Make allies not enemies in #MeToo workplace
Allies rather than adversaries — more than peaceful coexistence — that is the world Melissa Lamson envisions as women and men alike come to terms with shifting workplaces in the #MeToo era.
“Cultural transformation means changing the foundation of a company,” Lamson said. “This isn’t easy once the house is built.” That doesn’t mean it can’t be done, she explained, but it will take a concerted effort by everyone involved.
Lamson is an author, speaker, leadership coach and workshop facilitator, passionate about helping individuals, teams and organizations thrive globally. She talked with Meghan M. Biro, a Forbes analyst, brand strategist and TalentCulture chief executive officer.
For organizations to grow and advance, the people inside the company need to have a “meeting of the minds” and work in a more collaborative and inclusive fashion, according to Lamson. Everyone should have an equal voice, and for those who don’t, there needs to be advocates to provide support and guidance.
She said men are “hard wired to protect, and to protect women in particular.” They want to be a hero. They want to make women happy at work and don’t see an issue.
Although they put on a good face, Lamson said men are afraid to speak up about the workplace culture. However, if they do, they will make a change for the better.
Men also need to be more attuned to the workplace atmosphere. Lamson said that if a man and a woman are talking in a meeting and the woman gets quiet, the man should notice that and try to get engaged and back on track.
For their part, Lamson said women need to speak to men’s more analytical and logical nature.
“If you can say, ‘This is the action I would like you to take,’ men will respond,” Lamson said. “Don’t assume men know what to do. Be specific.”
She said women need to mentor men. Men should ask women, “Please mentor me. I want to understand this.”
Lamson cited an intriguing finding: One woman in a group of 10 men in a boardroom will adapt. Two women will compete with each other. Three women will begin to find their authentic voice and work better with others, including men.
Men and women need to be allies in the workplace just as any other co-workers should. Corporate culture is best when everyone is allied and works together for productivity and the corporate good.
“It’s the quickest way to create gender balance at the top,” Lamson said. “We need both women and men to work together. Women can push themselves to advance through the ranks, but if men don’t pull, it may not work as well. Our customers and business partners are diverse. We need to reflect that.”
Biro agreed with the need to diversify.
“An organization with diversity of opinions and perspectives is a healthy one,” she said. “Engaging employees benefits everyone as it helps drive a business forward. Bringing men into the conversation of diversity is in a brand’s best interest and is paramount to creating equality in business leadership.
“Diversity and inclusion are important factors to business success, and those factors must be driven from within,” Biro said. “Men are a necessary resource in advancing leadership opportunities for women in the workplace. From business success to growth, everyone benefits when men are brought in as partners in creating an inclusive workplace.”
Men and women have different communication styles in the workplace. In general, men are more analytical while women are more empathetic. The differences can lead to misunderstandings or hesitation to talk about issues.
“Yes, it’s what they lead with, not necessarily their only go-to,” Lamson said. “There are five communication differences between men and women. Men prefer competition, and women prefer harmony. Not all, but socialization shows many do. Women and men delegate and ask for things differently. It impacts the way confidence is perceived and felt.”
Differences show up in conference rooms.
“Men can take up more time and space at meetings, while women sometimes try to make sure there’s more equality in the room,” Biro said. “This communication style, in general, can impact inclusion.
“Oftentimes, men and women differ in the way manage people,” she said. “Men tend to be more direct, whereas women tend to soften their demands and statements.”
There are also gender differences in the way questions are posed.
“Women tend to ask more questions than men,” Biro said. “Asking questions means different things to men and women. While both men and women ask questions to gather information, women tend to also ask questions to show interest.
“Men seek time alone to solve a problem, while at times women look for companionship,” she said.
Collaboration for men and women to act as teammates starts with communication. If you don’t at least try to speak and listen to each other, collaboration is off the table.
“It’s important men and women support one another and foster a supportive, positive work culture,” Biro said. “Both men and women need to be aware of each other’s styles of communication — both verbal and non-verbal — to avoid miscommunication.
“Be aware of unconscious stereotypes and biases, and be open to breaking past them in order to leverage each other’s strengths,” she said. “Don’t be afraid to recognize differences. Learn about male and female styles of communication and be able to use both. You need both to deal with the complexity and diversity of today’s workplace.”
Complete communication back and forth is the key, according to Lamson.
“Listening, listening, listening,” she said. “We need to overcome the fear of asking. Authentic dialogue is key. Humor helps break down barriers. Keep it clean, appropriate. Don’t forget to infuse team cooperation with fun.
“In addition, workshops change minds and behaviors tremendously,” Lamson said. “I get emails from men and women saying I changed their lives forever. Like all teams, proactive communication is crucial. Plan ahead for conflict and have a plan or system how to solve it.”
In the end, she said better workplace culture for men and women comes down to respect.
“Have mutual respect and a commitment to equal treatment,” Lamson said. “We need to be clear on what we consider respectful. It’s opposite sometimes gender-wise.”
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