Why Men Need to Step Up and Engage in Diversity & Inclusion

Diversity and inclusion drive improvements in financial performance, recruitment and retention, innovation, and leadership effectiveness. Some organizations have seen success in D&I initiatives, while in others there may live complacency, confusion, or caution against drastic changes. With men holding around 80% of senior leadership positions, they have a major role to play.

“Because men at the higher levels of workplaces can take for granted their gender and leadership positions and their acceptance by masculine establishments, research shows they are more able than women to act as public champions—they are often perceived positively, while the reverse is true for female champions of gender equality.”

- from “Engaging Men on Gender Equality” Diversity Council Australia, June 15, 2017.

What is holding men back? Or, if eager to help create change, where can they start? Robert Baker, a Non-Executive Director at Spktral & CEO of Potentia Talent Consulting, will share how men can step up and engage in D&I initiatives at next month's virtual Global Conference 2020. Learn more about Robert's experience as a leading Diversity and Inclusion consultant and the trends he's seeing today.

Despite efforts to create a fairer balance of power, women still hold only around 20% of senior leadership positions1. What do you think is holding companies back from fully engaging in D&I initiatives?

There are multiple factors as to why there are around 23% of women in Executive Positions globally. Many companies are trying to address and engage in diversity and inclusion but most have not discovered what really works. Let’s look at the proven steps companies can take to drive gender balance:

  1. Passionate and positive commitment from leadership 
    This is critical as the tone from the top drives the commitment throughout the organization. Setting targets and promoting them internally and externally for example regarding the proportion of women in leadership is critical, as a measure of the organization’s ambition to create change.
  2. Culture of inclusion and belonging
    Creating a culture of belonging for all people.
  3. Evidence-based strategy 
    Good data and analysis of the key drivers of change are critical so the organization can understand where the potential roadblocks are and base its people's decisions on the facts. Measurement of results is also critical to monitoring progress towards the goals.
  4. Policies and processes that support diverse talent, particularly around hiring, retention, and progression.
    Policies on parental leave and flexible working are particularly relevant to supporting women and men as they develop their careers.

You mentioned that a culture of belonging is critical. AESC’s Executive Talent Magazine article, 'The Business of Belonging', states that “belonging may be the key to retention, risk-taking, and engagement.” What role do you think men in particular play in creating a culture of belonging within an organization?

Let’s start by acknowledging that culture is central to an organization’s way of working – it reflects the organization’s values and determines how the strategy gets delivered by its people.  Belonging is clearly a vital component of culture for successful organizations. In Deloitte’s 2020 Global Human Capital Trends Report, 79% of survey respondents said that fostering a sense of belonging in the workforce was important to their organization’s success in the next 12–18 months, and 93% agreed that a sense of belonging drives organizational performance—one of the highest rates of consensus on importance Deloitte have seen in a decade of Global Human Capital Trends reports.

One of the burning questions about culture in an organization is: who is responsible for creating it? For me, it is clear that leaders play a key role in determining the culture, promoting it and role modeling it for their people. Given that some 80% of leaders are men, men obviously have a huge part to play in creating the culture. Looking at the past, the culture men created was often not inclusive, nor led to a sense of belonging for people from diverse backgrounds. However times have changed dramatically and there is now heightened awareness and pressure from boards, customers, employees, investors and regulators for organizations to be more diverse. This requires organizations to create an inclusive culture: one which enables employees to feel they belong and enables them to thrive.

So what role do men play in creating a culture of belonging? I would argue that what men need to do is what would be expected of any leader, regardless of gender. The first step is for them to determine and truly understand why this is important, or should be important, to their organization and to themselves as leaders. The rationale for a culture of belonging should be clearly linked to the organization’s business strategy. Men need to reach out, listen and learn from all the organization’s stakeholders, including diverse talent, in doing this. They then need to use this input to define the values that the culture of belonging should promote and the behaviours that will translate these values into action. One of the key values that drive belonging is that employees should feel able to bring their true authentic selves to the workplace. Men, especially leaders, need to be comfortable with this and be prepared to role model it themselves. In a LinkedIn Survey, freedom to be yourself “was found to be more important for women than men, possibly due to a pervasive “old boys’ club” mentality in many career paths.” It is clear that one action men can take is to play their part in recognizing and challenging this impediment. Fortunately, it seems that Gen Z and millennial men are particularly keen to do this, but I have found there is a surprising willingness to change amongst older generations of men too.

We have identified that, in order to drive a culture of belonging, men must reflect on the changes that the organization and they as individual leaders need to make in order to create this culture. None of this will work unless these men make a personal commitment to be bold and lead on this and be accountable for change. When employees see their leaders acting in a way that supports the culture of belonging, they will feel engaged and empowered to support the change.

Over 100+ AESC Member CEOs have signed the AESC Diversity Pledge to help create a world that is inclusive, diverse, equitable and accessible for all. What new benefits could arise in a more inclusive and accessible workplace?

The concept of a “workplace” has taken on a different meaning since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and for many who are now remote working the workplace has become virtual or a hybrid of virtual and physical, which has presented its own problems, but also opportunities. Many employees are now balancing work and home in a way they were not given the opportunity to do, prior to March 2020. In this environment, it is even more important that organizations are doing all that they can to ensure the virtual or hybrid workplace is inclusive and accessible.

This is because a more inclusive and accessible workplace is likely to be one where the brightest and best talent wants to work, whatever their background. Various studies show how particularly important this is to GenZ and millennial employees. So if your organization wants to innovate, develop the best products and services and connect better with the new generations of customers coming through, then having an inclusive and accessible workplace is a must.

A more inclusive and accessible workplace has also been shown to enhance how engaged employees feel to go “above and beyond” and shown to build their trust in the organization leadership, both of which are crucial to organizational effectiveness. Employee well-being is likely to be enhanced in a more inclusive and accessible workplace, which enables them to balance their work and life priorities and support their productivity.

Finally, there are clear benefits of improved decision making, as multiple different perspectives can be factored into the decisions made within a team and key risk and return aspects considered in full. This has been shown to contribute to enhanced business performance.

You’ll be speaking at our AESC Virtual Global Conference next month. Can you share a preview of what you’ll be discussing during your session?

I’ll be talking about why men need to step up and engage in Diversity & Inclusion. I’ll be reflecting on the slow progress companies seem to be making in diversity & inclusion (McKinsey says two-thirds of companies have stood still or gone back over the last five years). I’ll be commenting on how men hold around 80% of senior leadership positions but many of these leaders do not seem to care sufficiently about the topic or be engaged in change. But I’ll also be explaining that there are major trends occurring in the world and in business which means that the old pathways to success are no longer going to work. I’ll reflect on my work with men which shows that actually men are keen to change, but they are wary of pushing too hard for this in a culture of long hours where there are traditional views of men’s roles and they don’t always know what they can or should do to bring change. I’ll review the major reasons why men should engage in diversity & inclusion (spoiler alert: one is that it is better for their wellbeing and work-life balance!). And I’ll be discussing the practical steps men can take to engage in D&I.

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1. [Source: Mercer: When Women Thrive 2020 Survey shows women hold 23% of Executive positions)].