On their daughters’ shoulders: Men stepping up to lead for greater gender inclusion

How to more effectively engage a larger number of male leaders for gender equity

By Lisa Kepinski & Tinna C. Nielsen
Tinna is an anthropologist specialised in Inclusion & Diversity, and the founder of the non-profit Move The Elephant For Inclusiveness, and a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader
Lisa has over 20 years’ experience in Inclusion & Diversity and is the founder of the
Inclusion Institute
Lisa & Tinna are Co-Founders of the
Inclusion Nudges Global Movement & Sharing Community and Co-Authors of the Inclusion Nudges Guidebook

How often have you heard that the catalyst for a male leader to become an advocate for greater gender inclusion is because of their daughters unfortunately encountering exclusion, harassment, and/or realizing limited advancement opportunities in the workplace? In our many years of practice as Inclusion & Diversity leaders, both internal in organisations and as external consultants, we have heard this all too frequently. We are encouraged with men stepping up as leaders for change and gender equity, and our hearts are heavy with yet another story of a daughter encountering the negative side of organisational culture and mindsets.

Too Slow for Real Progress

As powerful a motivator as the daughters’ personal experiences are for their fathers to step up to leadership for a more gender inclusive workplace, this is not a viable change strategy for gender equity. It’s time to get smarter about how to engage more men to become gender inclusion advocates. We applaud the recent efforts of the UN’s He for She Campaign and Catalyst’s Men Advocating Real Change (MARC), and the much longer running programWhite Men as Full Diversity Partners. Yet still more is needed.Achieving gender parity is 117 years away at every level, especially at senior leadership levels in the corporate workplace, and in a recent global survey, only 13% of the leaders anticipate significant improvements in gender equity in their organisation over the next five years. This is further compounded by research showing that the next wave of leaders from Millennial men aren’t any less biased against women . Clearly, we cannot, nor should not, rely upon the daughters’ experiences as the motivators for the engagement of more men. But there is more to it. For too long ‘gender’ in ‘gender equality’ has been reduced to only meaning ‘women’. Gender parity is not just about women, it’s as much about men. We are starting to see the negative implication for mentoo. We need clever interventions that help to mitigate bias and tap into the behavioural drivers to engage more male leaders to become leaders for gender inclusion (meaning for both men and women).

An Approach Proven to Work

We apply behaviourial economics in our work with organisations to help shift the stuck patterns that we see with Inclusion & Diversity culture change. We apply insights on decision making, motivation, psychology, and neuroscience to design ways that feel easy to make a change in choice and behavior towards greater inclusion. We call this approach Inclusion Nudges, and these help motivate people to change their behavior by making the brain’s unconscious system feel the need or perceive the need for change rather than only having a rational understanding of the need for change. We also apply these insights to the processes in organisations, producing better results that are aligned towards the goal for more inclusivity. We must engage the whole brain to achieve gender parity, just as we must engage both men and women in this change process. Let’s share with you some real life examples from organisations to illustrate how this works.

Ways to Use Inclusion Nudges to Engage More Men in Gender Parity & Inclusion

Here are some proven ways that have work for us, and for many colleagues around the world, to gain leaders’ active support for gender inclusion. These are pulled from our experiences and from the Inclusion Nudges Guidebookwhich are a part of theInclusion Nudges Global Movement of Sharing.

Trigger empathy by using real life stories from your organisation: The further up leaders are in the organisation, often the further they are from the employees’ experience. Those in the ‘in group’ can have a hard time imagining the experiences of those in the ‘out group’. This is further complicated by the concepts of ‘diversity’, ‘inclusion’, and ‘gender equity’ are usually primarily perceived as numbers on the human capital scorecard. The rational, numbers-based approach for I&D has not accelerated the change needed. The challenge is to present the need for change by engaging the emotional reactions that drive our subconscious towards decision making for sustainable change. Do this by collecting real life stories and personal experiences from women and men in your organisation and sharing with your leadership teams, such as:

Post the stories on the walls in a meeting room and have the leaders read these. Make the link of employee experiences with productivity/business performance. (See this approach fully described on pages 78–79 in the Inclusion Nudges Guidebook.)

Use the stories to create a ‘Reader’s Theatre’ to be performed before leadership teams, and also engage male leaders to be readers in the performance. (See this approach fully described on pages 80–82 in the Inclusion Nudges Guidebook.)

Leverage our fear of losses more than gains: Make the reverse business case of maintaining the status quo on gender representation in the organisation and illustrate the impact to productivity and financial loses.

Use ‘Follow the Herd’ dynamics: We are social beings and replicate behaviors that we see around us, especially those that are perceived as valued. Influence inactive male leaders on gender equity by positively recognizing their colleagues (both inside the company and external, such as in professional networks or competitor organisations) who are positive leaders for gender inclusion.

Opt In / Opt Out: Use a view that all leaders need to have competencies with managing across difference, and automatically have them enrolled in your organisation’s programs providing this skill development. It’s not ‘required’ (which can produce resistance), however as a matter of convenience all managers are enrolled and they may choose to reschedule or not attend (opt out). With this approach, you will get a much higher participation rate than if leaders had to sign up (opt in).

Expand leadership expectations and build this into your processes: In leaders’ performance assessments, add a question related to your gender and/or Inclusion & Diversity goals, such as: “In the past two months, what have you personally done to create a more gender inclusive workplace?“ or “How have you contributed towards greater inclusion in our organisation?”

Intrinsic motivation: For sustainable commitment, male leaders need to have their own personal understanding of ‘what’s in it for me’ for greater gender equity. While there has been much wider discourse on expanding ‘femininity’, this has gone rather untouched on ‘masculinity’. For male leaders to see value in leading for gender inclusion, they need to understand and feel on a personal level how they will benefit from this. This will help to drive their commitment to action.

Make it about all of us: We know that gender-balanced and diverse teams outperform homogeneous teams. We should set targets for how to compose high-performance teams like ‘maximum 70% of the same gender in the team’ instead of setting targets for 30% women in leadership teams. Where did the other 70% go and what about the women-dominated functions and jobs? To make it about all of us, we need to make it about all of us.

Please Share Your Examples of How You’ve Engaged More Men in Gender Parity & Inclusion

We’d like to hear from you. What are some proven ways that have work for you to increase male leadership engagement in gender equity and inclusion in your organisations? By sharing your examples, you’ll inspire others, and together we can help accelerate the rate of change towards gender parity for the greater good of all of us and our organisations.

To learn more techniques that have been used to create more inclusive organisations, see the Inclusion Nudges Guidebook and become a part of the ‘Inclusion Nudges Global Movement of Sharing’ free of charge herewww.inclusion-nudges.org .