He for she

He for she

Anshu Arora

We have many men in our lives. From our father to our brothers, to siblings and sons. Then the many more we meet and the partner we find. All these men are different from each other: the alphas and the gammas and the whatnots.

I have met various of these species, especially at work and many a times 20 new men each day via the workshops I conduct. Believe you me, there are many more kinds than we know!

Equality matters

Today I wanted to be a true feminist and embrace equality. I wanted to take a moment to look at the many wonderful things that men have done, are capable of and continue to do. It’s really hard, but I promise, it is possible. You too would agree that if you do give it a serious thought, you would find many things appreciable (no pun intended). I have met many men@work who stood by me, explained things with patience, introduced new perspectives, told me the men’s side of a story and helped me visualise what they were thinking. Sometimes that honest visualisation was very difficult to digest, but I did take it with a pinch of salt. I have had 99% fantastic professional experiences with the men I have met at work.

I can say with conviction that supportive men are no longer oblivious to the challenge women face in their career. Increasingly I see men participating in gender equality discussions and take a stance in support. When these men witness their colleagues experience every day sexism or being a victim of micro- aggressions, instead of being apathetic bystanders, these men call it out. They call out inequality. I have also observed some men actively show support by sharing articles on LinkedIn, videos and tweeting hashtags of popular movements that support the gender equality theme.

Men I have met at work respect women’s space. I am sure you can recall recent pictures of Keanu Reeves with the famous ‘hover hand’ that literally took the internet by storm. There was an outpouring of support and appreciation. I see various versions of that positive behaviour at work. I also know of many men who amplify women’s voices, acknowledge their experiences and take on the role of educating other men. In many ways that inspires trust and respect.

While I travel across the globe for my workshops, I have several coffee conversations where women openly and positively speak about supportive men.

One’s that lighten their partners’ workload by sharing household chores. They also actively participate in their children’s lives so that doctor appointments, parent- teacher meetings, homework, exam prep and entertainment does not end up being the woman’s responsibility alone. In these conversations, women do address men as honourable, fair, and ethical. This strengthens a woman’s support system, which enables her to focus and progress.

My aura matters too

These are purely my experiences. I know of many women at work, whose experiences and percentages are as good as opposite. I realised this very soon, that while some men are truly the opposite, a lot depends on ME. What aura do I carry? What are the lines I draw? What are the precedents I set? How I respond to something that happens the very first time. I was not always this right. I have made mistakes and learnt from them. I have delayed my responses. I have had other women at work ask me to stand up for myself. I have accepted the wrong and hated myself for my response. However, I learnt. I learnt that I had the power of increasing the percentage of positive response towards myself. Eventually, every woman learns how to stand up for herself and increases that percentage in her favour.

I can recall one incident very clearly. The words, his clothes, how he sat, stood and walked. What was the location and what happened. A senior consultant, a leading Executive Coach (Yes, someone who is not expected to be exhibiting the behaviour I am going to share) always used sexual examples to explain any and everything when he was around me. While he would talk about a behaviour we observed in a participant or how someone responded, or what the conditions at work were for someone, every explanation was a sexual example. It was the highest level of a verbal #Metoo.

Initially, I would laugh it off. I soon realised that it was giving him encouragement.

My female colleagues reminded me that I was not the person who accepts a conversation like that. They never told me what to do. They only reminded me of who I was, the ‘essential me’. They asked me upfront, why I was not bouncing back and what was holding me from stopping him. There was no clear reason. Sure, a cloud of mixed thoughts, but no clear, strong valid reason. I was just not taking any action.

I slept over it and decided to call a spade a spade. I moved from laughter to straight face and then finally stood up for myself. I expressed a clear non-acceptance of his language, behaviour and stance. It stopped. However, it only stopped for me, not for him. He continued to be himself. I only met him for projects, I did not work with him. We parted ways after the project ended. It remained right even when we met later. I could see that his lingo was the same, but not when there were women around. I am sure there are other women as I write and you read, who would also be standing up for themselves and expressing themselves, perhaps still to him. I learnt, it is alright to be naïve and not be jaded by the negative realities of the world during the initial phase of your career, only because you are learning and finding your ground. However, being ignorant and accepting the wrong is not the way to go. Sure, ‘A Zero Tolerance’ zone needs to be activated from day one at work.

Today, I know many HR leads who are men, who have a ‘A Zero Tolerance’ policy for any such acts or behaviour or even the slight implication of it. They are executing this wonderfully well and in all honesty.

Walking together

Along with the stance that many men are taking towards supporting a woman’s position in the corporate world, they are also working hand in hand through the DEI policies to ensure a safe, legitimate and equal place for women at work. There are various evidences of the past year doing well in the global fight for gender equality.

However, enormous obstacles still remain. The gender pay gap persists, sexual violence remains, glass ceilings are pervasive, and girls are more likely than boys to drop out of school due to external pressures.

Savitribai Phule, often referred to as India’s first feminist started a drive that has now taken the shape of gender diversity, gender-just society, India’s best workplaces for women and the likes. On the global front, the 44th US President has long been a staunch advocate for women’s rights, and Obama brought his views globally by calling for gender equality as a way to improve democracies and achieve better standards of living. He said, “Women in particular, by the way, I want you to get more involved,” Obama said at the meeting. “Every day I read the newspaper and just think, like, ‘Brothers, what’s wrong with you guys? What’s wrong with us?’ We’re violent, we’re bullying. Just not handling our business. I think empowering more women on the continent, that … is going to lead to some better policies.”

Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke on stage during the 2017 Global Citizen Festival Hamburg in Hamburg Germany on 6 July 2017.As soon as he was elected, the Canadian Prime Minister ensured that at least 50% of his cabinet were women. He included measures for equal pay, longer parental leave, and a foreign aid policy that aims to deliver more funds to girls’ education and women’s economic empowerment.

Women are without a doubt their own greatest champions. What we also need to remember is that many men are lending their support to the cause of gender equality, respect and growth opportunities.

As we say, we are on it. It’s not done yet, we are on it and staying on it is more essential today. Each one of us has a contribution to make, irrespective of the gender. These are actions we take together as a society of HE, SHE and even the LGBT.

The bottom line truly is that:

SHE needs to stand up for SHE first.
SHE needs to stand up for other SHE.
And then HE too will stand up for SHE.