Men Engaging Men: The Next Frontier


Connecting with men, engaging them to become allies, to stand for gender equality, to change their behavior to be more inclusive, is akin to throwing spaghetti on a wall to see what sticks. I’ve been throwing “spaghetti” now for close to six years. Even my invitation to come to the Better Man Conference to learn and connect with other men and women with the same goal, just for one day, is a challenge.

It feels like I’ve been doing it in a bubble, stuck in a rut, a pity party of one....until it hit me that there was one thing, right in front of me, that I didn't do FULL OUT. I didn't reach out to other men to help me engage other men. So what did I do? I reached out to women, their organizations, their communities to ask for support. Of course, I had good intentions but...

What I’ve learned is this: despite my very best intentions, if I am asking women to support me in supporting them, there is still a component of placing the burden on the oppressed. I’m not placing them in the victim role by any means, I am simply aware of who is doing the work. That said, I wouldn’t have made the progress I have without the enthusiastic effort and willingness of countless women who have pledged as allies. It’s made it possible and for that I am grateful.

As a male ally in training, I’m only beginning to understand the frustration that women have been harboring for who knows how long to move the needle of gender equality. Typical, I assumed because I’m a man, my access to the inside would make it easier. Not the case. I’ve tried what seems like everything. I’m still trying.

There is plenty of data supporting the merits of more gender-balanced teams and boardrooms. California has even legislated it. Talk to most men about their daughters, sisters, wives, mothers and they have personal motivation to maybe do something. But the data also shows that it still falls short.

Taking our cue from women and the #MeToo movement

#MeToo has shown us men what standing up and speaking up looks like. It’s a real movement that isn't going anywhere anytime soon…except straight at us guys. And it’s YOU, the guys who care, who want to be better allies and leaders. It’s through YOUR courage that you refuse to let silence or fear of making a mistake define you.

Along with it being the right thing to do, there are compelling business reasons why men should be engaged.

  • By engaging male allies companies will be able to tap into and make full use of their talent that they might not be aware of on their existing staff.

  • As a result, companies engaging men to advance women improve and increase their productivity, successful internal team relationships and communication.

But the question remains - how do we get men on board? How do we grow the few engaged men into the many?

How we go from “the few to the many”

I feel compelled to bring attention to the imperative of MEN engaging other men. That starts with me. And if it’s one man at a time, so be it.

Real culture change, where men are acting as allies when nobody is looking isn’t possible until large groups of men join the movement that is defining our lifetime. To be supportive allies working toward gender equality and all that it encompasses. One thing us guys don't have a track record of doing well is coming together for a cause en masse.

Men calling in other men and men calling out men

We need to use what we have…in a good way…for good reasons, without calculating our potential for our own personal gain. The one thing I am focusing my attention on lately is, “How can I, as a man, call in other men, ask for the support of other men, to join me in using their power, their position, their privilege, to engage other men to work for equality.

One of the biggest learnings for me as an ally, especially as a man, is that if I have power, position, and privilege, and I’m the type of guy that wants to support gender equality, then it’s up to me to do my part. Once I am aware of this, then I can become aware of the power of making CONSCIOUS CHOICES. I can choose what to do with my superpowers.

Not only does this include standing up and speaking up for what’s right, but it also requires that I don't stay silent; rather, that I speak out against toxic male behaviors. Even that falls short of what is required. And these times are calling for men who are “all in” to use these superpowers (privilege, power, and influence) to enroll, invite, encourage, challenge, and provide a model for other men to do the same.

Men, at an unconscious level, myself included, have repeated the behavior we saw growing up in many respects. Why? because it was modeled for us? And society encouraged it. NOW we’re in different times that demand different behaviors.

As the founder of the Better Man Conference and the Better Man Movement, I have had to confront the old, outdated masculine norms that say, “don’t ask for help”. The conference and the movement it supports, are bigger than me. When I started doing this seven years ago, I was naive and only reached out to develop relationships with women and women’s leadership organizations. It was what I had been taught to do.

Where are the men?

I have heard this question too many times over the years. Now I can answer, “they’re coming, one man at a time. Slowly but surely, the many good men out there are using their position and power to invite other men in supporting women and underrepresented people.

Part of my "work" is reaching out to men who get it and asking them to invite and engage other men to join the movement. I'm even having a panel at the SF Better Man Conference focusing on Men Engaging Men. We will be hearing from a variety of men from different companies, with different titles on the tactics they’ve used, the challenges they’ve faced, and how they or their awareness are different in the #MeToo era.

Where do you, the men, fit into the movement?

Are you willing to reach out to 5-10 men, preferably with the influence and power to invite other men in their company and community to attend the conference and be a part of the movement of our lifetimes?

Risk Disclaimer: I realize that it’s this kind of ask puts me at risk of hearing a NO. It’s something I believe in, that I’m willing to stand up and speak up for. It’s a risk I’m willing to take. Are you?

Colton Edwards