It starts with listening, but men must also have a voice when the topic is empowering women.
Female voices often dominate conversations surrounding women’s professional development, and understandably so. But men shouldn’t be excluded from the discussion, as they, too, can play a role in empowering women in the workforce. A panel of male business leaders, speaking to a local women’s development group in April, said it starts with simply listening to women and asking for their perspective. Panelists included Jude Melville, CEO and president of Business First Bank; Dave Baxter, general manager of IT firm Sparkhound; and Eric Dexter, business development director at Civil Solutions Consulting. Dima Ghawi, who launched the women’s group Leadership & Lattes last year, moderated the panel. Here are a few key takeaways:
Business First Bank President and CEO
Perhaps one of the best ways for men in leadership positions to learn how to support women in the workforce is to flip mentoring roles, Melville says.
“Oftentimes we think the most value created through mentoring is to find a mentor, but it’s also profitable for us to think in reverse,” Melville says. “As a guy, when I think of issues related to women in the workforce, there’s an amount of uncertainty I feel. Being able to talk about that with someone honestly to get their perspective is valuable. Although it sounds odd as the boss to be mentored, me being open to being mentored on how to deal with these issues, and women being willing to do that, would be a healthy conversation.”
Regarding the pay gap, Melville acknowledges men do make more than women at his bank, but it’s because of the roles they fill, not their gender. “So over time if we can maybe focus on how do we get women in the right jobs over time maybe we can solve it from kind of a reserve angle.”
Sparkhound General Manager
Find a champion, Baxter says. If women feel their voices aren’t being heard in the workplace, especially ones dominated by men, male colleagues should back them up.
“I want to be that champion. I want to be able to have that conversation with other men: ‘Hey, you didn’t take into account her opinion. It was valuable. It was based on facts. She’s in the trenches doing the dirty work,’” he says. “I want to be the champion for that person. I want to use that person’s perspective and knowledge to be a champion for them.”
There’s also a point where you have to stand up for yourself, Baxter adds. “The workplace is different than it was 15 years ago. Especially when you back up what you have to say with data—it’s really tough to argue against facts. That goes a long way toward making someone value and respect your opinion.”
Civil Solutions Consulting Business Development Director
The panelists addressed how women can break into the “boys club” that meets after work hours. Dexter said it helps if women initiate this, as men might worry about it being taken the wrong way if they ask female colleagues out for drinks or events. “That is important because a lot of decisions are made after hours or on weekends or at other events,” he says.
“Obviously I’m a black man, so I’ve been in situations where I’m the only black man in the room. I can imagine the things I’ve gone through that women also go through from a gender perspective. You have to show up and be present. Someone else won’t do it for me.”
But when it comes to outright discrimination or misconduct holding women back, the only solution is to implement consequences. “Nothing in society is going to change until there are consequences for our actions. I think that’s something for me, as a man in the workforce and someone on a leadership team, I have to be the person that’s there to enforce it and hold other males accountable.”