While my name and face tend to dominate much of our Better Man media, my success is truly the result of a concerted effort from a team of diverse individuals who believe in our mission. It is not lost on me that as a white, cis-gendered man, my efforts to create workplaces that better reflect our population in terms of gender, race, etc., would not be possible without our team of strong, intelligent, women of color – yet the spotlight is generally on me. In fact, most of our Better Man team is composed of women of color and they are integral, not only in executing their job functions, but also in helping me better understand their lived experiences and perspectives so that I can use that to inform and shape my work with men. These women aren’t afraid to let me know when I make a mistake and for that I am grateful. I am honored to have some of these incredible women share their thoughts on working with Better Man. Please take a moment to read their stories and feel free to share yours with us! – Ray Arata, Founder and CEO of Better Man Movement
The process of working with men doing men’s work is both chaotic and beautiful. Chaotic because men need to walk the fine line of rejecting blame and taking ownership of the impact they have on others. Often, they need to navigate the fear of saying and doing the wrong thing and being canceled. This means that we need to support men in being comfortable with the uncomfortable, making mistakes, and having difficult conversations. Beautiful because this process requires men to open their hearts and minds, to be vulnerable and courageous enough to look in the mirror as leaders. It is a transformational process that brings a lot of hope to my experience as a Latina woman in this country. Unhealthy masculinity was not new for me as I grew up in a machista society. I was so used to seeing unhealthy masculinity portrayed everywhere: in the media, the workplace, and even in my home, which created desperation and hopelessness. Working for Better Man has given me the language, knowledge, and experiences to understand why we need white cis-gender men in the DEI space. But, most importantly, it has given me hope. I wish that the world could see more men like those with whom we work, the leaders we train, and the executives who are prioritizing leading from the heart. Seeing that it is possible to have truly inclusive workplaces even when they are led by men is what inspires me to continue to do the work that I do with the Better Man Movement.
While working at the Better Man Movement, I have learned that we need to appreciate where everyone is in their journey to allyship. This is perhaps the most challenging lesson I have learned. As a woman of color who is passionate about DEI and is always exposed to the intricacies of this industry, it is not always easy to see how some leaders look at DEI from a transactional standpoint as opposed to a transformational one. It has been hard for me to realize that not everyone is where we want them to be and that, in the end, it is part of our work to help them get there with compassion. I have learned that we don’t achieve equality through shame – if anything shaming moves us further away from our goal. Accountability does not involve shame but a level of consciousness and responsibility. We need to create safe spaces that are conducive to vulnerability and courage so that we can encourage action and allyship, not rejection and procrastination. I also want others to know that we cannot achieve equality with one training or initiative. This is a long and rocky journey, where we will have to continuously learn about ourselves and each other.
When speaking to prospective partners about our movement, it is always interesting to hear the various ways people respond to the fact that our founder and chief consultant is a cis-gendered white man: some find it inspiring and hopeful because this man is using his power and privilege in a positive way; some tell us this is probably the best way to get white men to listen because they can better identify and feel less shamed by hearing from someone with whom they identify; others wonder if it is appropriate to give a platform in this space to a cis-gendered white man; and still some are actually turned off by the fact that an area of work that has traditionally been led by the people who are most negatively impacted by the systems that have been built for cis-gendered white men is now, albeit in small part, being occupied by those very same guys.
I agree with all the aforementioned. Growing up in the 80s and 90s in the American Midwest with a white, cis-gendered father who felt threatened by DEI – a man who even used misogynist, homophobic and racist language at times although he was that kind of man who would help literally anyone in need – I had all but written off this archetype of men. Then I met Ray Arata, Ed Gurowitz, John Levitt, and Robert Beaven and, to put it mildly, my faith in men – particularly in white, privileged, cis-gendered men – began a restoration process. Each of these men demonstrates what it means to be an ally in training: they lead with empathy and compassion, they take ownership of their words and actions, and when they mess up, they apologize and commit to doing better.
After a few months of work with these white men, and after nearly 20 years of avoiding conversations with my father, I decided to ask my father to attend a Better Man Conference. That was not easy for me but with the support and encouragement of my colleagues at Better Man, I gathered my courage and invited this man who I had all but given up on to attend and just be present. What happened afterward gave me the dad I had longed for and had nearly given up on. Today, I finally have a relationship with my dad, and it is truly a testament to the vision, work, and support of the Better Man guys.
So, do I think that there is still a disproportionate amount of weight given to the voices of white, cis-gendered men in this world? Absolutely. Do I understand the hesitation some people might have in partnering with men to develop more inclusive cultures? You bet. Yet, given my personal experience and observations, in recognizing that men often respond best to other men – especially when they engage in safe spaces, devoid of shame and blame, and instead replete with support, love, and understanding – this work is one wherein I say MORE MEN, PLEASE!
When I began working with the men of Better Man, I must admit, this DEI world was one I was not even remotely familiar with.
I grew up in the 70’s and 80’s a sheltered kid and it wasn’t really until I became an adult and moved to a predominantly white Washington State, did race conversations with white folks really become a part of my life. Then, when my two children became teens and young adults, I began to learn more about the LGBTQIA+ world and began to see how that world fit (or didn’t) into the cis-gendered white man’s world.
Working with the Better Man Movement and another organization in the DEI space, I was astonished to know that there are currently movements of white people working along with people of color that are actively seeking to create more equitable and inclusive workspaces and more! Should I have known this? I still don’t know the answer to that, but here we are. Part of what the Better Man Movement teaches or reminds folks is that we are not here to blame or shame. So, the same goes for me. I will not be ashamed to say that four years ago, I was completely oblivious to this movement.
Working with the men on the Better Man Movement team has been a welcome learning experience for me. I have had the opportunity to learn more about them and their ideas, and work in a space where having open and honest dialogues about topics that are not just important to me as a black woman and ally to my LGBTQIA+ friends and family is welcomed and encouraged. Being able to gently, and sometimes maybe even not so gently say “this is how this landed for me despite the intention.” That is the whole point! Heart-based leaders care about how they interact with their team and the world around them. Now, does this mean that every relationship and every interaction are going to be just peachy? No; that is not realistic, and some personalities just do not click. However, making the effort to dialogue, listen, share, be empathetic and admit where you are in the process is HUGE!
Working with the clients and conference attendees has been amazing and eye opening. There is a genuine desire to know better and to do better. Even when someone struggles with that, this is a community of people that says, “Okay, no shame or blame, where can we go from here?”. I have learned more about meeting people where they are and going from there. This work can be messy but working with these men at BMM who look like the men we are trying to reach is a benefit. There is a comfort there and if that is where it needs to start, then let’s do that and introduce the voices that will be able to put truth, context, and perspective into the conversation. We offer a safe space for people to share their stories, their feelings, and their vulnerabilities. I have cried, cheered, and walked away from our conferences hopeful for the future that there are so many people, allies, out there that are determined to make positive changes in the current generation of people. I am hopeful because this movement will lead to more healthy masculinity and humanity in the coming generations.
Explore the rest of our website and learn more about our upcoming conference at www.bettermanconference.com