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I’m With Her: How Men are Contributing to the Women’s Advancement Movement

“Every single person has biases, whether we’re willing to recognize them or not. Yet if you ask most people if they’re part of the problem, they’ll automatically say ‘No.’”

By Hailey Eisen

The son of an immigrant, Victor knows how it feels to be an outsider. The beneficiary of policies that embraced multiculturalism and inclusion, he’s committed to extending these opportunities to women.  

Philip says it’s a business issue. The goal is to retain top talent and expand the strength of the company.

Ramon was raised by a single mother. Equality and fairness matter to him. Why wouldn’t he get involved?

Bill believes there’s no reason why his son should have a better chance to succeed within his company, or any organization, than his two daughters.

Sam was sick of standing by while his male colleagues degraded women. He didn’t want to feel afraid for his baby girl.

For Justin, it was a no brainer. It was 2015, after all.

These are just a handful of individuals who have begun to leverage their power to drive forward a new movement toward gender equality in which men are not only invited to the table—but leading the conversations. Across boardrooms, corporate offices, academic institutions, and governments, men have been raising their hands, asking: “What can I do?”

“Men may be part of the problem—but men have to be part of the solution.”

And the answers they’re coming up with are quite powerful. This is not only an issue of women’s equality, but also the start of a new conversation around masculinity, what it means to be a “good man,” and how gender stereotypes are actually holding all of us back.

From male CEOs stepping down from coveted positions to spend more time with their families, to a handful of jurisdictions worldwide evoking “use it or lose it daddy quotas” leading to a significant increase in men taking parental leave, to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau proudly and publicly proclaiming himself a feminist, it’s evident a shift is underway.

“Men may be part of the problem—but men have to be part of the solution,” says Victor Dodig, CEO of CIBC and Chair of the 30% Club Canada. And he’s optimistic that together, real change can happen. “Twenty years from now I think things will look very different. I believe the composition of leadership within large, medium, and small sized public companies will change dramatically,” he says. “Will it be 50-50? I don’t know, but that should be our goal. I know that when I decide to hang up the cleats I want the opportunity to be equal for a man or woman to run CIBC.”

Within CIBC, Victor has been leading the charge, supporting the advancement of women within all levels of the bank.  He hosts lunches with female senior leaders to ensure he gets to know them personally and understands their journeys, advocates for more female appointees to the CIBC board (which is now comprised of 35% women), and is working on raising awareness around the unconscious biases throughout the workplace that may be holding women back.

“This is not social engineering,” he says, addressing the concerns of his critics. “As I tell the women I’m hiring into executive roles, they’re not here because they’re women—they’re here because they’re talented.”  

At KPMG Canada, unconscious bias training was the first program rolled out by CEO Bill Thomas in an effort to retain more female leaders and help them advance into executive roles. “Every single person has biases, whether we’re willing to recognize them or not,” says the staunch supporter of women’s advancement and a 2015 Catalyst Canada Honours Champion. “Yet if you ask most people if they’re part of the problem, they’ll automatically say ‘No.’”   

BillThomas_400x400450 partners at KPMG, including the entire board and management team, have gone through bias training, 76 percent of whom were men, and the program continues to be filtered down throughout the organization. “The training is hard work, and with the help of an external specialist, we held up a lens to many of the processes we have in place—from the recruitment questions we ask to the way we interview for promotion—and we ensured every process along the journey was not fraught with biases we weren’t aware of.”  

For Bill, an interest in gender equality issues was sparked at home when he realized that as things stand, his son would be more likely to achieve success at KPMG, or any other organization, than his two daughters would be.

“It hits you like a ton of bricks when your kids become the age where you can start to have adult conversations with them,” he says. “And they know this doesn’t make any sense, and so do you.”

The bias training, coupled with KPMG’s Women in Line for Leadership program—introduced to support senior managers in their journey to partnership—has begun to deliver results in just three years. “The good news is, when we started these programs partnership was 16 per cent women; three years later it’s already up to 24 per cent and climbing.”

“I don’t look at gender imbalance as a women’s issue. It’s a business issue.”

Identifying, nurturing, and retaining top talent while filling the pipeline with eligible women for senior executive roles is a business strategy that most men in power can get behind. That’s what brought Philip Grosch, a Partner with PwC Canada, on board.  

“I don’t look at gender imbalance as a women’s issue,” says the 2016 Catalyst Canada Honours Champion. “It’s a business issue. And since there are more men in positions of influence, men have to stand up and be active leaders in driving this forward.”  

Both documented research and personal experience have led Philip to conclude that when a team is diverse and gender-balanced it is more likely to be high-performing and achieve better, more insightful results. “When you bring the top men and top women together, you get diversity of thought and approach, which is always preferable,” he says.

In an effort to understand why PwC was losing top female talent around the mid-career mark, Philip developed the Women In Leadership (WIL) Program, an internal career development program focused on providing insights, tools, networks, and experiences to help position female managers and directors for career advancement opportunities.

The real success can be attributed to the honest and frank conversations that are going on amongst participants who are opening up about the challenges they deal with and the biases they face. “Many women have been leaving the company for the wrong reasons,” Philip explains. “They’ll say, for example: ‘I want to have a family and I don’t think I can stay on and manage both.’ But that’s not true. There are many examples of wildly successful careers, achieved while raising children and caring for aging parents.”

If the goal is to move toward gender balance, which Philip says is perfectly achievable, especially in Canada, he believes something thoughtful and structured has to be put into place in order to see significant improvements. It’s working for PwC. To date, more than 150 leaders have completed the six-month program and retention rates are improving significantly.

Programs geared specifically toward men seem to be contributing to the newfound confidence many male leaders are displaying when it comes to addressing issues which were once considered to be about women, for women, and by women. Initiatives such as #LeanInTogether for Men are offering up celebrity role models and champions alongside tips and practical advice on how to be a 50/50 partner, all-star dad, workplace MVP, and stand-up guy. Essentially, redefining what success should look like for men, both at home and in the workplace.

Organizations_400x400Similarly, MARC—Men Advocating Real Change—is a one-of-a-kind community, designed by the women’s research and advocacy group Catalyst, for professional men committed to creating more equitable and inclusive workplaces. “MARC provides an online platform where men can access resources and tools, engage in conversations, and obtain the perspectives of other men committed to driving change,” says Deb Gillis, CEO of Catalyst. “Beyond that, the MARC Leaders Workshops are global, immersive programs which help participants learn to sharpen their awareness around inequality, unconscious biases, and privilege, while developing and honing the skills to drive change.”

The more men who stand up for gender equality, the better, says Gillis. “What we’re doing is developing male role models who not only make it OK to start thinking about this issue, but more importantly encourage other men to step up and act.”

Only when enough men stand up in the face of unconscious gender bias and the overt misogyny that still exists within many corporate environments, will real change happen.

That’s why the words of former hedge fund trader Sam Polk, written in his July, 2016 New York Times Opinion piece, “How Wall Street Bro Talk Keeps Women Down,” are so powerful and so important. He writes: “If men of status in our wider culture— managers, coaches, politicians, celebrities—insisted that women were spoken not just to, but about, with respect, that would help create a culture where it’s not so scary to be the parent of a daughter.”

The good news is, like Polk, men are standing up in the face of inequality—talking about it, writing about it, and doing something about it. Take Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, for example.  He not only appointed a diverse cabinet that was equally divided amongst men and women, he did so intentionally through the Invite Her to Run program, which ensured there were enough eligible women with a collection of experiences that would position them to move through the pipeline to those leadership roles. “He’s demonstrated a commitment to diversity and inclusion that has resonated strongly in a really profound way with business leaders across the globe,” says Gillis.  

All of this action will slowly lead to a new definition of masculinity—at least that’s what Claudia Chan is hoping for. Founder of the media network S.H.E. Global Media Inc.—which stands for She Helps Empower—and the annual global women’s leadership and lifestyle event the S.H.E. Summit, Chan has been committed to aligning herself with more powerful men who are helping to shape the conversation around equality. The 2016 S.H.E. Summit will include male speakers such as Bacardi Ltd. CEO Michael Dolan and Jack Myers, award winning documentary film producer and author of “The Future of Men: Masculinity in the twenty-first century.”

As women are being empowered to rise and lead through campaigns and movements such as Lean In, Girl Boss, and #LikeAGirl, men, Chan believes, should be supported as they try on more traditionally ‘feminine’ attributes. “The world needs more resources and gathering places, like Fatherly and the Good Men’s Project, which promote a softer side of masculinity, where full-time dads are celebrated and vulnerability is welcome,” she says.  

For Chan, whose son just turned one, the focus on men and boys has become more personal, and the need to start imparting these lessons at a younger age, more urgent.

Academic institutions are a likely place to start. And credit goes to those leading the charge. The University of Waterloo is one of 10 universities around the world, and the only one from Canada, that has committed to take bold, game-changing action to achieve gender equality as part of UN Women’s HeForShe IMPACT 10x10x10 Initiative—an effort that aims to engage governments, corporations, and universities as instruments of change.

Touted as an innovative academic institution with a strong focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math), University of Waterloo is familiar with gender stereotypes. “For one, we are beginning to have interesting conversations with the engineering faculty around how they can structure things differently to bring more women into STEM,” says Professor Corey Johnson, a HeForShe Faculty Advocate.

“Also, this is a great opportunity for universities, often critiqued as ivory towers, to cross-collaborate with corporations,” he says. “We’ve got your future employees in our classrooms, and they’ll take these values they’re learning into the corporate world with them, and they’ll expect different things from their employers as a result.”  

At the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, Ramon Ashirayangkura, a second year MBA student, started the Ally Program—under the umbrella of the Initiative for Women in Business—to provide a safe space for male students to discuss and learn more about gender equality issues and access tools to deal with biases.

“When I was approached to lead this initiative, at first I’ll admit I was oblivious to the issue,” says the Thailand native and tech entrepreneur. “Once I did some research and started reading, it struck me that there was no reason why I shouldn’t be involved.”

From what we’re seeing so far, it’s obvious that awareness is the key to action. And as this awareness continues to permeate corporate, academic, and political arenas, more change will begin to take shape.