Igniting the Competitive Fire! Engage Men in Closing the Gender Gap

I couldn’t help but notice the tall, athletic, Italian looking, man in a room mostly populated by women in San Francisco’s City Hall. I was there reporting on Mayor Ed Lee’s kickoff press conference for the Gender Equality Challenge: Building a 21st Century Workplace. Notable people spoke of the increasing importance for businesses to close the gender gap simply because its good business. That is why the Mayor challenged the top 400 companies in San Francisco to rise to meet the 7 principles of Gender Equality*. (See list below).

I watched the man raise his hand just as they stopped fielding questions from the audience. He was wearing a bright Orange San Francisco Giants sweater under his sport coat.

I couldn’t resist going over and asking him, “What were you going to ask?”

He could barely contain his enthusiasm, “This is absolutely brilliant to make it a competition!” He then shared several questions he wanted to ask.

Where are the men?

“What is the plan to get the men to engage? What is the Win for Men in this that will move them into action? It seems the plan is intended to attract, motivate men.  I just don’t see how.”

He went on to explain to me that he has attended a number of gender equality events hosted by women when either he was the only man in attendance or there were very few men. And each time, he wondered, “where are the men”?

Figuring out the Win:

His next comment is what caught my attention. “Men haven’t figured out the win yet for themselves that will move them into action. It has been ingrained in men since they were very young that in competition it’s about winning. And typically with a winner comes a loser.  Men don’t want to lose. One fear that men have is that if they step forward and support gender equality, they will lose something; whether it losing face with male friends, a promotion ,  a client, money, or even the illusion that they are winning. This fear couldn’t be further from the truth and men need to understand that by stepping forward and supporting gender equality, everyone wins, including them.”

As I looked down to make sure I was recording everything he was saying, he continued. “If this challenge is going to be successful men will have to play a significant role.  They will have to get past the fear of losing something that so far is holding them back from embracing the  “win opportunity” that gender equality possesses.

Asking the right question and getting the right answers:

I then asked him what is holding men back?  His response was not the answer I thought I was looking for. He said, “The question you need to ask me is what is most important to men that would actually have them engage?”

He responded to his own question. “ There are two answers. One placates the head and the other the heart.

As for the head, the question many white male executives in power ponder is “What is the business case?” He referred to a new book that’s out, called The Athena Doctrine: How Women (And The Men Who Think Like Them) Will Rule the Future that clearly shows through research that by eliminating gender bias, companies can reap significant benefits, including improved access to and retention of top talent and higher employee commitment, thus impacting the bottom line. He challenged me, “Just ask any talent management executive about their spend.”

I watched his face smile and exude confidence when he shared the second reason. “What WILL MOVE MEN is being directed toward a healthy competition that will get men competing BUT for reasons bigger than themselves.” Now you’ve got a winner!

He looked intently at me and said, “Consider for a moment the power a father has over his children when it comes to their self esteem and confidence. Any young daughter (and son) can benefit from verbal acknowledgments and encouragement that validate the intended message of “ You can do anything you put your heart and mind to”. Now consider the incongruence of the very same man (the father) not doing everything he could TODAY to pave the way and close the gender gap”.  This is a matter of personal masculine integrity if you think about it”.

So I asked him what his plans were in light of what he had just shared with me.

With absolute masculine confidence (minus the machismo), he looked straight at me without hesitation and said, “ I’m going to do what any emotionally mature and accountable leader would do. I‘m going to take full responsibility for this timely idea and start a movement with a competition to engage as many men into action as possible. “

Before I knew what to say, out of my mouth came, where do I sign up?

A brief note for the women:

I wrote this as if I was someone else covering the press conference for two reasons. First, I was frustrated my questions came just as time ran out on the conference and wanted to give them voice. Second, it just felt good to write from my inner feminine. Did it help or hurt your interest in the piece?

Men have historically looked “outside themselves for the external validation that comes with winning, especially in competition. This challenge is an invitation and an opportunity for men to look inside and to connect to values of honor, respect, empathy and compassion. For some men, this is new territory.

Many men want to be honored, respected, and valued for their contribution(s), as well as winning.  You can support them by letting them know you appreciate them for who they are and what they do and that their role in closing the gender gap is needed and valued. Encourage them to set out on this leg of their Men’s Journey.

* Gender Equality Principles:
Based on the Calvert Women’s Principles

Organizations will take concrete steps to attain gender equality by adopting and implementing policies and practices in seven key areas:

1.  Employment and compensation. Policies that eliminate gender discrimination in areas such as recruitment, hiring, pay, and promotion.

2.  Work-life balance and career development. Policies that enable work-life balance and support educational, career, and vocational development.

3. Health, safety, and freedom from violence. Policies to secure the health, safety, and well-being of female workers.

4. Management and governance. Policies to ensure equitable participation in management and governance.

5. Business, supply chain, and marketing practices. Non-discriminatory business, supply chain, contracting, and marketing policies.

6. Civic and community engagement. Policies to promote equitable participation in civic life and to eliminate all forms of discrimination and exploitation.

7. Leadership, transparency, and accountability. Policies that are publicly disclosed, monitored, and enforced that display active commitment from top leadership.