“I think we’ve been banging our heads against brick walls and talking about how to smash through glass ceilings for too long, and it sounds excruciating. If our question is “what is the most expedient and sustainable way of moving towards gender parity at all levels of our organisations?” I think two significant parts of the answer are men and line managers.”
(Image © 2015 Coaching at Work).
That was my (Jessica Chivers) opener to the joint keynote I had great pleasure in giving with Dianah Worman OBE at this year’s Coaching at Work conference in London. Given the reaction to my speech I thought it worth sharing an extract here about what men can do to shape inclusive workplace cultures where women’s careers can move with the same ease and speed as their male colleagues.
I drew upon the worlds of gardening and politics to make my case and began with the wise words of Grandad Hudman. He’s nearly 90 and used to grow the most wonderful tomatoes – now he gardens by proxy and reminds me constantly that my starting point should always be to get the ground right and that what to plant where, how much to water and when to feed come later.
Shaping the landscape
My grandfather urges us to pay attention to the soil: if we want to maximise the impact of coaching programmnes designed to support women’s career progression (plant food) we’ve got to work on the surrounding culture too (the ground).
Men and line managers are key components of the soil/culture.
Men supporting women at work
I told a personal story of two men who’ve changed my life in the past year: Cllr Alun Davies and Cllr Alec Campbell. They were the catalysts that moved me from banging the drum about the under-representation of women in politics to becoming a councillor myself. I shared some of the behaviours that Alun & Alec have displayed towards me that we need men in organisations big and small and across the globe to be doing much more of if we’re to get more women taking up the senior positions they’re more than capable of doing.
I believe men need to make an active decision to be part of the solution and shape inclusive, balanced workforces. Moreover, that keeping quiet is nolonger good enough and to do so makes men part of the problem.
- RECOGNISING STRENGTHS & HOW THEY CAN BE APPLIED
Thinking about Prochaska and DiClemente’s Stages of Change Model, I was happily ensconced in the pre-contemplation stage of being a politician last April. Yet that didn’t last very long as Alun & Alec had spotted something in me (seeds sown via my husband) and they started talking to me about my strengths and what an asset I’d be to our council.
- BUILDING BELIEF
This piqued my interest and started to build my belief that it was possible for me to do it, that people wanted me to do it and that I’d be good at it. Later on belief building became focussed on election campaign and my ability to win.
- SHARING VULNERABILITIES & MOTIVATION
Alec is a quiet man and is uncomfortable about public speaking and it’s one of the reasons he chose to stand for council – as a way to shift him out of his comfort zone. Him telling me about this vulnerability this encouraged me to share my concerns and for him to address them. We also talked about motivations to become a councillor and he validated mine – some we overlapped on, some we didn’t and that was fine.
- MAKING INTRODUCTIONS
Both Alec & Alun introduced me to people that it would be useful for me to know should I be successful. This is really important because it paves the way for relationships to be built more quickly and therefore for a woman to have a greater impact more quickly.
- DISPLAYING PUBLIC COMMITMENT/CHAMPIONING
Tying in with this, Alec & Alun in their own ways both championed me in the minds of existing councilors in our party and they also championed me in the minds of residents – the people who would be voting for me or not. It’s incredibly powerful when an established male advocates for a more junior female colleague in the minds of other colleagues and clients.
- SEEING & APPRECIATING THE WHOLE PERSON
Alec has taken an interest in me as a whole person – recognising my professional life and introducing me to someone in our field (coaching) who is also involved in politics in a neighbouring town. It looks as though we’ll do some group coaching work together, so that’s been a positive.
- PUBLIC PRAISE & RECOGNITION
In December last year Alec presented me with a framed certificate for ‘outstanding contribution’ on behalf of St Albans City & District Conservative Councillors for various things I’d done to support and energise activities of the local association. This made me feel I was gearing up to join something where my contribution was really wanted and important.
- SOUNDING BOARD & SEEKING ADVICE
Both Alec & Alun were great sounding boards for me throughout the election campaign and reminded me I could contact them any time. They continue to do this and Alun especially continues to seek my views on things.
- FLEXIBILITY ABOUT HOW THE JOB GETS DONE
And there were times I had different ideas about the best way to run my election campaign and they listened and encourage me to try it. They were flexible and understood my other commitments – my children, my work, my husband, my dog. And this goes back to seeing and appreciating the whole person.How much better would our wellbeing and our productivity be at work if we could talk openly about the rest of our lives? We need male leaders especially to do this.We know from academic research that self-disclosure builds liking and trust and strengthens relationships. Senior men talking about life beyond work to junior colleagues is a ‘soil enhancer’ in my mind. It shapes a culture where women can thrive and a case in point is a coachee of mine who’s a lone female at her level in a technology company and she says it’s the divorced dads who are the most supportive of her as a woman returning from maternity leave. She doesn’t have to do any pretending with them.The list of great behaviors go on and I’m delighted to say all of these things continue now that I’ve been elected and are part of the team.
Views from the audience
“Thank you Jessica for your excellent keynote.”
Professor Stephen Palmer, City University.
“Jessica Chivers is a passionate advocate for women in the workplace, and it was a pleasure to hear her speech, and her insistence that it is culture and people, not policy, that has to change. I was inspired, too, by her inclusion of men – that we have to speak out and champion women and pay attention to our own blindness. It’s time for men to not just be not part of the problem but for us to be an active part of the solution. Ultimately, a workplace, and a wider society that is equal, fair and inclusive of all, is a workplace and a world that will be richer for all of us.”
Aboodi Shabi, Transformational Coaching and Leadership Development.
“‘Put a good person into a bad system the system will always win’. Jessica talked about the importance of shaping organisational cultures as well as supporting women through coaching. Coaching alone will achieve little but aligned with shaping the culture there is plenty of scope for success.”
Padraig O’Sullivan , O’Sullivan Field, Sydney
“Jessica not only spells out a clear view of how you keep, support and attract talent; she provides a framework of behaviours for men and women to work together on, and apply, to achieve those successful outcomes. Take the framework and make it happen!” Simon Laurie.
“I just wanted to say a huge thank you for being a speaker at our 2015 Coaching at Work Conference. Your support helped to make the day the success it was. Your opening speech was fitting as we launched our Campaign for Gender Equality and I hope to be in touch soon about the campaign to explore ways we might collaborate. There was a real buzz and energy throughout the day, and certainly the feedback I received, as delegates left, was extremely positive.”
Liz Hall, Editor, Coaching at Work Magazine.
Related reading & resources
Research: Linchpin – Men, Middle Managers and Gender Inclusive Leadership (Cranfield University, September 2015)
Opinion: ‘Men pick up your tambourines’
Case study: PR daddy challenges culture and works flexibly
Research: Businesses benefit from active fathers
TED Talk: Wilful Blindness by Margaret Heffernan (book of same name)