It’s a Man’s Job, Is there really Man Job?

Friday, 4 August 2017

/ by xclusivefx Channels

Before all sides start trolling, I want to clarify my reasons for writing. I am a husband, a brother, an uncle and now a father. I have been actively involved in the push for greater inclusivity, women in entrepreneurship and gender equality long before the not-so-surprising revelations of toxic culture, gender bias and sexual harassment started rolling out of Silicon Valley.

When startup land entered its latest iteration of an “Uber moment”, I don’t think all that many insiders were surprised by any of it, other than the fact that others were surprised by any of it. I was, however, dismayed that despite the tireless work of countless advocates and high profile leaders like Sheryl Sandberg pushing the dialogue on the public stage, we don’t seem to be making progress.

As I paced the floors with my infant daughter thinking about this, it occurred to me that it is up to men to solve the problem. Not because we are smarter. Not because women are ineffective but because WE ARE THE PROBLEM. The slow pace of progress is directly correlated to men, ordinary men like me, not owning up to this. The solution lies in changing our behaviors. A person’s behavior can’t be changed until they desire to change it and I’m sure any marriage counselor would attest this phenomenon is particularly profound in the male of the human species.

It’s easy for an Average Joe to talk himself out of believing he has any culpability by drawing a circle around “those guys” that lure female entrepreneurs to hotel lobbies, mistake hiring with dating or use sexually laced innuendo whether in mixed company or with other men. That’s the problem, right? Our fixation on the extreme cases blinds us from the not so egregious things that are creating the inertia. I don’t think we’ll affect real change until men step up to two behavior changes.

Self scrutiny. I’ve been blessed with several powerful women in my life that make self scrutiny incredibly easy because they are always willing to point out my shortcomings, gaffes and inadvertent missteps in this area. If only I was as willing to receive the feedback without an excuse, intellectual counter argument or outright defensiveness.

My wife, herself an accomplished and high level executive, frequently shares her experiences past and present that I often miss the subtleties of or view through a lens highly skewed by my own experience. It took my wife years to get me to understand that while I try my best to be unbiased and meritocratic, I am still looking through the lens of an extroverted, college educated, white male. Layer in the challenges of implicit bias that plague humans, regardless gender or race, and things get thornier. Add on unintended consequences and, well, it’s a mess.

Theodora Lau has been an invaluable (and challenging) asset in this endeavor. Our first encounter was also my first business trip after my daughter’s birth. I asked how she balanced being super mom with her crazy travel schedule. She countered that was sexist. I got defensive. She explained that her male counterpart with 3 kids, who travels more and is still super dad never gets that question. That brief exchange sparked a long ranging dialogue between us and endless soul searching where I propagate gender stereotypes and bias in ways that might not even be explicitly felt but reinforce the wrong norm.

Accountability. I’m equally blessed with a number of male friends and colleagues that are willing to point out my weak points, but interestingly, they aren’t often about where I’m implicitly or explicitly acting inappropriately. Several years ago, a female co-investor came to me with a concern raised about a mutual co-investor that had invited a female CEO to his suite at a conference to discuss terms. At night. After a long cocktail hour and dinner. This situation threw more flags than a 4th of July parade. We decided I would address it with him 1x1, which I did. Don’t leap to the conclusion I’m self aggrandizing.

I did this after a woman I have deep respect for brought it to my attention and called me to accountability. It is one time in the laundry list of moments I should have raised a warning flag. It is amazing to me the women who are raising the flag of accountability even knowing the repercussions they will face. That burden shouldn’t fall to them or at least not carried so singularly on their shoulders.

Many of the women I work with have coping mechanisms ranging from being “one of the guys” to turning a blind eye to minor or unintended offenses like my conversation with Theo. Calling these out risks dampening important and productive cross-gender relationships. An unimpacted party, particularly of the same sex, making the observation is both more likely to be productively received and minimizes the potential residual awkwardness.

And then there are the egregious cases. I was speaking at a conference recently and a close contact who is a senior executive of the organizing organization shared how she rushed in to hear me speak and inadvertently grabbed a seat staked out by someone else. When he returned and she apologized, he offered a seat on his lap. As a senior executive, publicly calling out a client in a public forum wasn’t in the cards for her, but it should have been for the other men at the same table.

Recent events have sparked public and private conversations on the topic. Some of it is met with the skepticism of showboating or harsh view of “too little too late.” The reality is that these conversations, however imperfect, are critical. Changing embedded beliefs and behaviors is hard. Changing the system of these that make up culture is even harder. Ironically it is easier for the extreme cases like Uber and the investor climate to get hidden away or talked about but not acted upon for too long. Until we men who think we’re doing an OK job own up to the fact we all play a role in the problem and the solution, it will continue to make headlines rather than progress.

When I look at the current state of change, I realize I am the problem. Serving on the board of inclusive organizations and mentoring female entrepreneurs was a start but it overlooked the harder, deeper root. I need to address the only thing I can control: me. I’m doubling down on my efforts to look through the lens of others and embrace more feedback (a dozen women I trust weighed in on writing this piece and it wasn’t all roses).

I’m doubling down on transparent dialogue. Two weeks ago, a male startup CEO, a female advisor and I had a 2 hour discussion as we were watching events unfold. It was the sort of conversation that roamed from observational to the practical what can we do about it and wrestled through hard things that we didn’t all agree on but fought through to mutual understanding. I see many more of those in my future. Perhaps the hardest is a commitment to calling out the things that are wrong.

My wife asked if I really wanted to publish this after reading the first draft. I know I’m kicking a hornet’s nest and there will be “feedback” from all sides of the argument and it’s not like I have an abundance of free time right now. Honestly, I’ve sat on it for 2 weeks, but I can’t let it go.

Brave women are standing up in the face of far more dire consequences and it is time for us Average Joe’s to stand up too, even if that means taking an uncomfortable look at our own behaviors and opening ourselves up to things we don’t want to hear.

posted from Bloggeroid

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