“Gender balanced leadership: when men commit to change”

Marie-Christine Maheas, Margaret Milan and Valerie Rocoplan from PWN Paris have recently published their new book, « Mixité, quand les hommes s’engagent ». The book brings together ideas and expertise from 20 different authors (both male and female) and includes interviews of 12 leading CEOs. Margaret Milan explains the book’s key ideas

I have been involved in women’ professional progress for the past fifteen years. I have seen the number of women’s networks grow exponentially, from almost none in 2001 to thousands today.

Every large company has its women’s network. Women have learned a lot about leadership; about what holds them back, and why they need to “Lean in”. But men, who still represent 89% of C-suite positions and have the power to drive change, remain largely absent from the debate on gender balanced leadership. They remain largely uninformed about the link between performance and gender balance, about the tools which can improve their company’s performance and about why gender balance can be good for men too.

But first, our choice of words

We believe that there needs to be a new language around the subject, which is why we have used the work “Mixité” in French and will coin the word Mixity* for the rest of this article. Parity and equality imply a purely ethical, rules based driver. Diversity englobes many other types of difference.

For the authors, Mixity conveys the richness which comes from a team with male and female members (at least 30% of each), leading to better decisions and performance. We also believe we need to stop talking about feminising teams. This is not the point: a team of 100% women would be just as myopic as a team of 100% men. Writers need to stop writing headlines which imply women are somehow better : “Women led companies perform better” will be emotionally rejected by most male readers. Just imagine how the female empowerment community would be up in arms if “women” was replaced by “men” in that sentence. If women want to forestall a serious backlash, they need to apply this test to every affirmation they make. Let’s talk about mixed teams or gender-balanced teams to keep things neutral.

Re-balancing the debate, changing the paradigm

Our purpose with “Mixity” is to turn the debate on its head. What about fixing the companies we work in and providing men with the tools they need to promote and retain their best talent? What about opening up a dialogue between men and women instead of (or as well as), women talking among themselves? How about helping men identify the stereotypes which define the male identity and which push them to pursue relentless professional progress? How about recognising that in the 21st century, men and women share the same aspirations for career and family, the same need for flexibility, autonomy, responsibility and sense of purpose. That family friendly policies aren’t just for women: men are parents too. That the flexibility women have been seeking is now the grail of GenY men. That we’re all in this together, to make work better for everyone, to ensure that all managers reach their full potential and to create leadership teams which improve every organisation’s effectiveness.

CEOs leading change

The CEOs we interviewed surprised us by the depth of their conviction: for them, Mixity was a huge opportunity, but also a huge challenge which had to be led from the top. An opportunity, for all the reasons we know so well: to reflect their customer base, to retain and engage their best talent, to make better decisions through confronting diverse opinions, to balance risk taking with prudence.

They view an all-male leadership team as a sign that something is not working in their managerial processes, and that they may be missing key opportunities in a fast changing world. But they recognise that Mixity is also a huge challenge, given the entrenched habits of organisations and the persistence of gender stereotypes and biases carried by men and women. The most progressive of CEOs have embraced Mixity as a means of transforming their organisations for the future.

A management skill which needs to be learned

But outside the enlightened circle of future-facing CEOs, few male managers are involved in the debate. Catalyst** speaks of “fear, apathy and ignorance” as the reasons for this absence. Some are afraid for their promotion, assuming women will be promoted over them for their gender. Many are afraid of speaking out on the subject in case they are branded as macho: the head of Nestlé, Peter Brabeck, was booed loudly at the Women’s Forum in 2006, an uncomfortable experience for the leader of a large quoted company. There has been so much talk in the press that many think the problem is now solved. “But things have improved, haven’t they, our company is full of women?” is a phrase we hear all the time, despite the fact that men still make up 89% of executive boards. Very few male managers have acquired the management skills necessary to manage mixed teams: how often do we hear “I offered her the job but she refused…” , something they have rarely encountered with male subordinates. Women have gained awareness over the past fifteen years, but most men continue to live in blissful ignorance of some of these fundamental management skills.

So our book “Mixity” aims to provide men with the knowledge and tools they need to manage and promote their female talent, to speak competently on the subject and hopefully, improve the way their organization works for all, women AND men.

Mixity 2.0

This book is a first step on the road to re-balancing the debate. The language, best practices and habits developed over the past fifteen years need to be reinvented for more inclusiveness. Women will still need forums for bonding, networking, learning among their peers and mentoring the up-and-coming generation of girls and young women. But companies and independent networks need to consider how to address the opportunity for increased dialogue for change. We look forward to the debate.

Margaret Milan

*Definition: Mixity is when an organisation’s leadership team includes a significant proportion (over 30%) of male and female members

** Catalyst, Engaging men in gender initiatives, Jeanine Prime and Corinne A. Moss-Racusin, 2009

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       >>> back to the newsletter

Share on :