Men Who Get It

First, let me be clear about how I think things work. I’m what us social scientists call a “social constructionist”. I believe that we, as a society, form rules and norms about what men can and should do and what women can and should do. Then we judge people on their conformity. We all judge. The current focus on unconscious bias as a route to fair treatment springs from this point of view for many kinds of prejudice. We don’t intend to hold or enact bias, but we do, unconsciously, because we’re, if you will, programmed to uphold the social system in which we’re embedded.

Becoming aware of our unconscious bias makes it possible to change our behavior, to become less prejudicial. But that takes intentionality and practice. New habits need to be formed. That’s hard work.

So – Men Who Get It. This is the name of a new project we’re launching at The Impact Seat. We’re starting with women and men because I’ve been immersed as a Ph.D. scholar in the study of gender for over a decade. Also, because many companies have focused on women’s leadership as a primary diversity and inclusion path—and since the needle, at least for top management, hasn’t shifted much towards equity, firms are beginning to look for innovative ideas.

I’m writing a book and compiling the research record relevant to practice. The Impact Seat has designed coaching and training products for executive team members (men) who want to be Men Who Get It.

We believe that Men Who Get It have come to see how some of their behaviors, socially constructed, are at odds with their values. They don’t want to show bias to women at work, and they have set their intentions to not only suppress bias but to actively counteract the bias in the system that holds women down. They’ve had to change their habits and attitudes and make some uncomfortable shifts. That’s hard work – but with a real and meaningful payoff.

Let’s talk about my friend, Jeff. Jeff works at a global financial services firm. He’s been building his career for 15 years and now manages a group of 40 people. Jeff became aware of gender rules (what men can and should do and what women can and should do) through an MBA course and once aware, saw how these rules were impacting his girlfriend, his colleagues at the office. Jeff wants to be part of the solution. One way he does this is to reach out to competent women he knows when he has a job opening, encouraging them to apply. Research tells us that women are less likely to consider themselves qualified for a promotion, as compared to men (on average, in general) even when their qualifications are equal.

Some people credit this to a lack of confidence on the part of women, some to the over confidence on the part of men. Others say women are rational to expect that the system is stacked against them – in any case, the impact of this systemic pattern is that women don’t reach as high, as often (on average, in general). So, Jeff acts as a nudge and a lever– letting competent women know he feels they should reach. It’s a small, but powerful act, and it has a big impact. He’s the only guy in middle management in his section that has about a 50-50 men/women split for direct reports.

Jeff is a Man Who Gets It – he uses his power and influence to unstack the system.

When men take these actions, cumulatively, they develop a track record and that becomes visible to other men in the organization. Change happens. And on that, more to come.

Teresa Nelson, PhD