Ask what creates such a situation? What can be done to create a pipeline of women leaders. Change begins with awareness.
5. Remember, HE is also emotional
If a woman on your team cries because she is upset or overwhelmed, do not label her as “emotional”. Do you say the same when a man has an angry outburst? Just like him, she is also showing her emotions in her own way. Learn to be comfortable with tears. Process the emotion. Ask what upsets the person rather than saying “don’t cry” or “come back after you have done the crying”.
6. Practice First 90 minutes of humanness
When back home in the evening from work, for the first 90 minutes be with people. Not machines. Put aside phone, Alexa, TV, laptop or iPad. Talk, find out about other’s days, help in the kitchen, child care, laundry, play with children. Schedule calls/office work later in the night on your own time.
7. Watch who does the “note taking”
When a small team meets for a workshop or a think tank, often the woman in the team prepares the report or the presentation. The reason given is, “she is very good at it” or “she has good handwriting”. Watch perpetrating the stereotype of women playing secretarial jobs. Hand over the job to a man or rotate the tasks among team members. This also holds true for cutting the cake, handing over the bouquets and bringing the trophies for distribution.
8. Give career-oriented feedback
Many studies have documented that women receive vague and contradictory feedback from their male managers. Whereas men in the team tend to receive more focused feedback. Develop the habit of giving feedback to men and women alike. Feedback that is clear and focused on career advancement and role enrichment. Include specific actions and their impact in your feedback.
9. Be inclusive in scheduling
When planning and scheduling team events, celebrations, weekend get togethers, training programs etc. make sure the schedule enables women to attend. Often, they are held at a time when many women cannot participate. Over time they feel alienated. Be sensitive to their constraints. Make it structurally possible for women to be part of team life.
10. Do not reinforce the restaurant mental model
In many restaurants it is a common practice to give the beverage menu or the wine list to a man. Some even have food menus for women without the price! And when the bill arrives, it invariably goes to a man. And if they have a feedback request, it goes to the woman. Be aware of the thinking behind such “polite” gestures and do not live out of that outlook in your own everyday life.
11. Become aware of the “men are…” “women are…” paradigm
When women are assertive, we label them as aggressive. When men are aggressive, that is leadership. When women negotiate, they are pushy. Men negotiate because they know what they want. Become aware how we see the same behavior differently. Women are judged more harshly. Every time such a judgmental word comes to mind, re-imagine the person as a man and evaluate the situation. You may just notice that your response changes. Take the gender out and see the behavior for what it is, not who it is.
12. Make leadership attributes more inclusive
Use your leadership position and power in the organisation to be inclusive. In most organisations, decisiveness, assertiveness, passionate, inspirational etc, are considered as essential attributes of leadership. Attributes such as collaboration, empathy, cultural sensitivity are considered feminine and soft by most men. And most of us believe, in the real world during the tough leadership race, the hard ones will always win. That is because often the men are in those positions that judge the winners. The world needs more inclusive and holistic leadership, that is assertive yet empathetic, decisive yet collaborative, passionate yet purposeful. Remember the paradox: what we think as soft is strong.
These are small personal thinking and doing shifts. It is in doing the small things that we accomplish big results. What is on your list that we men need to be aware of and do, to create greater gender sensitivity, bring about better balance and foster an inclusive workplace?
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