What will motive men to push for gender balance?

November 5, 2013 0 Comments

Originally published at Take The Lead

With all the talk about the need for women’s leadership today, I often find myself thinking, “Where the hell are the men?”

Not in an angry sort of way (although anger can be useful if channeled well)… more like a, “No, seriously, WHERE are they?” sort of way because I’m genuinely perplexed. With the exception of a handful of folks, so many well-intentioned men who identify as allies and advocates just seem to be silent on the issue.

Where are the men in the women’s movement day-to-day, speaking up for it in service of the betterment of society in general? Where are the men calling for leadership parity?

I’ve wondered about this for years and then came across this piece, “The Trouble With Gender Targets,” by Avivah Wittenberg-Cox, who may have just blown (part of) the whole thing open for me. Wittenberg-Cox gets real about our cultural norms around/love of meritocracy and calls for organizational cultures that enable people to rally behind “an inclusive, aspirational vision” that makes way for gender balance, too.

No matter how we feel about this idea of “merit” or think we feel about it (as Americans, I think our valuing of merit is in our bones more than we realize), it’s hard for people to just do something based on moral obligation, even if it’s the right thing to do. Taken to its extreme, this looks like people standing up for women’s leadership ONLY when it contributes to the bottom line or only when we feel we have to because otherwise it would be clearly discriminatory. But at its best, this phenomenon of unfortunately needing a bit of incentive to do something we really should just be doing anyway reminds me of a community organizing principle from Margaret Wheatley: “People support what they help create,” and this research from MIT in 2010 about women and collective intelligence. Wooley and Malone’s research tells us women make groups smarter, but the focus of their research is the collective intelligence of the group, not women so much.

So in this spirit of an “inclusive, aspirational vision,” could it be that men don’t know their place in the women’s movement? don’t see themselves as a part of it?

Could it be that we need to be working together with men more and using the places we are already working with men on behalf of women’s leadership as points of leverage?

Could men’s (and many women’s) silence around women’s leadership and resistance to gender balance not only be gender bias or an unwillingness to do the hard work of movement building… but also a sign that we’re missing a pretty huge piece of the puzzle?

People want to contribute something to the whole, whether that’s the whole of society or of their organization. Why? Not only just because of this idea of merit, which gets problematic fast, but because we are all connected to each other. Maybe part of why we resist gender targets is because we actually want to feel connected to each other in genuine ways, not just because we should feel connected. As Kaitlin Rattigan wrote recently, the women’s leadership movement truly is not about who makes better leaders; it’s about a collective understanding of what gender equality means.

Does all of this mean we shouldn’t have gender targets? I don’t think so. But as we call for leadership parity, we would do well to talk about the health and effectiveness of the overall system, whichever it may be, not just supporting or promoting women for its own sake.

Oh, and men… as our institutions are grossly imbalanced at the moment, we’re going to need your help on this leadership parity thing. This is your time to be chivalrous/bottom-line driven/bold/wise, be vocal about your support of this movement, or just use your common sense.


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