The Role of Men in Fostering Female Talent

Published: 15/11/2014

As Vice President, Marketing for Catalyst, Inc, Michael Chamberlain is responsible for the care and promotion of the Catalyst brand. He also heads up the Editorial and Publishing functions. Additionally, he plans and oversees all Catalyst events related to Catalyst initiatives. He is a frequent speaker to corporate audiences and the media on engaging men in gender initiatives and on topics related to women’s leadership.

Here are Michael’s answers to 3 questions posed by WOMEN Unlimited (WUI) – see it online – interview date 10 September 20124

WUI: What Specifically Can Male Managers Do to Help Women Fully Express Their Leadership Traits?

MJC: There are three big areas where the actions of men allow women to express themselves as corporate leaders. First, when men act as mentors to women they help them strengthen their strengths and weaken their weaknesses. They teach them about the unwritten rules of the workplace.
Sponsors are also crucial, but in a different way. Sponsors talk about women—not to them. They advocate for them with leaders in a male-dominated environment. They give women access to opportunities they may have missed due to gender barriers. They take chances on talented people.
Thirdly, men can be pivotal in women’s leadership development when they serve as examples for other men. We need to institutionalize men’s natural instinct to be motivated by other men. If men see senior men acting as champions for women, they will be inclined to do the same—like attracts like. They will see it as enlightened self-interest and that’s the point at which the organization can provide the tools to channel that self-interest into diversity-building action.

WUI: What Subtle (or not-so-subtle) Differences Stand in the Way of Effective Conversations Between Men and Women Regarding Women’s Advancement?

MJC: I think the strongest obstacle is the concept of masculine norms. They are societally endorsed and embraced. Men frequently feel they must adhere to these norms which are embedded in corporate culture and which stand in the way of women’s advancing. Here are four of the most commonly held masculine norms:

  • Men should avoid anything feminine. They will be left out if they manifest a behavior perceived to be feminine
  • Men must be winners. Wealth, prestige and power are what they should work diligently towards. Equally diligently, they should avoid softer traits—traits commonly attributed to women and so foster gender-segregation.
  • Men don’t show weakness. Tough. Aggressive. Demanding. These are traits our research shows that people associate with male leaders. For female leaders, they use “softer” terms like: Willing to negotiate…takes a back seat.
  • The Boys Club notion. Guys are expected to play golf and behave like the other guys. Women are thought of as hanging with other women. Anything in between is still considered an anomaly.

I’d really like to emphasize that men don’t understand the unintended consequences of conforming to these norms, not just to women, but to their corporations and to their own psyches. Once men get a sense of what it’s like outside of their male privilege and why it’s important to let go of these behaviors, the likelihood of change greatly increases.

WUI: Any Personal Experiences or Anecdotes You’d Like to Share?

MJC: At Catalyst, when we talk about why it’s important to advance women, we say “It’s not only the smart thing to do; it’s the right thing to do.” What do we mean by that exactly? It’s Fairness. It’s blindness to race and ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, parental status, ability and disability. It’s awareness of all these things, but awareness also of talent and fair play.
Fairness means that organizations must dismantle systems that disadvantage some or many. It means fair behavior must be recognized, rewarded and spot lit for amplification. Leaders must be held accountable for achieving fairness, so that it becomes the shared vision and the norm.

Recent Catalyst research initiatives aimed at helping corporations and their managers embrace gender diversity. All are downloadable in their entirety – links are provided at the end of each synopsis.

Engaging Men In Gender Initiatives – full report
This research series offers evidence-based advice about the most effective ways to partner with men in ending gender inequalities at work. The series includes four reports: What Change Agents Need to Know: Stacking the Deck for Success: Calling All White Men: Can Training Help Create Inclusive Workplaces? and Anatomy of Change: How Inclusive Cultures Evolve
The series also includes two tools to help your organization take action:

  • Engaging Men in Gender Diversity Initiatives
  • Actions Men Can Take to Create an Inclusive Workplace

High Potentials in the Pipeline: Leaders Pay It Forward
The Queen Bee syndrome suggests that women do not help other women get ahead, and that they may even actively keep them down, which some say contributes to the gender gap. Our findings support a growing body of research that unravels this myth.
We found that women who have received development themselves are developing others even more than men who have been developed. And not only are women offering career development support to others, they are, more than men, helping other women climb the corporate ladder.
While not all women are developing other women, it’s also true that not all men help other men. The main difference is that the failure by some men to pay it forward is not used to negatively characterize all men’s behavior. The failure of some women to pay it forward, however, is used to negatively characterize women’s behavior as a group. Full report

Feeling Different: Being the “Other” in the U.S. Workplace
We all have complex and multiple identities that define how we see ourselves and how others see us. These include personal attributes such as gender, race, ethnicity, or nationality. The more different we are and feel from our workgroup or workplace as a whole, the more we may feel like the “other” at the table.
This report examines the experience of otherness in the US workplace and how people with multiple sources of otherness are impacted in terms of their opportunities, advancement, and aspirations. For example they are less likely to have mentors, less likely to receive promotions and more likely to scale down their expectations.
Listening to the unique experiences of diverse employees and adopting inclusive approaches to talent management confer benefits on both employees and corporations. Full report

Inclusive Leadership: The View from Six Countries
This study delves into the striking similarities across six countries (the United States, Germany, Australia, India, Mexico and China) on how employees characterize inclusion and the leadership behaviors that help to foster it. For example:

  • The more included employees felt, the more innovative they reported being in their jobs
  • The more included employees felt, the more they reported engaging in team citizenship behaviors—going above and beyond the “call of duty” to help other team members and meet workgroup objectives
  • Perceiving similarities with coworkers engendered a feeling of belongingness while perceiving differences led to feelings of uniqueness Full report