Exploring healthy masculinity

On 30 October of this year, a group of 23 men and women from a variety of industries and professions met at an Executive Dinner Round Table sponsored by Mercer and held at their offices in Tower Place in London. The topic of the evening was Engaging Men in Accelerating Diversity: What Do We Need to Do?

Ray Arata and Ed Gurowitz, founders of the Inclusionary Leadership Group consultancy and the Better Man Conference led a discussion focusing on “healthy masculinity”, a subject they have been working on for many years. They define healthy masculinity as a culture for men that is freed from outdated masculine norms. In addition to their professional work, both men are associated with The ManKind Project, a 35-year old organization in fifteen countries including the UK.

The discussion over dinner began with a focus on what organisational and personal barriers and blind spots need to be overcome to advance men’s engagement. Prominent suggestions of barriers and blind spots included cultural norms that dictate how boys and girls are raised, stereotypes of what men and women are capable of, the lack of great male role models at the top of companies, lack of recognition by men of what women’s experience is in the workplace, and frustration about the slow pace of change, sometimes called “diversity fatigue.” Arata emphasized the importance of organisations seeing the diversity conversation as a leadership development issue for the C-Suite, rather than relegating it to HR or a Diversity and Inclusion department where it is likely to be seen as tangential rather than as something to be taken on at the level of the organizational system or culture.

One conclusion from the discussion was that true diversity in the business world will not be achieved until and unless organizational barriers are removed. Since even today, organisational power is predominantly in men’s hands, this makes the engagement of men as partners to marginaised groups vital to making progress.

From there the discussion turned to what those in the room can do to overcome these barriers and achieve progress. Here the group’s input included engaging organisational leadership, being more authentic and vulnerable in interactions with others, becoming aware of our own challenges and biases, recognizing the privileges that we all have and the challenges that marginalised (less privileged) groups face, making men aware of the impact they have on their children’s attitudes, expanding the trend of mandated quotas for Board representation, and more.

When it came to what each attendee was personally going to do to make a difference, those present committed individually to speaking up more about why this is important, calling out bad attitudes and behaviours, getting coaching to raise self-awareness, and planning more events to bring like-minded people together and to reach out to those not yet aware. The group committed to staying in conversation via a private LinkedIn group and taking further action going forward with a goal of rewriting the norms for leadership to drive change. Arata and Gurowitz were already planning to bring the Better Man Conference to London in 2020 (it has been held over the last 4 years in San Francisco, New York, and New Jersey) and the group expressed their enthusiastic support for this.

An important consensus from the evening was that diversity is not a women’s issue or an LGBTQ issue or an issue of people of colour, etc., nor is it an issue for which men are at fault or to blame. Rather it is an issue that affects and limits all of us, both in the workplace and in our personal lives. There was common agreement that it is an issue whose time has come and that we all need to work together if we are to accelerate progress. Those present, along with those who attended a hands-on workshop the next morning, committed to creating an online group to keep the conversation alive and to further advance the cause of diversity in the UK, and particularly in London companies. It was acknowledged that there are other organisations such as One Loud Voice for Women and Women on Boards UK, some of which were represented at the dinner, that are working in the same area and the group expressed the importance of partnership with these groups rather than working in competition.

Arata and Gurowitz expressed gratitude for the partnership of those present. Arata emphasized that neither intellect nor emotion alone would advance the cause. “Until there is a partnership of head and heart,” he said, “there can be no real progress.” Gurowitz noted that he had never met anyone, men included, who was consciously or intentionally sexist or racist. Rather, he went on, these are cultural biases and norms that become internalized and are maintained by unawareness. “When people become aware of their unconscious biases and their unearned privilege, and aware of the impact these have on others, they naturally want to change their behaviour.”

Part of the problem, they have found, is that in many organisations it seems like men and women work in different companies, Even in companies where there has been an emphasis on diversity and equality, they find in interview assessments that men often feel things are going well, yes there is more improvement to make, but there is good progress. Women in these companies often express that while the men may be well-intended, they feel limited, excluded, and treated differently. One difference that is frequently cited is that “men are promoted on potential and given lots of support, while women are promoted on achievement and left to sink or swim.” A study by the Manpower organization stated that “the most significant obstacle identified is an entrenched male culture, a barrier that even men acknowledged must change”

To meet this culture, Arata and Gurowitz utilise a framework they term The Ally’s Journey™ a four-step process that begins with awareness of unconscious bias and unearned privilege, then owning the impact of these at work and in one’s personal life. The third and fourth steps are learning to listen with empathy and compassion to the experiences of others and then committing to taking new actions. They have used this framework in companies and organisations to good effect.

The host, Robert Baker said “It was an honour for Mercer to work with Ray and Ed to host this inaugural Executive Roundtable Dinner on Engaging Men on Gender Equality. The discussion was rich and passionate and there was clear agreement to work together across genders to accelerate change. It was particularly powerful to see the senior leaders present making personal commitments to drive change.”