The Ally's Journey: Engaging Men At The Organizational Level

Companies that recognize the critical importance of an inclusion strategy, with an intentional focus to engage the men in their organization, will win the talent recruitment and retention challenge. Furthermore, companies inspiring their executive management to lead from the heart and engage male allies to have a higher likelihood of creating a culture where everyone can bring their whole self to work.

Six years ago I started my journey as an ally in training. I made it a priority to bring attention to the importance of engaging men in support of advancing women at a company level within the context of gender partnership. At that time the only people who expressed an interest were the women! Most of them were involved in women’s employee resource groups and occasionally had diversity and inclusion or HR role. Unfortunately, despite their initial enthusiasm and support, once they approached the organization and came face to face with the “wall of men”, the conversation was over before it started.

Since then, I’ve noticed a big shift,  in part due to the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements. Now, my conversations with diversity and inclusion professionals start with a question or two; What is your current strategy? Are you including men in your inclusion efforts? After a prolonged silence what I hear usually ranges from “we don't have an emphasis on men as we incorporate what we do with men in our diversity and inclusion strategy ”. I also hear “we don’t want to do something just with the men because that might send the wrong message”.

What is now being voiced as well is, “ We are now hearing from our men, particularly the white men, that they feel excluded. “ What is particularly promising is that there are a number of men inside these organizations that want to be included, to be part of the solution, to be allies and partners. Millennial men are at the forefront of this shift. The time has come for companies to put both intention and attention on the men in their organization if what they seek to create is a truly inclusive culture. For this to happen, there has to be an awareness of the current environment as a result of #MeToo and #TimesUp movements and the resulting backlash in corporate America.

To move from the calling out phase starts by meeting men where they are at, giving them a chance to share and address their fears and concerns. This is the best chance for them to transcend their fear and be supportive. Second and just as important is to replace outdated masculine norms that have historically driven male behaviors with healthy masculine ones. The questions that a growing number of companies are starting to ask range from, “can you come in and talk to our senior men”, to  “can you support us in working with our middle managers, also known as the “frozen middle”, to “can you come into our company and work with a mixed gender audience on what it means to be an ally? The answer I respond with beyond a “yes of course” is a follow on the invitation that what is required is a commitment to a culture change that is inclusive of everyone, men included. What is also extremely important to recognize is that this commitment is all about a journey…the ally’s journey. In my 20 years of men’s work I have come to recognize that when men consciously choose to be better men, it’s not a one and done thing. Many companies don't want to hear that it's a process. Pain, while often a primary motivator, doesn’t need to be. Companies that see the opportunity of a strategy that engages men, and gets in front of pain as a motivator, will be better for it.

This means that the strategy includes men at the top, men in the middle and that women and underrepresented groups are playing integral parts of the culture shift as well.

It is essential that senior men are engaged, both at the head and the heart level. When middle managers see these men walking the talk, THAT is what they emulate. The goal is to reach a point where men begin to act as allies when nobody is looking. When men are comfortable calling out unacceptable behavior in other men, then the seeds will be sown for a truly inclusive culture.

Over the past 3 years, we’ve had great success in digging into these topics at The Better Man Conference. We’ve grown from a single conference in San Francisco to hosting the conference in New York City and working with organizations to bring the tools of inclusionary leadership and the Better Man Experience internally. As the saying goes, more hands, less work. We also believe more heart, more help. Reach out if you have questions, comments or want to know more.

Ray Arata