How Can Men Change Their Company Culture So That It Works For Everyone?

0123dbe22635247c65c008d101c46f55-originaHere's What Phil Did

Image courtesy of Igor Ovsyannykov.

By Jim Morris. Phil was a senior manager for a financial services firm who had a number of analysts, traders, and fund managers reporting to him.

When asked why there were so few women on his staff and in his company, he responded, “This job isn’t for everyone. We work long days in really demanding conditions. Just about everyone is under a lot of pressure to perform and we are direct and no-nonsense in how we communicate. The women who make it in my group have to fit into our team’s culture. Most women have a problem with that. It’s the ones who don’t that make it.”
Phil’s point is accurate—the few women who succeeded in his group had to learn how to assimilate with the predominantly male culture of the group.
Phil often referred to his group as “his guys” even though there were three women in the group. When someone lost a deal, they were publicly chided for having been “caught with their pants down.” Competition between group members was encouraged over collaboration. There was an unspoken hierarchy within the group that was tied to where members went to business school, how often they scored a big win through savvy trading, and who had the lowest golf handicap.
Phil liked the culture of his group, rationalizing that many of the group’s norms motivated members to perform well. What Phil failed to see (or perhaps refused to believe) was the negative impact of certain elements of the group’s culture, not only on some women, but on anyone who didn’t go to a top tier business school or play golf.
Even in traditionally male industries, it’s possible to create a workplace culture that’s more inclusive without discarding all of the rituals, language, and behaviors that appeal to some group members. Instead of relying on women to shift the culture, it’s critical to get men engaged in championing change.
Here’s what I’ve seen men do to make workplaces more inclusive:
They are able to see their culture, not just work in it. In other words, they are able to recognize the impact that some “normal” workplace behaviors have on others. When they call a meeting, they use pronouns like “everyone” or “team” instead of “guys.” When women team members are talked over or lectured (or man-splained) by their male colleagues in meetings, they notice it and circle back, saying, “Karen, could you finish your thought?” Or they amplify what a woman in the group just said by both acknowledging and re-stating it: “I like that idea Amelia. You’re suggesting we each compare notes on problem accounts during our end-of-day meeting.”
They view shifting culture as good for everyone, not just women. More inclusive workplace cultures benefit everyone. Forcing or suggesting changes to culture that exclusively benefit women risks putting them in the position of being singled out. No one wants to be treated like a special case, especially group members who are trying to fit in. Inclusive leaders do this by creating new ways to gain status and rank in a group (for those who don’t play golf or didn’t go to an Ivy League business school). If everyone in the group has access to accomplishments that make them successful, everyone wins.
They work to shift policies and mindsets together. People behave differently when they begin to think differently, and that happens best when the desired mindset shift is supported by policies and practices that encourage inclusive behavior.  
They stand up against peer pressure. Men who advocate for more inclusive workplaces sometimes have to withstand teasing, passive-aggressive joking, or worse from from other men. They stop being invited to go out with “the guys” after work because they’ve gotten “too warm and fuzzy.” Their motivations might even be questioned as being politically motivated. “Breaking rank” with a strong male culture can even feel threatening to one’s job security, if the boss unconsciously plays along with the group.
They rely on other men as much as women to shift workplace culture. Women are often put in the role of “corrector-in-chief”—the person men ask to correct them when they do something offensive or insensitive. Instead of always consulting with women colleagues about what they want the workplace culture to be, these men take action based on their own observations. They also ask other men colleagues to call attention to their behaviors or unconscious bias when it shows up. Many men haven’t thought about inclusive workplace behaviors because they haven’t had to. Enroll other men to work with you to make shifts.
So how does all of this apply to Phil? His culture did shift, but it took his daughter entering the workforce after grad school for him to start. She followed in her dad’s footsteps and went to work as an entry-level analyst at a medium-sized firm.
At the end of her first week, Phil got a message from her asking for advice. Excited to share their new mutual interest in work, Phil called her immediately.
“How can I help?” he asked.
She sounded sad: “Dad, I’m going to have to learn to play fantasy football here to fit in and I don’t have a clue what everyone is talking about. No one’s asked me about my work, or even bothered to check it yet. It’s all about who can pick the best players every week. If I don’t learn how to play fantasy football, I don’t think I’m going to make it here.”           
The very next day, Phil pulled out of the office golf group.
The example of Phil and his group’s culture is a composite story based on two different but related situations involving strongly “male” workplace cultures in financial services firms.
Jim MorrisJim Morris is a Senior Consultant with White Men as Full Diversity PartnersIn 2007, he published a book on traits-based leadership development, The Five Insights of Enduring Leaders, and has spoken extensively on the subject.
Posted by MARC Catalyst on Jan 30, 2018 1:26 PM America/New_York

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Years ago, I was working in a group of manufacturing plants in the South, helping them become places where everyone was truly welcome on the team.   At first, the men complained about the new workplace safety standards and equipment that arrived when women started working on the line, expectations like two people should work together to move 50 gallon drums of liquid ingredients (400 lbs).  They were used to doing it alone, never asking or expecting help.   

Interestingly, within six months, these same guys were singing a different tune.  They shut down complaints about the new rules and assistive equipment saying "These new rules that came with the women are saving my job.  We were all going out on injury, no one could plan on finishing their time here without being on disability. Now I can actually see getting to retirement on real pay, not long-term disability partial-pay.  It turns out that bringing women into the line is the best thing that's happened for years." 

What I loved seeing was that these men not only appreciated the change in the work rules, they also actively shut down complaints about women being on the line.  They became advocates for women entering their previously all-male workplace.   From that springboard, engaging in discussion of the value of a work environment where everyone was welcome was easy, even if there were a lot of issues to tackle around gender, race and more.

While it may not seem as "pure" as doing the "right thing" because it is just right, but demonstrating the real, tangible impacts of a more inclusive, welcoming environment where each person's gifts and skills are truly welcome, appreciated, recognized and rewarded is a direct path to change.  "What's in it for me" is a perfectly rational question.  When we can give a straightforward answer to that question, the change we are looking to create happens far more easily and lasts far longer.
  • Posted Tue 30 Jan 2018 04:57 PM EST
Kit, Great example, thanks.  I'm facinated by stories like yours and what leaders and organizations can do to create the culture these men eventually created; one that was inclusive and accepting even though it meant a change to the status quo.  

  • Posted Thu 01 Feb 2018 10:25 AM EST
A robust team culture is the right way to run a business. However, it should not be like ‘my way or the highway’ but a team effort where everyone’s point of view is considered. The women members of a team should be made to feel that they belong to the circle by using neutral pronouns and a not too aggressive male chauvinist behaviour.
Website ➤ ◍
  • Posted Thu 03 May 2018 12:23 AM EDT
Very good article. It is very interesting to read. Whatever steps you take to make your workplace more healthy, you’ll want to be able to evaluate how your employees feel about their work environment.
  • Posted Fri 11 Jan 2019 06:04 AM EST


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