Men hold the key in driving business-wide support for diversity and inclusion initiatives, but they need to be more present in diversity conversations and “get over” any fear instilled by the #MeToo movement, according to a host of senior female executives.
The crucial role that male business leaders play in accomplishing gender equality formed a major theme in a Women Leading Change panel last week, where three top female executives admitted that too often diversity conversations are led by women.
“Women are very aware [of the challenges], I would love to see more male leadership leaning in and listening,” said Mindshare APAC chief executive and Greater China executive chair Amrita Randhawa. “This is the one thing that is going to set you are apart as an employer of choice.”
Randhawa said she “disheartened” to see around half as many men in the audience than last year’s conference.
Spotify vice-president of advertising Sunita Kaur said the industry needs to move beyond just talking about gender challenges to thinking about ways to “bring men into the fold”.
Facebook Singapore country director Sandhya Devanathan added: “More men stepping up and speaking up for women is the only way we will see change happen.”
The executives agreed more male role models are needed in the industry, to encourage greater uptake of diversity and inclusion initiatives.
Kaur said when Spotify introduced six months maternity and paternity leave, many men in the organisation were hesitant to take up the opportunity.
“They were afraid their jobs would disappear,” she said. “It helped change the internal conversation at Spotify when men realised how important something like that can be.”
Devanathan said Facebook has a number of male leaders “who lead by example”, including co-founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg, who took two months of paternity leave when each of his daughters were born.
“That set the tone for everyone in the company,” Devanathan said.
She claimed there are now more men in her team taking paternity than there are women taking maternity, but admitted “it has taken a while to get there”.
Elsewhere, she said the company’s Singapore-based #WeforShe female mentorship program was launched by men, and men who sign up as mentors are “celebrated as role models”.
But Edelman chief client and operations officer APAC Bob Grove, who was chairing the session, said he had encountered negative comments for being a male diversity advocate.
“I had labels thrown at me for being a champion for gender diversity within my organisation,” he said.
Devanathan and Randhawa said the only labels he should be getting is “awesome”.
However, Grove’s experience suggests there are still barriers in the way of men becoming advocates for change.
This includes the psychological barrier that has been caused by the proliferation of the #MeToo movement which, according to the panel, has triggered nervousness among senior men that is staunching progress on diversity.
A recent US survey by LeanIn.org and SurveyMonkey found that around two-thirds (60%) of male managers are uncomfortable mentoring, working one-on-one or socialising with a woman, an increase of 33% increase from the previous year.
Asked if a more fearful attitude among senior men has had an impact on businesses, Spotify’s Kaur said "sadly it has" but added it was a “bump in the road that we will have to move past”.
“If we have conversations that are one-on-one, especially if they are sensitive, someone else is invited to join the meetings. That could become the new normal,” she added.
Randhawa said that men “should get over it”.
“You can have a third party present if that makes you feel more comfortable, but I hate when that becomes an excuse — when a woman is denied an adequate review because men don’t want to sit down and have a one-on-one conversation,” she added.
Bottom up as well as top-down
Elsewhere, Randhawa suggested that female leadership initiatives could have more of an impact if extended to entry-level positions, rather than simply focusing on women who are already on the path to success.
“We have a programme called Walk The Talk which gets female leaders together to discuss how they can become more assertive around grabbing opportunities,” she said. “I wonder if [it would be better if ] we reversed it to entry level women, so they can feel empowered by the organisation.”
“Is it enough to change culture by leadership - do we need to try more broadly at a grassroots level?” she asked.
Kaur agreed that since young people’s acceptance for a lack of inclusivity and diversity is “much lower”, if they are empowered to engineer change this will seep upwards to the rest of the company.
Meanwhile Devanathan and Randhawa spoke of the importance of setting diversity KPIs and measuring progress.
“There needs to be top down dedication to measuring and reporting this [diversity progress] otherwise the numbers don’t change,” Devanathan said. “If it doesn't get measured it won’t be done.”
Randhawa revealed that Mindshare has piloted extending KPIs on various measures such as gender, skill sets and age to the whole organisation rather than just at a board level, and will be rolling this out to more markets.
She also spoke of the value of having informal networks where employees can voice concerns in a “safe territory”, such as the Whatsapp groups established for WPP’s Walk The Talk and The X Factor development programmes.
“Every time an issue comes up in the group it very quickly gets escalated to my level or Mark [Patterson]’s level,” she said.