The “Men Who Get It” Project

Susan notes:
this guest blog post is by executive coach Lynn Harris, author of Unwritten Rules: What Women Need To Know About Leading In Today's Organisations; it was recently published on The Glass Hammer, online community designed for women executives in financial services, law and business. I love Harris's new project finding, interviewing and writing about "men who 'get it.'" Are you one? Or do you know a man who is? Contact Harris or me with the details.

Since publishing Unwritten Rules: What Women Need To Know About Leading In Today's Organisations, I’ve worked with others to try to get more women in positions of senior leadership.

Basically all change efforts boil down to the same thing - can we get people to behave differently?

In this case:

  • Can we get shareholders to appoint more women to their boards?
  • Can we get CEOs to create gender-balanced teams to lead their organizations?
  • Can we get professional services firms to operate differently so that more women stay and make partner?
  • Can we get political parties to field equal numbers of men and women candidates, and then get journalists and voters to give women a fair chance?

So far, the answer in all cases has been “no” or “rarely”. Women achieving senior levels of leadership still make the news.

Along with countless other women, I will continue to bang my head against these particular brick walls, trying to convince men who hold most of the power at the top of organizations and governments to accept the business case that gender-balanced teams are better for business and governance.

But the uncomfortable reality is that, no matter how many studies indicate that companies with more female senior leaders outperform those with the least in return on equity, return on sales and return on invested capital - the guys at the top aren’t buying it.

No matter how often we state the case that women and men working together are likely to make better and less risky governance decisions, we still see predominantly male governments and boards.

In 2011, I plan to take a different approach in my quest for gender-balanced leadership.

Bright Spots

In their book, Switch: Switch: How To Change Things When Change Is Hard, Chip and Dan Heath talk about the importance of finding and using “bright spots” to bring about change.

A “bright spot” is where the change you want is already working. If we want to effect change it makes sense to search out the bright spots, find out why they are successful, spread the good news and attract others to want to join it or clone it.

It’s about creating or highlighting positive results that others then want to be a part of.

Men Who Get It

man_in_circle_2.jpgSo where are our bright spots in gender-balanced leadership?

There are men who don’t just talk about believing in women - they challenge their own gender stereotypes by taking action to support, advocate and promote women.

They are the new role models for 21st century men and we would do well to engage them in our conversations about how to achieve gender-balance in our organizations and governments.

In finding and highlighting these bright spots we might be able to attract other men to be curious and perhaps even to join them.

So how do you spot a “man who gets it”?

“Men who get it” share some of the following characteristics and actions:

  • They are full life partners, playing an equal role in parenting and the home
  • They speak out against sexism
  • They are aware of gender stereotypes and are not constrained by them
  • They mentor and advocate for women
  • They promote women to join men in leadership positions because they know it makes good business sense
  • They intentionally create gender-balanced teams and workplaces for better performance
  • They find creative ways to keep and promote women who take career breaks
  • They are prepared to step off the career ladder and take the lead in parenting
  • They want to be included in the conversation about gender equity
  • They are cool, 21st century men who want women to be themselves and bring something additive and different to the table.

The “Men Who Get It” Project

In 2011 I will interview “men who get it” to find out how and why they support and advocate for women, both inside and outside the workplace - in fact, I have already started.

I’ve interviewed Anders Karlstrom, a senior leader in the pharmaceutical industry in Sweden, who sees maternity leave as no barrier to recruiting and retaining the talented women he needs. He develops long-term working relationships with his women leaders and works with them to plan their career breaks and their re-entry.

I met with Carl Otto, a highly respected, international senior leader in financial services who has consistently recruited and promoted talented women in a traditionally male dominated industry. He also developed a measurement tool that, amongst other things, shows how and why women often make better investment decisions.

And I spoke with Josh Reiman, a graduate student at  George Washington University, who firmly believes that both women and men would gain from increased collaboration. In his article, “The Women’s Movement Needs Men,” he writes:

"Unfortunately, the women’s movement remains continuously unwilling to bring men into the fold; such concerted effort would transform their cause from one that is largely by and for women into an all-inclusive social movement."

These are three examples of “men who get it”, and there are many more out there, which is where you come in, if you’d like to get involved.

Get Involved - find the bright spots

Do you know any “men who get it” - men who live some of the ten characteristics listed above? If so, please send them this article and ask if they are willing to be interviewed. If you have a good candidate who is wiling to tell me his story, please e-mail me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

I’m convinced we can make great strides to achieve gender-balanced leadership, and I think we’ll achieve it much faster if we include rather than exclude men who are already our allies.

After all, isn’t a collaborative approach one of our great strengths as women? Let’s use this strength to accelerate the changes we want. I look forward to hearing from you.

Related links:
20 Reasons Why We Still Need The “F” Word
If Women Ruled The World, Would Business Be Any Better Off?
Unwritten Rules Keep Women From Plum Corporate Posts
Better Learn the Unwritten Rules If You Want To Succeed In A Man’s World!