Inclusion and diversity took center stage at the Oscars this year–and rightfully so. Hollywood reflects cultural and societal changes in the United States, and gender parity is on everyone’s minds these days. Frances McDormand, the winner of the Academy Award for Best Actress, used her acceptance speech to emphasize the vital need for diversity and inclusion in her industry. On the red carpet, Ashley Judd and Mira Sorvino promoted the movement towards equality for women worldwide.
But what do diversity and inclusion look like in the workplace today? Women and men alike struggle to define the new normal. “What do women want?” ask men. “How can I show my support to my female colleagues?” These questions come up a lot in my work. In fact, during a recent podcast, I mentioned that women can, and should, mentor men to help them understand the issues at hand. Men need mentors too in the #MeToo era.
There’s a lot of talk right now about women mentoring women and men mentoring women, but I think women need to mentor men. If I were a man who saw a personal, moral, or business reason to support gender diversity in my workplace, I would go to a female colleague and ask her to mentor me.
My comment seems to resonate with both women and men.
According to researchers, Anna Marie Valerio and Katina Sawyer,”…gender inclusiveness means involving both men and women in advancing women’s leadership. Although many organizations have attempted to fight gender bias by focusing on women – offering training programs or networking groups specifically for them — the leaders we interviewed realized that any solutions that involve only 50 percent of the human population are likely to have limited success.”
I know this to be true. One of my clients hires me to lead Advancement Strategies for Women workshops. My client had succeeded in raising the number of women in management from 22 percent to 37 percent in four years. But it became clear that without enlisting men’s active support within the company they would only go so far in creating gender balance at the top. That same company is launching workshops for men now, which has been really powerful. After these workshops, men will say things like, “I just realized their KPIs are gender-biased,” or “I never knew that woman on my team wanted a promotion because she was always working so hard.” And the number of women in management continues to grow.
If women and men don’t work together, we won’t achieve equality in the workplace.
Women and men have different communication styles.
Men and women communicate differently, something most of us understand instinctively but don’t always recognize in the moment. Psychology Today notes that while women speak around 250 words a minute on average, men clock in around half of that, at 125. During the course of a day, women might speak up to 25,000 words while men speak around 12,000.
I teach key differences in communication between the sexes. One of them is status and recognition. The research shows that men seek first and foremost to be seen as the most important and the one with the most power in the room. Women primarily like to be appreciated for their accomplishments, hard work, and a job well done. For example, thanking men is fine but isn’t necessary, they don’t need it. In fact, sometimes it’s seen as a sign of weakness. By contrast, not thanking a woman could erode a working relationship. Understanding the differences in communication style is a vital part of becoming an ally to women.
Men can become more astute at recognizing non-verbal signals.
Non-verbal signals abound in the workplace. Women tend to go silent when they are talked over, interrupted or criticized. For example, if in a meeting, a man and a woman are talking and that woman suddenly gets quiet, what should that guy do? He should pivot and start re-engaging her by asking questions and listening more. Or, if he’s in a meeting and his female colleague is interrupted, he can speak up, restate the point she was making and ask her to say more on the topic.
And then there’s the big one. Tears, which are most men’s biggest fear: How to handle a woman who is upset or crying. It’s easy. Men need to do three things: Abandon the need to solve her problem for her. She doesn’t need a solution; she needs empathy and understanding. Next, show you care by saying something like, “It seems like you’re having a hard time. Can I do anything to help?” Finally, listen, just listen. Say a few encouraging words like, “That must be hard.” Or “I can understand how you feel.” I guarantee after thirty minutes of listening and just being there for her; you’ll see a change in her demeanor for the better.
And women. Step up and take on the responsibility for mentoring your male colleagues. Men need mentors too in the #MeToo era. You can make a tremendous difference by doing so. Here are three tips to help you get started mentoring your male colleagues:
1. Be direct and clear. According to the research, men hear better if the information is delivered without couching or soft-pedaling.
2. Be specific, especially if you have an ask: Men are hardwired to solve, and they go to solutions quickly. State exactly what you want them to do.
3. Don’t be critical. Reassure your male colleague that this is a learning process and of course it’s going to be awkward. Like learning another language or skill. It’s not about being a bad guy, but about learning how to be more in tune with what women want and how they expect to be communicated with differently.
So, men? Go find a woman who can mentor you and help you learn how to be an ally in the workplace. And if you feel you need additional coaching, contact me.
Finally, take my survey on perceptions of Sexual Harassment. I’ve replicated a study conducted in Europe, and I’d like to compare the answers of American men and women to the answers of Europeans.
A version of this post was first published on Inc.com.