Fairness, justice, and opportunities for all are values that I believe resonate in the hearts of most people regardless of their profession. Aren’t these some of the founding principles upon which America was built? Unfortunately, despite the best intentions, life is not fair, never was, and likely never will be, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep striving to make those values come alive in our businesses. Who isn’t inspired to support women who want to put their passion, skills, and talents to work in industries primarily served by men? I don’t think many would disagree that it’s only fair to afford women these opportunities.
Although we may agree on what the vision should look like, we may have different ideas on the best way to bring that ideal to fruition. Media, journals, conferences, and LinkedIn are aflutter with talk about Diversity and Inclusions (D&I) with named women’s groups promoted as the steps toward bringing awareness and action. These women’s initiatives are started by both industry societies and individual companies who are trying to support women.
As I wrote in What Role Do Men Have in Women’s Movements, any women’s initiative in a male-led industry that excludes men risks underserving its mission by eventually becoming a social outlet versus a sustainable empowering program. Why? Because when one sex holds the power, there are only two ways that power can be distributed: (1) those in power willingly sharing it and (2) the underserved taking it forcefully through legislation, guilt, bribery, or punishment.
Feminism, Affirmative Action, and the Me Too initiatives were all social and/or legislated initiatives that used some level of force to change the relationships between men and women. Although these approaches had positive outcomes, they also created unintended consequences such as resentment, fear, hiding, and hoarding, and are not fully sustainable when the applied pressure is released. A more sustainable approach to equalizing power is to encourage men to voluntarily share it.
I readily admit that we live in a world where many people are working towards accumulating power, so why would they give it away? Because some men are not primarily motivated by power and are willing to spread it around. How can this be achieved? By inviting men to participate in the process. Not only will men help build momentum, they’ll be able to help work through the guaranteed roadblocks.
My recommendation to women’s groups, who are trying to promote women in male-dominated industries, is to carefully think about strategy. Men don’t necessarily want to give support to a small defined cause, they prefer to donate their time, money, and influence to win a movement. Men want to get behind a vision that is bigger than themselves. As a business strategist, I would minimize any labels that make it appear as a women’s only initiative and give it a bigger appeal that would naturally be more inviting to men.
Putting energy into promoting a label of “diversity and inclusion” appeals to men, because it implies they are part of its movement. Men need to be included in the group for it to be diversified. Ask for their direct participation to help create more opportunities for women. Men will feel more comfortable claiming they are part of a “diversity and inclusion” movement versus a “women’s” movement.
In the end, aren’t women seeking a business environment that reflects diversity and inclusion? If this is true, call it that from the start. You may be thinking, “you say po-ta-toe, and I say po-tot-o, but it’s the same thing.” At its core, the objectives are the same, but a movement needs a good cause as well as a good marketing plan to engage the audience and get them to say yes. Don’t underestimate the power of marketing to advance women in traditionally male-led industries such as chemicals, oil & gas, high tech, and security.
Would love to hear comments from both men and women on this approach to a very current hot topic.
About the Author: Sandra Dillon is a professional coach with an extensive background in leadership and business consulting. She administers DISC® and Myers-Briggs/MBTI® testing, designs and facilitates workshops, and coaches both individuals and teams. She has a passion to help people be the best versions of themselves. You can learn more about Sandra or engage her as your coach by reaching out to her at firstname.lastname@example.org or by visiting her website at www.shinecrossings.com