In an effort to better understand and connect with the rooms I am facilitating or coaching, I now make an effort to consciously absorb and reflect on the demographic makeup of the room. Starting a session earlier this week, I noticed that 90% of the participants were women. Through my professional work in the NGO sector as a community leader, I am often in environments where the majority (and sometimes all) of the participants are women. In fact, it is not uncommon for me to be the only male in the real or virtual rooms I get to attend.
The news on the way back to the office later that same day was a stark reminder that not everyone is as fortunate to have their professional and volunteer career as heavily influenced by women.
The story that caught my attention was a report from UN Women, the United Nations organization researching and actively looking for ways to empower women around the globe. The report was harsh and United Nations Secretary General António Guterres said that progress toward gender equality is “vanishing before our eyes”. The report was a stark reminder of the many places women face oppression or are having their legal rights removed. It listed Iran, Afghanistan, atrocities in Ukraine and the rolling back of reproductive rights in the US, just to name a few. Pointing to all these setbacks, Guterres warned that gender equality will take 300 years to achieve.
300 years is a long time, especially considering we needed gender parity 300 years ago. And while we can’t directly control or influence those global events, male Service Leaders have a unique opportunity and responsibility to support our female colleagues and partners. Thinking about meetings specifically, men can use our privilege to intentionally create welcoming and inclusive spaces for everyone. A few practical tips I have learned from male and female colleagues:
- Acknowledge that your journey to the room or meeting has likely been different than others and that will impact how you see, act and reflect on the meeting. (Click here to read an acknowledgement I have used for a while and is important for all genders to hear.)
- Intentionally create spaces for women’s voices. This includes who we invite to meetings, how we structure agendas and how we acknowledge those in the room. Protip: invite a woman to start the introductions and leave your own until the last.
- When you are called upon to share your thoughts in a meeting, hand the mic and attention over to women with the graceful line, “Thanks for the opportunity to share. I am actually more interested to hear what Sasha has to say “
- Refuse to participate in Man-Panels and don’t let them happen in your organization
- As appropriate, look for ways you can build the social capital of female colleagues by intentionally introducing them to others in the room before the meeting begins.
Outside of meetings, male Service Leaders can also