In order for there to be successful DEI initiatives that support cultures of belonging, men must not only be part of them, they need to be included. This requires that we all seek to understand men.

Over 24 years ago, I had my first true authentic experience of real men. I was amidst a wake up call in my life …a marriage break up and a business partner betrayal all in the span of 6 weeks, and I was fortunate enough to have another man in my life reach out to me. He was a manager in the financial services industry.  He actually called me out on my behavior, and what happened behind the closed door of his office is still fresh in my mind. It was the way he gave me the feedback…it sounded eerily similar to my wife’s feedback and this caught my attention. I shared my observation with him and I waved my white flag of surrender and said, “I need to do something about this because this is not the man I want to be.” (You can read more about this in my first book, Wake Up, Man Up, Step Up:Transforming Your Wake Up Call to Emotional Health and Happiness)

My manager encouraged me to attend a men’s weekend, an initiation into healthy manhood. I was so desperate that I decided to go. The men staffing that weekend were in their hearts, they spoke the truth, they listened, they supported me, and they taught me about accountability.  They taught me how to connect to my emotions and offered me a “rewrite” on what it meant to be a man. I left feeling awake and alive for the first time and joined a men’s group (the ‘emotional gymnasium’ as I call it) and here I am, 24 years later, 57 mens weekends, and 16 Better Man Conferences. I think it’s fair to say that I have a pretty good understanding of men. It’s my desire to want to reach out to and connect to all men to include them that has me writing this blog in particular.

When I embarked on my learning journey in the Diversity Equity and Inclusion field, I spoke to lots of DEI professionals. I spoke to hundreds of men and women. As I replayed the conversations in my head, what came to me was what I now refer to as the Five States of Men.

The Five States of Men

For twenty plus years  I’ve made it my mission to “meet men where they are”. In the corporate allyship and leadership arena,  men articulate and/or signal where they are with their language and action/inaction. This is not only important for practitioners like myself, but also for my DEI colleagues tasked with the necessity to engage men as allies to support their DEI initiatives.

It’s also important for anyone heralding from a marginalized group seeking support and being supported by these men.

Over the years, I’ve heard men self-describe where they were with respect to equality, being an ally, and participating in their company’s DEI efforts. I’ve listened to them share their current experiences, their frustrations, their aspirations, and more. From these anecdotes, I have categorized the states of men inside organizations.

Some men believe that their companies’ DEI efforts threaten their jobs.

These men, by virtue of their perception of DEI efforts as a threat, demonstrate how their privilege is invisible to them when they articulate that “their” job is threatened. The key word indicating that point is “their”—as in, their job. It isn’t their job; they don’t have a preordained right to it over anyone else.  My friend and colleague Michael Kimmel, an activist and author, says, “Privilege is invisible to those who have it.”

Organizational Guidance: Support these men to understand their own privilege by humanizing it, and to realize that with privilege comes responsibility as well as the opportunity to use it for good, is the approach we need to take.

Some men don’t feel included in their companies’ DEI efforts.

Many companies have supported the establishment and maintenance of employee resource groups, creating communities inside companies for LGBTQIA+ folks, women, BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color), diverse abled/disabled, veteran, religious, neurodivergent, and many more. There are very few companies that have ERGs for men. As a result men who want to be part of a company’s diversity efforts can join other ERGs and begin to learn about becoming an ally, but what this scenario doesn’t do is center whiteness, nor does it create a sense of community for men. As a result, it doesn’t fulfill men’s desire to be more involved.

Organizational Guidance: Providing men with training that supports allyship, and encouraging men to start an ERG, is another option. 

Lots of men are afraid to say or do the wrong thing, so they say and do nothing!

Unfortunately, many men feel this way. They are the bystanders. Therefore they are complicit.

Organizational Guidance: These men need to have the opportunity to learn, as well as other leaders inside their own organizations, to be models of allyship and inclusion.

Some men want to be part of the solution but don’t know what to do or say.

These are the men you want to activate and build your company with as leaders, helping other men become part of the overall solution of creating an inclusive organization.

Organizational Guidance: These men need to be taught what an ‘ally-in-training’ looks like thus utilizing them to build momentum inside your organization to legitimize allyship efforts. I often suggest that DEI professionals focus on this group of men first. They are eager and are usually willing to bring along other men. 

A few select men are already acting like allies and already understand

These men are the ones who get it. They don’t need training because they already act like allies and inclusionary leaders. These guys attend other ERG events, often sponsor events in an executive capacity, and may sponsor others in the organization that don’t identify as they do.

Organizational Guidance: These guys are needed in the strategy of enrolling other men. I encourage companies that are considering training or participating in the Better Man Conference (now the Better Together Conference) to “stand up” these types of leaders in front of their workforce, support training efforts with the idea that other men will see, respect, and follow these men, and create the ability to own what an inclusive company can look like. 

Knowing these factions of men is helpful. Behavioral change requires a deeper look while understanding what is currently driving men’s behavior.

At this year’s Better Together Conference, we will take a closer look at these states along with what are the lived experiences of executives that do not identify as men. We will also hear from other male executives who are leading the way inside their organizations through the creation of ERGs specific to men.

Written by Ray Arata


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