We need inclusive mentoring in the workplace
The workplace can be very different for women than their male peers. How behaviour men see as normal is in fact non-inclusive
The #MeToo and #Timesup movements sparked a notable shift in the publicity given to the way women experience the workplace. While there was an outpouring of support in the early days, the focus has now moved. It didn’t take long for men to become concerned about the downsides for them, especially if they volunteer to mentor women. They are worried about gossip, difficult situations and even unjustified accusations.
What it has also highlighted is a genuine lack of understanding on how women share the same work space but have a different experience of it. This requires a grasp of the “manscripts” that dominate our corporate cultures, which shape all interactions, not just mentoring. Training programmes for male mentors need to have an inclusive mentoring element before men can properly mentor women. Many really don’t understand that the workplace can be very different for women than their male peers and how behaviour they see as “normal” is in fact non-inclusive.
Different entry points and perspectives
I very often hear that men and women enter the workplace as equals and then somewhere during their careers something changes for women. This is not always necessarily the case although it is true that women encounter other challenges to their male peers. However, they can have a very different starting point to men. Women are generally raised to be prudent and defensive. Girls as young as eight, experience inappropriate sexual conduct. See our infographic on the strategies that men and women employ to avoid inappropriate sexual conduct. You can see that men have one.
Perception is everything
Regardless of geography, all research suggests that around 85% of women experience sexism both in the workplace and outside it. Research from Ipsos Mori/European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights/Stop Street Harassment suggests that both men and women underestimate the level of sexual harassment women experience. For the sake of balance, it should also be noted that the number of men reporting inappropriate sexual conduct is also on the increase and comes from both other men, as well as women.
Perception also plays a key part. When you are part of the “in-group,” the gender lens has a rosy hue. A study from Lean In found that 55% men believe their organisations are taking sufficient action to address disrespectful behaviour toward women quickly. Only 44% of women believe the same thing. A CEO told me he had a gender balanced board. There was only one woman on it. In training session I facilitated, of 53 senior leaders in a major consulting firm, the men claimed that the organisation had achieved gender parity. There were 8 women in the room.
During a workshop which gave participants the opportunity to give anonymous feedback, leaders were surprised and dismayed to see the degree and reasons for discontent amongst the female employees. This came from an employee level where churn for women employees was high and the management struggled with retention. They have now set up focus groups to address the issues.
Walk in your shoes – inclusive mentoring
Mentoring is about a senior person sharing their experiences of their career to guide and advise the mentee through critical career issues. It’s comes from having an understanding of what is going on for them, because they have been through the same process. The phrase “walking in their shoes” is one I hear frequently. But have they?
This is something that is not easy for men to fully understand especially when viewed through the eyes of those in the in-group. It’s can be difficult for them to empathise with the challenges female mentees face. It can be especially bemusing if they feel that any issues are already being dealt with. Bill Proudman CEO and Founder of White Men as Full Diversity Partners talks about the power and impact of being in the ”in-group” and contributing to the dominant culture often times without even realising it.
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Men frequently relate their own relationships with women as wives, partners, daughters, mothers or siblings to the situations of their colleagues and direct reports. This is their frame of reference and their “manscript”. They struggle to connect their personal experience of the workplace to what is happening elsewhere, particularly the two situations are not aligned. This is in the face of extensive research that illustrates otherwise.
At times they have a hard time accepting even reputable research projects which might give another perspective, even though the research sample can be many thousands. I am quite often asked for resource lists after training sessions, not because participants want to read more on a topic, but because they doubt my word! This is an experience echoed by many women. Gender first, professional credentials second, is something women encounter frequently.
Bill Proudman told 3Plus in an interview how he dealt with “diversity hostages” which is what he calls men who have a hard time accepting diversity and inclusion issues.
“it’s not my place to tell you what you believe. It’s my place in a corporate setting to help you understand the impact of your behaviour, and if you’re in leadership role you’re going to have to change your behaviour. You don’t need to change your beliefs, you may choose to do that in time on your own, but that’s not mine or anybody’s place to do that”.
Changing personal behaviour
By the time women enter the workplace they are already very aware of their position in the power structure, and many don’t know how to navigate the barriers which are very often invisible. When working with male leaders in organizations, the ideas that are frequently the most difficult for them to look at, and even identify, are the “in-group” behaviours and they are part of it.
These are typically the range of male coded behaviours that appear completely normal to them, which can be non-inclusive and even sexist. This includes speaking over people, interrupting, challenging aggressively, binary thinking, deferring to another man over a woman and over powering non-verbal communication.
The mantra of “think male think leader” is at the core of in-group male privilege. And while this cultivates a group of people who are very alike, it also leads to “group think,” which encourages the dominant culture to prevail. This places a high value on masculine behaviour traits and values which women are encouraged to adopt. However, when women do exactly that, they experience a backlash. In basic terms, male dominance in leadership perpetuates more male leaders.
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Leaning in, is out
In three different events this month I have been asked what men can to do to increase the confidence of their mentees and female reports. But women are now so “leaned- in” they are almost horizontal. What these men don’t ask is what they can change to make their own cultures more inclusive so that women will feel comfortable and confident speaking up. This includes examining their own “normal” behaviour. To get to this point they must have a better understanding of the female experience of corporate culture.
3Plus International can offer your company a range of mentoring solutions to ensure women in your company succeed at every step of their careers.