October 5 marked the one-year anniversary of the #MeToo Movement. It’s time to examine how far we have come since then, and why we haven’t made more progress:
Let’s start with some facts. A new study shows that only around a third (34 percent) of women and men surveyed say they are willing to address unwanted behavior when they experience it or see it. And even fewer—only 31 percent—have observed anything more than small changes to avoid gestures that could be viewed as misconduct or harassment. Perhaps the most disappointing finding of all is that nearly half of the women in the study (48 percent) have been harassed but have yet to share the experience.
So why, after all of the headlines that came out of #MeToo, are we all still stuck in a similar place as we were before the movement began? I think the answer lies in women needing to be bold and empowered, taking the lead as change agents rather than waiting for others to take action. Earlier this year, I shared results from a Lean In survey that revealed in the wake of #MeToo, men have become more cautious about mentoring or sponsoring women. This unintended outcome of the movement puts even more onus on women to lead the change that they want to see. Women need to bridge this gap that has developed and create a new story for men as allies, since both genders can do so much more together than separately.
Here are 5 steps that women can take to make this happen:
Reach out to and build relationships with your male colleagues. It takes particular courage today for women to believe in their power and reach out across the gender aisle given the saddening news of unacceptable behaviors from some men. But here’s the thing: giving up now on creating cultural changes in our organizations would be foolish, because there are a lot of men who are ready now to support gender equity and advocate for women. As SHAMBAUGH’s research has shown, though, many men are simply not sure exactly what they can do to be most helpful as advocates. This is why as challenging as it may sometimes seem, women need to actively reach out to male colleagues—particularly men in leadership roles who have the power to serve as sponsors—to build alliances and forge productive partnerships.
Don’t wait for—or ask for—permission. Waiting for permission can commonly become a Sticky Floor for women. Thinking you need permission or a mandate from someone else to act can hold you back from taking needed steps toward culture change. You don’t need permission to start building solid contacts with your male colleagues, and the reality is that male executives may not come knocking at your door to create an alliance, particularly in a post-#MeToo world. So take the initiative without looking for a permission slip—and as you do so, watch that your own internal bias doesn’t hold you back. Refuse to buy into untrue generalities like “men are not supportive of women.”
Change the narrative. The traditional narrative concerning this topic makes it a women’s issue, with an inherent gender divide. Women need to help create a new narrative that’s about allying with men as a unified voice for leadership. What’s key to remember is that even though women’s experience is central to the narrative, this is not about just women—it’s about creating a space where there is trust between the genders, and between people with all kinds of differences and styles of thinking. Start changing the narrative to direct the conversation away from gender-based labels, focusing instead on experiences, talents, and the wide spectrum of cognitive diversity.
When you see something, say something. As you go about your day, you may observe patterns of behavior and language that are neither appropriate nor inclusive. In many cases, people are simply not aware of how others might feel excluded by their behavior. The first step when you notice speech or actions that are not inclusive or inappropriate is to say something about it to the person who is saying or doing it in a gentle way that increases their awareness. Next, offer ways to demonstrate more inclusive language and/or actions. This often comes down to balancing head with heart—by sharing stories and behaviors that reflect the experience that you and others have with feeling included or excluded, you can help break through the barriers to achieving an inclusive culture.
See yourself as the leader who is needed. As you move toward shifting both the narrative and the culture by reaching out, not waiting, and speaking up, you’ll notice something else changing as well: by taking these direct actions, you’ll be starting to embrace your own leadership ability. At SHAMBAUGH, our vision for women is for them to feel empowered stepping into their unique leadership power, while forging partnerships with men and rejecting gender stereotypes. Instead, both genders together can create a culture where men and women are allies as a unified voice for leadership. To make this a reality, women will need to take the lead in reaching out to men and showing them what they can do to help create a culture of inclusion. Be bold and see yourself as the leader who is needed at this important juncture in history. Believe in yourself and your power; it is needed now more than ever, and it’s time to step in.
Need specific guidance on creating an inclusive culture within your organization or preparing a high-performance organization that advances more women into leadership? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rebecca Shambaugh is a leadership expert on building inclusive and high performance cultures. She speaks at major conferences and to executives on how to disrupt traditional mindsets and create an inspiring vision and roadmap for driving greater levels of innovation and performance through a unified voice for leadership. Rebeccais the Founder of Women in Leadership and Learning, a regular contributor to Harvard Business Review, and blogger for the Huffington Post. She is author of the best-selling books It’s Not a Glass Ceiling, It’s a Sticky Floor and Make Room for Her: Why Companies Need an Integrated Leadership Model to Achieve Extraordinary Results.
At SHAMBAUGH we’re on mission to develop high-performing and inclusive leaders who transform workplace cultures so everyone can thrive. Find out more about us at: www.shambaughleadership.com