THE FEAR MALE LEADERS STRUGGLE WITH IN ADDRESSING INCLUSION & DIVERSITY
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"In that moment where I could choose to show you my tears, speak to my fear, whatever the case may be, I’ve learned to just swan dive and show myself to you. Every single time I’ve done that, especially with men, I get comments like, “Ray, I’d follow you anywhere.”
The quote above was included in an email from Jennifer Brown, President and CEO of Jennifer Brown Consulting, It was sent to her The Will To Change: Uncovering True Stories of Diversity and Inclusion podcast audience. She was announcing a podcast which included an interview with me discussing the fears that male leaders struggle with in addressing inclusion and diversity. This topic is covered at the 15:35 mark (scroll down to find podcast) yet there is much more covered in the podcast which I encourage you to explore as well. Here's how Jennifer describes the interview:
Ray Arata, Founder of The Better Man Conference & Co-Founder of The Gender Leadership Group shares his experience of developing his own healthy masculinity and the work that he is doing to engage men and women in partnering to support gender equality. Ray shares what he sees as the biggest obstacles that prevent men from embracing their full self, and the fears that male leaders have about addressing inclusion and diversity. He also shares his perspective on the importance of women embracing men as allies for gender equality, and why gender equality is beneficial for everyone. In this episode you’ll discover:
- Ray’s wake up call that led him to discover healthy masculinity (2:58)
- A “rite of passage” that helped Ray wake up to his true self (3:53)
- A central theme that Ray heard from women in organizations (9:25)
- Why Ray decided to create a conference for men (11:30)
- A deep fear that many male leaders experience (15:35)
- How men can bring their full self to work (16:25)
- How to close the gap between the intention for equality and results (24:41)
- The role that women can play in engaging men (27:40)
- Some of the speakers and topics at the Better Man Conference (34:00)
- A cutting edge topic in inclusionary leadership (36:46)
- Gender lessons that Ray learned from his niece (39:17)
- The unique challenges that transgender individuals experience in the workplace (41:01)
- The role of femininity in men’s work (41:48)
Listen to the podcast here or read the full transcript below.
JENNIFER BROWN: Ray, welcome to The Will to Change.
RAY ARATA: Thank you, Jennifer. It’s good to hear your voice.
JENNIFER BROWN: Thank you. I’m glad you’re here with us today.
We are going to learn a lot from you today on a topic that fascinates me and moves me both in my head and my heart — men stepping forward as allies for equality.
There are very few of you who do this work full time. I can count them on maybe one or two hands. Your story goes way back. Your awakening has happened over multiple “ah-hah” moments. When we were preparing for this, we talked about it as “multiple hero’s journeys.” I loved that because normally we think of the hero’s journey as perhaps a one-time thing in our lives, it’s that one big crisis, it’s that challenge that we had to pivot out of, recover from, and somehow come back and make the world a better place as a result.
You’ve had multiple moments like that, and it sounds like the universe had a lot to teach you in order to bring you to the point now where you can hold the space for the conversations that you’re holding, which is so important to the world right now.
Would you take us back through those journeys? What happened in each, and how did they build on each other in order to bring you to where you are today?
RAY ARATA: I’d be happy to do so. I might need you to remind me, but we’ll get there.
The big moment, my true wake-up call where pain was my teacher was in 1999 over the span of four months. After building a custom home, moving in with my then wife and three children, who were seven, five, and three, at 1:00 in the morning, I got the “I don’t think I can be married to you anymore” speech.
I just remember in that moment thinking, “What? This isn’t making sense to me.” That started my wake-up call spiral.
At that time, I had a financial services business providing retirement consulting to high-tech startups. Six weeks later, a male partner and friend left and went to another firm. In that millisecond, he went from friend to foe. So it was a double-whammy wake-up call that had me languishing for six months until one day my unlikely knight in shining armor — my manager in the financial service industry — called me out on some of my behavior.
I walked into his office and he said, “Ray, I want to invite you to consider going to a men’s weekend.” He handed me a brochure. I’ll save the guys’ talk spoken in that moment, but he smiled and said, “I can’t tell you what goes on there, but call my wife. It changed my life.”
I walked out of that office saying, “I want to do whatever I can to save my marriage and my family.” I got on a plane to Houston, and I went to what we now call in the ManKind Project an “initiation into healthy manhood” — a rite of passage, if you will.
Unbeknownst to me, this rite of passage was the journey from my head to my heart. It had me look at my behaviors. Some healing occurred on this weekend, and a tremendous amount of awareness that had me wake up to myself to see the impact I was having on myself, others, and all my relationships.
That started my journey, and I was still a financial services representative. That’s the big wake-up call number one.
In 2007, just before the great recession, I had my second wake-up call. I was coming to terms with the realities of not wanting to be in the toxic financial services industry any longer. For those eight years I had been leading men’s weekends, running men’s circles, and the big guy in the sky was starting to send men and women to me to sit down and have cups of coffee because a lot of men were struggling.
I began to realize I was living two separate lives. I was doing all this men’s work that was lighting me up, and I was still in the financial services industry. I made the very painful and necessary decision to leave the financial services industry, and with some struggle, I set out on my next hero’s journey as a coach. I was trying to figure out, “What is my expression? What is my purpose?” And even though it was right in front of me, it was difficult to fully embrace.
I languished. I started to get some clients, but things kept moving forward. In 2011, someone close to me said, “Ray, you need to write a book. You need to write a book. You need to get all the stuff that’s inside of you to the outside for others. You need to play a bigger game.” That’s what I remember being told.
I set out and I wrote this book called Wake Up, Man Up, Step Up: Transforming Your Wake-Up Call into Emotional Health and Happiness, with the intention to meet what I imagined to be millions of men at a wake-up call moment.
JENNIFER BROWN: What you “imagined” being the operative word.
RAY ARATA: Exactly. Once I wrote the book, unbeknownst to me, I had no idea what was going to happen. Jennifer, as you know, a lot of people write books for a lot of different reasons. Some just need to get it out, some want to try to make money, some consider it a calling card or a business card. I didn’t know any of those things. I just knew I needed to write the book.
One day, I met a diversity and inclusion consultant who did a lot of women’s leadership work, and she wanted to meet with me. She said, “Ray, I really think you’ve got something here. I’m really curious about your “man” expertise. Let’s meet.”
I’ll never forget the question she asked me: “What would you do if you had a room full of women leaders, leaving them wanting more?” And I said, “Honestly, I don’t know.”
So I went back to the book that I wrote for men. In the book, there is one chapter called Your Father and another called Your Mother. I wrote about influences of the mother onto the son, and influences of the father onto the son.
I looked at that and thought, “Oh my God, those influences apply to women.” So I put together a whole package of a workshop and I put it in front of her. Lesson number one: Ray, it’s not about you going in there telling the women or coaching the women. Your role is with the men. That was an important and valuable lesson, which kept me asking, “Where is my gold? What am I supposed to be doing? Who am I supposed to be working with?” Which is not to say I don’t have work to do with women.
JENNIFER BROWN: No.
RAY ARATA: My hero’s journey came when I formed a company called Gender Allies with dear friends Rayona Sharpnack and Robin Terrell — two women.
We were pretty early in the conversation around gender partnership, recognizing that many companies were putting a lot of time, money, and resources towards skilling up women, women’s leadership conferences, women’s ERGs. That’s one leg of the stool. A lot of companies were also addressing the institutional barriers and blind spots, and they started to do unconscious bias training, et cetera.
But I connected to the third leg of the stool when I started to speak at women’s conferences. When I started listening to the women, being the emotional man that I am, I heard the sadness, I heard the anger, I heard the frustration. But what really got my attention was the lack of progress.
In that moment, it all came rushing at me. All the stories that my mom told me about being second born in an Italian family where her older brother got all the rights and privileges. Culturally, in an Italian family, that meant she didn’t. I thought about my wife, who is the oldest of seven children in a San Francisco family where the youngest brother runs the real estate company. I thought about my daughter, who was graduating from Duke with a degree in computer science. Talk about a big wake-up call amidst my hero’s journey. In that moment I realized, “Ray, this men’s work that you’re doing, it’s great that you’re helping men, but what are you supposed to be doing with it?”
I realized in that moment that I was supposed to go forward to work with male leaders to help them understand and own their privilege, to make that conscious, heartfelt decision — and business decision — that it’s time for male leaders to step into being the modern-day inclusionary leader. That meant becoming a gender partner for women and becoming an ally to other minority groups.
That journey has been going on for about five years. I’ve had many moments, and a lot of it was lonely, questioning myself. I know that this is much bigger than me, so I was smart enough to fly in the face of the old, macho paradigm of not asking for help, so I’ve been asking for help and support all along the way.
Only recently have things begun to change. I’d say my last and current hero’s journey happened whilst I was going to these panels, talking to rooms full of women about why it’s important to engage men, not as the white knight, but as partners, and beginning to understand that there’s something in it for men as well. I realized I was going to these women’s conferences and I was one of very few men. Who is doing something to put the spotlight, attention, learning, and awareness for the men? Which helped me, through a mentor of mine, to see that I needed to do a conference.
That’s how the Better Man Conference was born last year. Let me tell you, creating something out of nothing is extremely difficult. Signing your name next to a $50-, $60-, $80,000 price tag with a line of credit?
JENNIFER BROWN: Yes.
RAY ARATA: Somehow, some way, the doors opened. I met Sheryl Sandberg, I met Jennifer Siebel Newsom, I met Michael Kimmel. A lot of these people have become friends and colleagues of mine. I just kept asking for help.
The conference was a success, and here we are. And you’re going to be one of our featured speakers come September in San Francisco. We’re already 60-percent sold out, the sponsors are there, and now companies want to address this topic of engaging male allies.
I’m in it right now, and I imagine another hero’s journey is coming, but I don’t know what it is, so I’ll stop there.
JENNIFER BROWN: I love it. But you are going to welcome it when it comes.
RAY ARATA: Yes, I am.
JENNIFER BROWN: Now you have the muscle to get through it and figure out, “What is the message in this?” You’re incredibly open. You’re one of the most open-hearted people I’ve met, and you are truly listening to the need and you want to be in service. Obviously, we share that so much. If that means we change our business model 20 times in our career, so be it.
RAY ARATA: I’ve done it about 20 times.
JENNIFER BROWN: Exactly. Kudos to you for creating a space for all of us who are interested in this.
In my book, Inclusion, which came out two weeks after the election in November — I will always remember it that way, for better or worse — I did write a lot about the role of male leaders. I’ve been exposed to some really wonderful male leaders in the context of usually the executive sponsors of diversity efforts within corporate clients. They step forward. Sometimes they’re “volun-told” as you and I know. Often, they step forward and say, “I’d like to be the sponsor of this effort and lend my social capital, use my voice, my platform, my seniority, my connections, and my funding.” There are people who are quietly doing this, and I think they are the unheralded heroes. They’re important role models, actually, to pull out and show to the world.
I find that many men don’t know how to enter the conversation. Perhaps it’s because the penalties for making mistakes in the public eye, particularly for very senior men, are so swift and severe. I know you agree with me on this. Just look at what happened with the man on the Uber board and the Arianna Huffington situation where he made some quip such as, “More women might be good for representation, but bad for the amount of talking that’s going to happen in the meeting.” He was gone within 24 or 48 hours from his role.
You and I talked about that. We need some flexibility in this process where we’re all learning how to be with each other and supportive of each other. There are going to be mistakes made, but our greatest fear — yours and mine — is that people are going to become afraid of coming into the conversation, putting themselves out there, asking for help, or acknowledging their learning curve. That’s particularly hard for male leaders, who tend to dominate corporate America, because we envision a paradigm in which they have to be bullet proof and have all the answers. Unfortunately, when we envision a leader, usually they’re only male.
It takes a lot of work to keep that façade up for men, it’s exhausting. From all the data that I share in my keynotes, I know that men are not bringing their full selves to work.
We want to create accountability for decisions we don’t agree with, comments that are made, or in the case of that same company, inaction around harassment or bad behavior. How do we create enough flexibility for people to trust that this is a conversation that they can really have?
RAY ARATA: In hearing your question around flexibility, Jennifer, whatever comes up for me is a multi-faceted answer. Contextually, what I want to say first is this is where healthy masculinity and what that means in the context of leadership comes in.
You mentioned a few of these leaders are quiet leaders. Part of me says, “We need them to not be quiet.” You’re correct, it’s exhausting to hold the façade up and be closed down, et cetera. For the modern-day, inclusionary leader, I think it’s a combination of humility, being humble, being in one’s heart, understanding the power of vulnerability, and recognizing where we are on the spectrum of being an ally. It’s that kind of leader that’s going to give permission to be human to other leaders, middle managers, all the way down, and to lend their hands, lend the support, be willing to make mistakes. But until those leaders are willing to model that, it’s going to be a very challenging situation.
I don’t know if that answers your question, but that’s my first salvo.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yes. I couldn’t agree more. I think leaders set an enormous tone. What I’ve noticed as a woman doing this work — a white woman as well — is the juxtaposition of what I can say and how I can influence around, say, men’s roles in inclusion and being inclusionary leaders. It’s just different than how men speak to other men.
That’s going to be a very important leverage point for all of us who care about creating change. It’s not always up to us to do the teaching. And when I say “us” I speak for the community of women, for example.
It’s very important for men to influence other men — perhaps most important for that dynamic to occur. Whether we agree with that or not, maybe it’s a status thing. I don’t know how you look at that, but maybe it’s the status that men ascribe to other men. It’s a powerful motivator. Whether we like it or not, that’s the way our world works.
How do you need men to influence other men by standing up and creating that momentum that none of us seem to be able to create?
RAY ARATA: The words that come to mind are “courage” and “heartfelt.”
When we were talking earlier about covering, it occurred to me that my journey as a man has been to cover my heart less, my emotional side of things. I’m just realizing in this moment how many men are afraid to be authentic. Only through experience is there an understanding to lead more with your heart because there’s a sweetness to it, all of these benefits.
I’ve had numerous experiences leading men. In that moment where I could choose to show you my tears, speak to my fear, whatever the case may be, I’ve learned to just swan dive and show myself to you. Every single time I’ve done that, especially with men, I get comments like, “Ray, I’d follow you anywhere.”
What I’ve come to realize, from a vulnerability perspective, is that there is immense power. Why do I bring up courage? It takes courage to take that risk for all men despite what your brain is telling you.
JENNIFER BROWN: Your brain is telling you to be afraid because of the peer pressure, the social penalty.
RAY ARATA: Don’t do it. Yeah. You’re going to get annihilated. If you show them, you’re going to get taken out. Or there is the social pressure that guys are going to look at you weird and ostracize you. I’ve gone through all of that. Despite the fact that I’m a white, male, heterosexual man with economic privilege and I’m over six feet, go figure, I’ve still got all of this going on inside of me. Yeah. I’m not different.
JENNIFER BROWN: And you still feel afraid. You shared with me that you felt alone for a long time doing this work.
RAY ARATA: Yes. Yes.
JENNIFER BROWN: Respectfully, you were ahead of the curve.
RAY ARATA: Yes.
JENNIFER BROWN: Some of us feel like we’ve been waiting for the inclusion conversation to really catch fire for a long time — a long time. It finally has in this really interesting way. Do you think something has really ignited and there’s an opening of the door to all of this that’s occurred?
I do want to bring up our president because you and I had an interesting conversation, and not an overly negative one. It’s more thinking about the impetus to action, and perhaps the real persona that he represents, and perhaps as an instigator or the role that his persona plays in creating change, in motivating change, in increasing a sense of urgency. It gives us more fodder to work with, more interest, more readiness, and more willingness to actually have these kinds of conversations.
RAY ARATA: Yes. I see Donald Trump as an instigator. If I’m going to love everyone, I have to be able to also look at someone like Donald Trump and say, “He’s a man.” I could make up that he might be a pained man. I could make up that he takes things very seriously. But when I look at the effect that he’s had, it makes me think of Carl Jung and his talk about “shadow,” which was his word for the parts of us that we hide, repress, and deny.
All of us have beliefs about ourselves. Unless we’re paying attention, we can get triggered and our behavior sneaks up. What happens when you have a president like Donald Trump, you see that shadow part of him out there in public. The reason that’s a good thing is because it brings it out of the dark and into the light. Everyone can make a decision, even him, where do we go from here? There’s no hiding.
Unfortunately, for a lot of people, it’s bringing up a tremendous amount of fear and anger. For some people who may voted for him and wish they didn’t, shame.
We’re in a moment of time where I really believe that as an American, it’s time that we all step forward, and come together. We’re going to look back on this time, and Trump will have been part of this. Rather than render negative judgment on the guy, I’m just going to say that in a weird sort of way, he’s a spiritual teacher of the lesser-known variety.
JENNIFER BROWN: Thank you for that. Somehow, that’s very healing to me. I think you have articulated that everyone has a purpose. You’re right, I am certain that this will serve a purpose, and our job is to discover what that is, to pay attention, to be present, and to choose proactively who we want to be as people.
What I’ve found since then is the allies have stepped forward. People are beginning to understand that being well intentioned is not enough. Before the election, what I struggled with most in creating organizational change was motivating people who call themselves allies. I’m not sure they would even call themselves allies, I’m not sure they even knew what that word meant, but they would describe themselves as progressive or believing in equality, or the classic that men might say about having a working female partner, wife, or daughters.
People would come to me and say, “I’m well meaning, this is something I really relate to.” And yet, it didn’t go far enough in terms of that showing of yourself that you were talking about earlier, that courageous, uncomfortable edge that we need more leaders to live on. If I’m well intended and it’s 2017, equality and diversity is a thing that’s baked into everything.
From where I sit, organizations are completely blind to unconscious bias and are not navigating this in an effective way. This is the reason that we still see problems such as lack of representation of diverse talent and nothing is changing. Year over year, the demographics have stayed the same in all of the companies. When you look through all the tech companies that disclosed their data three years ago, nothing has changed in spite of being transparent, doing training for everyone, et cetera. Merely saying, “I’m well intended, I voted this way, I have daughters, and I want a better world for them” just hasn’t proved to be enough.
RAY ARATA: No.
JENNIFER BROWN: What are we missing in the equation to really light the fire that many of us so desperately want in order to really create the sea change?
RAY ARATA: Well, first of all, you and I have been at both ends of what it means to be an ally. One is not an ally until someone in a marginalized group so anoints you.
What we’re talking about here, and the stretch I would offer to all men, is that it’s about commitment. This is the phrase I’ve been using lately: Are you willing to call yourself an ally in training? It has a stretch feel to it, there’s a commitment because you’ve spoken it. Are you willing to walk the path to be an ally, not just at work, but to people in your community and in your family?
Having that conversation, I have yet to meet a guy who wouldn’t want to do that. There’s a role for women to ask the men around them what most guys love to be asked to do — to support somebody else. I always invite women by saying, “There has got to be one guy in your organization whom you like and connect with, ask for his support. Offer yours. Have a gendered partnership conversation.”
It’s going to take that commitment. It’s going to have to come from the heart. I keep coming back to the heart. It’s going to have to come back to the heart. That’s why I’m trying to get a movement going, and I’m trying to bring forward this redefinition of masculinity in the context of leadership. I hear, “Business case, business case, business case.” And I’m sitting here thinking, “What about the human case? What about these men who are fathers, husbands, brothers, sons, partners?” They already know. They’re in relationship, so all I’m trying to do is remind them, “All this stuff you’re doing over here in your personal life, it has application in your business life.” You have got two families, your business family and your personal family, and there’s dysfunction in both.
So I’m really trying to bring forward family ideals because everyone wants to belong and be at the table literally and metaphorically. One serves soul food; one serves real food.
JENNIFER BROWN: I love that. Which is which might vary from person to person.
RAY ARATA: Of course, yes.
JENNIFER BROWN: I know you have also really paid attention to intersectionality in your latest iteration. You’ve walked your own path as an ally, either self-proclaimed or identified by someone else, hopefully both.
When you morphed from gender partner to ally, that was important. It’s not just semantics. I’m sure that was really intentional. How have you come to define intersectionality in your men’s work? I am so curious, when we talk about masculinity, are we picturing the white, straight guy? This is gender, white, straight guy. Or where is the role and the room for the LGBT man? The trans man? The man of color? What about different generations of men and boys who are looking at these things so differently? And yet, they continue to imprint on each other, generation after generation in some unhealthy ways.
How are you thinking about that intentional answer, baking it into your approaches these days?
RAY ARATA: First of all, healthy masculinity is an inside job. It’s not how we look, it’s how we “be.” The one common throughput amongst all men is that we all have a heart and we all, in our own way, want to be in our truth.
To me, healthy masculinity is about being in your truth, in your heart, and understanding and appreciating sameness and differences.
On my path, especially in the ManKind Project, we’ve put together multicultural men’s groups so that men can connect at the heart level, but also do their work around intersectionality.
I’ve sat in a group where I was the only white man. I was told by a biracial man, “Ray, I need you in this group so I can do my work around white men.” It’s the heart that drives us and connects us.
When I went from being a gender partner and looking at all the leadership work I was doing, I said, “You know what? There’s more work that I need to do.” As a member of the northern California leader body of the ManKind Project, I have blessed three gay men into our community. I have been asked to be a partner with several women of color who were in the VC community. The intersectionality is everywhere.
I went through a training one time in which they handed out a piece of paper. There were all these boxes to check like, “Have you ever been marginalized?” There were no boxes for me to check. I felt some shame around this.
Then one person said, “Hey, Ray, weren’t you just in the hospital getting your hip replaced? And didn’t you just have an experience where you were marginalized?” And when he said that, I started to cry. It was probably one of the first times that I really understood.
I’m still learning. I still call myself an “ally in training” because I don’t profess to know everything. The moment I do that, game over for me.
JENNIFER BROWN: I love that humility. Absolutely. Give us some of the amazing names that you have attracted to your conference coming up in the fall. I’m so honored to be speaking at this conference. Tell us about individuals who are doing great work who have different perspectives on this. I know you partner so well and appreciate all of the viewpoints because it’s going to take a village to have this conversation.
Who is having the complementary conversations? Which organizations are into this, embracing it, and running with it, in your opinion? Who are pushing the boundaries and investing in men’s leadership in the way that you support or are involved with?
RAY ARATA: A friend who’s near and dear to me, one of them is Michael Kimmel and the Center for Men and Masculinity. His message is that gender equality has something in it for men. Consider that.
Another name would be Don McPherson, a retired NFL football player, self-proclaimed feminist who has a tremendous amount of passion around this topic. He has been talking lately about his recognition as a man of color that before white men could be asked to step out and be courageous, they need to embrace their wholeness as a man. Imagine me, as a white man, hearing that from him. It’s very, very powerful.
I’m excited to have you at the conference, Jennifer. In addition, I’m also going to have a guy by the name of David Smith. He’s out of the Navy, and he co-wrote a book with his partner, Brad, around mentoring. He will be there.
Others who will be speaking include the national diversity and inclusion officer at Kaiser Permanente, Dr. Ronald Copeland; Chris Crace, who is running the HeForShe campaign for Pricewaterhouse; and Noni Allwood from the Center for Talent Innovation. There’s a whole list of folks who are going to be talking.
My partners include: The Professional Businesswomen of California; The Good Men Project; The ManKind Project, who is a sponsor; The Representation Project, headed by Jennifer Siebel Newsom; Lean In, headed by Sheryl Sandberg; and Rachel Thomas, who spoke last year. I could go on and on, my mind is blanking a little bit, but that’s just to name a few.
JENNIFER BROWN: That’s impressive. David Smith is going to be on The Will to Change podcast as well. I love his work.
RAY ARATA: Beautiful.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yes. His book is called Athena Rising, and it’s about why men should mentor women. A man writing on that topic is a super unique kind of book to have in the world, especially coming from a Naval officer. Am I correct in that?
RAY ARATA: Yes. Yes, you are.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yes. He does incredible work, too. Ray, what are you most excited about? Which edge are you most excited about pushing at the upcoming conference? An edge, where you may not know where this is going to lead, but you’re going to put it out there and trust that, somehow, this community will swarm around it and push forward.
RAY ARATA: The very fact that we are springboarding from gender to the other areas, the other marginalized groups, that in and of itself is the edge.
Men aren’t totally in the conversation with women yet. So for me to bring in LGBTQ, to bring in race and ethnicity, talk about fear. I have some fear around that — healthy fear, not the shut-down kind of fear. I want it to be welcomed, embraced, and acted upon.
We made some decisions yesterday on the content flow, and I’m really excited about the experience and how it’s shaping up. Probably what I’m most excited about is the gender breakout session in the morning. We’re going to put all the men in one room and all the women in another. We’re playing around, demand dependent, with also having a non-binary breakout to create the safe space, to have some introspection, a little bit of unpacking of unhealthy masculinity for the men, and a repacking for the rest of the conference. And for the women, ideas on how they can engage with men and what they need to understand about this whole healthy masculinity piece. I’m really looking forward to that.
JENNIFER BROWN: That’s fabulous. Where did the idea for the non-binary breakout come from? What were those discussions like with your planning committee?
RAY ARATA: In the ManKind Project, while we’ve historically been a largely white organization, working really hard from a multicultural perspective, we continue to experience issues. We have a Gateway Weekend for gay men and questioning men and trans men to go have their men’s weekend. The spotlight is on this topic for us, and has been for a while.
To the credit of one of my partners, he said, “Ray, as the ManKind Project chair-elect, this issue is becoming more and more real. We need to up our game. As you look at the binary/non-binary scale, we need to at least bring attention to this and be cognizant of it and see if there’s something to be done.”
If that’s not enough, I have a niece who is gay who is teaching me. I didn’t know what “pan” meant a year ago, or going to a training and understanding cisgendered. Right now, everyone is very, very open.
I have a friend who is an executive at a top company who says he has a trans kid. The vocabulary is coming in, it’s real, it’s not going away, and I think it’s about time. I don’t want to be any different in that, and I want to create the opening if possible and educate.
JENNIFER BROWN: I love that you are going to allow for that and enable that space. I’ve learned so many amazing things from my transgender colleagues and friends. Watching them navigate the relative status of being female or being male — visibly female, visibly male — and the differences they experience in the workplace as they show up. Now, they have experience as showing up as two different genders. All of those changes speak volumes to what you and I are talking about. There are norms that we need to unpack, question, challenge, and hopefully change. Our trans colleagues, friends, and loved ones live that up close and personal every day. There is so much that can be taught around that experience, led by those stories around gender norms that we haven’t questioned. And when I say “we,” it might be the cisgender community.
There is a lot of knowledge and inspiration that will come from the LGBT community around the gender conversation in general because that’s such a fundamental, core conversation for our entire community. Are you feminine enough? Are you masculine enough? Are you non-binary? And how do people respond to that? How do people learn to live in the gray around identity when we tend to be such a binary world? We need to learn that.
RAY ARATA: Here’s the question and the answer: It has to do with being human. The highest context here is “human.” As much as I’m a masculinity guy, my 18 years of doing men’s work has been a journey towards my inner feminine on the way to being a whole person.
When I talk to men and women, I invite women by saying, “Listen, I understand that it may have been necessary for you to over masculinize yourself to compete and be successful, my invitation is to bring more of your feminine characteristics.” And to the guys, “It’s not so bad, these feminine qualities inside of us are pretty cool.” Hence, everybody, let’s be more human. That’s the invitation to navigate forward.
There is one other thing, Jennifer, that you asked earlier. What do we need going forward? What might leaders need? The word that came to mind is “resilience.”
At the conference, a gentleman named Victor Lee Lewis is going to lead a session in the afternoon which is designed to be totally experiential. It’s called Building Resilience as Allies. If you’re a white woman, what does that mean to you? He’s going to touch upon that. I’m thrilled that he’s going to be doing that session. He’s a master.
JENNIFER BROWN: I cannot wait.
RAY ARATA: There is stuff in there for all of us.
JENNIFER BROWN: I’m so excited. I love what you said, “Masculinity and femininity are energies, and we possess them.” When we’re out of balance, like everything in the world, that’s when unhealthiness happens.
Unfortunately, the corporate world has skewed the balance differently than you and I know is healthy. It harms everyone in the equation. Those who are over balanced towards one side and under balanced towards another are not able to show their full selves. Women are not able to bring their full selves to work, or masquerading as something that’s not true for them. It is truly making us sick, both emotionally and physically. Add it to the list of things that we need to change in the world of work so that we can make work really work for us, all of us, and all parts of ourselves.
I really appreciate this. I want to leave folks with information on you and the conference and things that you’re involved in. Where would you point people to learn more about Better Man and anything else you want to share?
RAY ARATA: Sure. For the conference, go to www.bettermanconference.com. There is plenty of information there, including an opportunity to sign up for a newsletter. The conference will be in September, that’s one place.
The other place you can go is www.genderleadershipgroup.com, that is our consulting company. There’s a newsletter sign-up. We’re pushing out a lot of content for people to understand and learn from. We’ll be out on social media, I don’t know the Twitter tags (Update: #BetterMen #Better Leaders) but be that as it may, that’s all out there.
For the men who may be listening, if this masculinity talk has you curious, you can go to Amazon and look up Wake Up, Man Up, Step Up. Read the reviews. Decide for yourself. It’s a book I wrote for men to go on their own journey. While it’s non-corporate, it’s personal and heartfelt in nature. You’ll get it, trust me.
JENNIFER BROWN: I believe you. We are following you, Ray. Thank you for your leadership, your voice, your courage, and for being willing to be a little lonely out there occasionally in order to shine the light for all of us to go forward. I deeply, deeply appreciate it. I can’t wait to see what happens at this conference and what I learn in my own journey. I know you’re looking forward to the same.
Here’s to launching a new wave of masculinity, an understanding of it, and creating real change in the near term if we do this right. Thank you for coming on the show.
RAY ARATA: Thanks so much, Jennifer. It was a true pleasure.
JENNIFER BROWN: Thank you.
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