Engaging Men to Work Toward Gender Inclusion in the Workplace

In your efforts to include women in industries and roles where they are underrepresented, be sure to include an important demographic: men.

Men are currently in positions to hire and manage women in industries such as software development, electrical engineering, automotive design, and finance. Without them, it will be impossible to increase women’s representation in those industries or to ensure that the environments in those workplaces are conducive to women’s success.

The need for the discussion

“Whether it be flexible work schedules, fair pay, ability to move up in terms of position, it really takes men being able to understand women in terms of what’s going on with them in terms of their life,” said Colleen Tralongo, CEO and founder of Athena Tech Academy, which trains men and women programmers and data analysts in big data and Hadoop programming skills. Athena includes diversity roundtable discussions as part of its 10-week boot camp.

“I believe that the more men understand about women in the workplace and the challenges, the greater opportunities they have to become supporters,” she said.

“It becomes like a little ladies’ sewing circle if the only people involved in women’s issues are women,” said Alan Zeichick, founder of BZ Media, a firm that produces tech publications and stages technical conferences. The company’s conferences all include women in technology networking luncheons on one of the days.

Framing the importance: make it matter to men

In order for that discussion to happen, it needs to be framed in a way that men will understand or even care about, say men who have been involved in women’s inclusion efforts.

“I think that a lot of these companies, and they all claim to have these programs to attract women, one of the problems they have is their human resources diversity numbers,” said David Leighton, president and co-founder of Women in Technology International (WITI).

David Leighton

David Leighton

Focusing on numerical targets makes women looks at hiring women for its own sake and ignores the impact women have in purchasing. The human resources emphasis tends to be placed on the fact that the various groups are underrepresented instead of on the impact the various groups might have on sales, he said.

“They lump them into the underrepresented minority groups. They’re half the population, so that doesn’t make sense to begin with. They’re really just approaching things the wrong way,” he said.

“Because diversity is everybody’s problem, it’s not just the minority’s problem,” Zeichick said. “In the workplace, it is everyone’s problem to make sure you have as great a workforce as you can. You can’t have a great workforce if you refuse to hire certain people. You can’t have the strongest possible workforce if some of the people you’ve hired are unable to work to the best of their ability.”

Make it everyone’s issue

WITI’s Leighton said he believes the argument needs to be presented in economic terms, pointing out that 68 percent of electronics purchases are influenced by women, and 80 percent of bank accounts are influenced by women, yet those industries are run and staffed predominantly by men.

Alan Zeichick

Alan Zeichick

If outreach efforts are presented as efforts to reach women or any other group, then the issue can be perceived as a problem reserved for that group, Zeichick said.

“Make the pitch, ‘Our company has a problem. Many of our employees are finding it hard to get their jobs done, and we’re not hiring the best. Will you help?’” he said. “If you lead with ‘We’re doing an initiative on women’s empowerment,’ if you’re talking to good old Joe, you’re not framing it right. It’s not his job to empower women. It’s his job to help the company. It’s his job to empower everybody.”

Addressing ‘bro’ culture in workplace

When women do enter traditionally male occupations, they are often faced with a masculine or “bro” culture that makes it difficult to stay. This also needs to be addressed in economic terms, Leighton said.

“There’s always going to be a knucklehead,” he said. “If they can understand that by acting like a jackass, they’re going to lose a lot of money and miss a lot of opportunities, once we focus on dollars and cents, that will help people change their way of being and their attitudes.”

Dale Dougherty, founder of Maker Media, said he’s asked women about how to help them in the workplace. “They’ve said, ‘We don’t want your help. We just don’t want you doing stuff against us. Let us do our jobs.’ I always like to believe that the positive things men can do like being good colleagues is best.”

It’s OK to be different

In reaching out to women, workplaces need to acknowledge that men and women often work differently and have different motivations.

That difference can influence which projects women choose to work on and how they work on teams, said Dougherty. “Sometimes, it’s just a reframing, and thinking about the human application of something.”

“Men and women like solving different puzzles,” said Zeichick. “That’s OK. But if a woman wants to build device drivers (for example), don’t say, ‘Why don’t you go over here and do user interface.’”

“At the end of the day, men and women are different. They work differently. Let’s create an environment where they can work effectively,” Leighton said.

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