A Man-Made Problem Men Need to Fix! by Brett Kullman CEO of iMaven and Synergy Placements

woman in the workplace

Written by iMaven

iMaven provides a dynamic platform enabled by machine learning and matching algorithms to provide employers access to vetted, specialised recruiters to help them fill crucial jobs in an increasingly poor candidate market.

I recently read an article in a well-respected business journal that talks about what women could do to feel less excluded at work.

The two female authors listed the challenges that women face when advancing their careers in a male-dominated business setting.  One significant hindrance they identified was the difficulties women face when trying to fit into existing informal workplace relationships or establish new ones.

We have all experienced just how valuable informal relationships at work can be.  If you need something done quickly, it’s often the informal channel that makes it happen.  If you need someone to support your position at a management meeting, then it’s the informal relationships we all turn to.  So, I agree that not having a collection of positive, supportive, and reliable workplace relationships can be a hindrance to getting the job done or advancing your career.

As an older male business leader, I know that I’ve been guilty of being clumsy, insensitive, and unappreciative towards the challenges women face in today’s business world. However, I was still surprised by the author’s observations and recommendations.

The article went on to suggest ways that women could change or behaviours they could adopt that would help them develop informal workplace relationships. This included strategies to help women inject themselves into existing workplace social groups and be more productive during work hours so that relationship building doesn’t impact their ‘night shift’ family commitments.  The authors also suggested the importance of paying less attention to social media and more time looking people in the eye when having a conversation.  I found the tone of the article and the recommendations extremely offensive.  I can’t even begin to comprehend how the many strong businesswomen I know would react to being told to make eye contact as a means of overcoming the diversity and inclusivity challenges faced by all minorities in business.

Let me step back a bit and set the stage so you can understand why I found myself so offended by this article.

My formal journey in learning to be a leader (a journey I hope never ends) started during my time in the police service.  Although most police officers are male, in my experience, there isn’t a shortage of strong, talented women in uniform serving at all ranks and in all functions, from the Chief of Police to officers I walked a beat with.  I cringe at the thought of any one of those intelligent and successful professional police officers’ reaction to being told they had to change their behaviour to fit into a man’s world so they could advance in the service.  (Actually, I can imagine their reactions, I just don’t think it would make it past the LinkedIn filters!).  For an organisation that is often viewed as a man’s profession, in my experience the truth is that women are respected and valued based on their contribution to the service and not on their gender.  I don’t deny that women have been discriminated against, but the women I was fortunate enough to work for and work with chose to be agents for change without having to change themselves.  I also know many strong men who treated their female colleagues with the respect everyone deserves.

Now fast forward a couple of decades, and my business partner is also my life partner.  If you know her, there’s no need for me to tell you she’s more than a match in a male-dominated business world.  Whether by design or good fortune, there has never been a shortage of brilliant and confident women in my professional life.  So, when I read an article telling women how to adapt to a man’s world, it makes me angry.  Not because I think women need special treatment, or they can’t stand up for themselves, or they need protecting, or that our male-dominated world is under threat.  I’m angry because gender inequality in the workplace isn’t a problem that should be left to women to solve, it’s a problem that is 100% man-made and we men need to own it and help fix it.

In Irris Makler’s, book ‘Our Woman in Kabul’, she provides anecdote after anecdote which vividly describes the damage we do to ourselves when we remove or limit a woman’s involvement in society.  Irris’s book is about her time as a journalist in Afghanistan shortly after the fall of the Taliban, and she provides us with an extreme view of what happens when women are oppressed and not given the voice they deserve.  Unfortunately, this can also be said about what we in the business world are missing by not fostering and supporting a workplace ethos that makes everyone feel equally valued and accepted.

The article that prompted this post, further states most women feel excluded from after-work social get-togethers, and the authors correctly identify this issue as a systemic failure.  So why are we telling women they need to change to fit into a failed system?  That’s just saying you support inclusivity and diversity so long as people change so they are a ‘cultural fit’.  It’s time to scrap ‘cultural fit’ and focus on cultural contribution, and no amount of eye contact will accomplish this.

The article references published reports that say the #MeToo movement has made men more cautious about socialising with female colleagues because they fear their motives might be questioned.  If men are not comfortable inviting female colleagues to join them after work, then maybe the after-work activity isn’t appropriate in the first place.

If you are concerned your motives might be questioned, you may need to do an honest appraisal of your motives and how your colleagues view you.  If your workplace culture has you worried that including your female colleagues in after-work social activities could compromise your integrity, then find a new place to work.  Or better yet, change the culture where you work and be the beneficiary of a diverse and accepting workplace.

This post wasn’t an article I had on my list of topics to write about, but I’ve discovered I’m surprisingly passionate about the mess that us old guys have made when it comes to women in the workplace.  It may be because of the numerous studies that show diverse workplaces are also more business resilient, profitable, and successful, or it may be that I’m blessed with strong women at home and at work.

It’s probably the latter 😊.