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Henley Leadership Group Blog

Men, It's Time To Take A Risk


Previously published on Forbes.com.

Men are scared as they watch leader after leader outed by women for everything from aggravated sexual assault to inappropriate speech.

You may be wondering, “Am I next? Did I do something last week, last month, or ten years ago that some woman will now air publicly, threatening my job, my career and my family?”

Men in positions of power have good reason to be concerned. According to the data, chances are you have done something, somewhere, at some time, to some woman… and she has not forgotten about it.  With the #MeToo movement showing no signs of slowing down, she is increasingly likely to talk about it, publicly, on social media, where everyone will see it. Over half of U.S. women have experienced inappropriate and unwelcome sexual advances from men, according to an ABC News – Washington Post poll.  30% percent of all women have experienced unwanted advances from male co-workers. And 25% report that those advances have come from men with influence over their jobs and careers.

Those are the facts. And women are saying, “enough.” This is an exciting moment. Properly approached, it can be good for business - and an opportunity for male business leaders to right their ships, attracting the best and brightest women. A new perspective.

Of course, you may think all of this is overstated and unfair. After all, you’vetreated women well. At least, you’re pretty sure you have. You can’t be positive because you have unconscious biases about women, and you’ve acted on those biases in one way or another. Yes, you have. Everyone has. Men have biases about men, too, and women have biases about other women, and on and on. Biases are part of making decisions; without them, we’d be unable to choose. However, unconscious bias tends to favor the decision maker, and historically, most decisions in business and government have been made by men. This creates problems (often unperceived) by men in organizations that require the participation and contribution of women. As you have learned in your career, problems, when unaddressed, become bigger problems. And now, here we are.

As a man in a position of leadership, your challenge is to address this problem, starting with yourself. Just as ignorance of the law is no excuse, bias blindness – the kind that leads otherwise decent men to make women run for the hills (or turn to social media) – is an equally poor excuse. Leaders are responsible for knowing their impact on those they lead. This requires understanding the beliefs that drive your behavior. If you haven’t begun examining how you think about women, it’s time to start. Others have. At HP, senior leaders are currently in unconscious bias training as part of their diversity and inclusion initiative. They’re having uncomfortable conversations about what they really think, and how they really act.

So, guys, what do you really think, and how do you really act?

Take the Bias Test:

  1. Women like to receive compliments about their physical appearance. (T/F)
  2. Women will stop working once they start a family. (T/F)
  3. Women are less likely than men to ask for a raise or promotion. (T/F)
  4. In today’s workplace, women and men are treated equally. (T/F)

Now, before reading further, see how you did. (Answers at end of article.)

Addressing your Biases:

You probably did well. That doesn’t mean you’re unbiased; that means you know how to take tests. Challenge yourself to discern which answers were completely honest and those that you knew were the “correct” answer.

We are always making judgments and decisions about others informed by our unconscious biases. Having unconscious biases does not make you a bad person; they simply make you human. However, not examining them, and allowing them to drive your behavior, will put you and your business in jeopardy. As a leader, how you think, feel and behave shapes how the people at your company think, feel and behave.

This kind of introspection is mandatory today to grow as a leader. Delegating the work to a diversity committee won’t be enough to address how you’ve shaped the culture around you. You need to do it yourself.

Adults who acknowledge their biases are more equipped to handle gender, racial and social challenges than those who claim they are not biased, according to 2015 research conducted at the University of Vermont.

It’s time for some introspection.

The first rule of leadership is to know thyself. You must surface and examine your own biases. Why? Because they drive your actions: who you hire, promote, trust, praise, listen to, delegate to, and fire. In many ways, they determine the success or failure of your organization.

When you begin to examine your biases, openly, others will follow your lead. That’s why it’s called leadership. Have faith that the courage to do the right thing today will pay off tomorrow, perhaps in unexpected ways.

  1. False. They do not. In fact, it is undermining, according to a recent article in HBR. Nor do they need your chivalric protection. That’s called “benevolent sexism.”
  2. False. Less than 2% of women are planning to leave the workforce to have children.
  3. False. Women ask for raises and promotions at comparable rates to men. In fact, senior-level women ask for promotions more often than senior-level men. Despite this, women are still not advancing at the same pace as men, according to McKinsey’s 2017 “Women in the Workplace” study. In other words, women do ask; men say no.
  4. False. Over a third of women say their gender “has played a role in missing out on a raise, promotion, or chance to get ahead,” according to the McKinsey “Women in the Workplace 2017” study.