Creating More Inclusive Workplaces: Men & Women Working Together

In: BlogDate: Oct 07, 2020By: Billy Burgess

Dr. Jill Armstrong and Jason Ghaboos are working together to create a more gender inclusive workplace. The simplest step is getting men and women to work together more often. The bigger picture is their Collaborating With Men project – a name Jill has reservations about – that aims to tackle everyday sexism in the workplace, partly by showing everyone their contribution is valued.

Speaking at the 2018 Happy Workplaces Conference, Jill and Jason, from the Murray Edwards College at Cambridge, explore some of our deep seated assumptions about men and women and how we apply those filters to our workplaces.

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Creating More Inclusive Workplaces: Men & Women Working Together

Hello and thank you very much for inviting us to be here today. I am Jill Armstrong, this is Jason Ghaboos, and we are working together on this today as a presentation and indeed on our whole project to embody what we’re trying to do, which is to help create a more gender inclusive workplace by getting men and women to work together a little more.

There we are. It’s a very small team and actually only two of us are doing the work, but there you go.

We are together running a research initiative, which is about tackling everyday sexism in the workplace. It’s all about making everybody feel that their contribution is valued, so that’s how we fit into today. It’s called the Collaborating with Men project, which is a title that I somewhat regret, but I’m stuck with it so there we go. The issues that we’re addressing is the fact that - I don’t know if you all know, but actually still now, men tend to be promoted faster and further than women in virtually every workplace. Yes, there’s been loads of gender progress, but still women are stuck not being equally represented, particularly in leadership positions.

A lot of this is frustrating to women, to their ambitions, satisfaction, and a lot of it comes - according to research - from the gender unequal customs and practises that we all have lurking around in our consciousness. So we tend not to know really quite how influenced we are by all of this. There are deep-seated assumptions that we all carry around with us from childhood about what we expect from men and women and we apply those filters through the everyday in terms of how we work. There are really big differences in how men and women are socialised to behave. So does anyone, like me, admit to watching Love Island? Oh yes, only two waves around the room. Those of you that do will know exactly what I’m talking about; that men and women in those situations behave completely differently and, given any opportunity, the men and women kind of form groups where it’s just men and just women. That so often happens in the workplace as well.

Now, we do want to acknowledge that there are other sources of equality; it’s not all about gender, but we also want to acknowledge that this presentation is a touch gender binary. Our project is a touch gender binary because what we’re dealing with is how men and women are perceived and judged by people who look at them as men and women, not how you identify yourself. It’s a very complicated issue - gender equality - it’s a multi-headed dragon, so what we need to do is be quite clear in what we’re trying to address in this project.

Workplace social (informal) networks

We have two issues that we’re going to talk about today. I’m up first and I’m going to talk about the social relationships that we all form in workplaces, which are so important to how happy we are at work, and Jason’s going to be talking about engaging men as allies. Before I go any further, I have a question for you. The way I’m going to do this is nicked from early Graham Norton. It’s a stand-up, sit-down exercise, so you’re going to think about this question and depending on how you answer, you’re going to stand up or sit down.

Out of 10, how inclusive do you think your workplace culture is?
If your score is 6 or below, stay seated.
If your score is 7 or above, stand up.

When one is low, it’s not very inclusive; ten, it’s very inclusive. [Much of the room stands up.] Can we take the orange box? I’d like to take a couple of people’s thoughts about why they’re standing where they’re standing. So, you’re seven or above, someone tell us why you’re standing up.

I find this really interesting because I’m standing up and Zed, who’s my business partner, is sat down. We don’t have many women who work in our company - I think not intentionally, but the women who do work in our company aren’t treated any differently to the men and everyone’s voices are heard and I don’t think that the guys necessarily treat the women any differently either. We can definitely make progress on the amount of women that we have there, but I think it’s inclusive with the women that we have.

We have a good representation across the company of men and women in all areas of work. We’re a software company; we have men and women developers, we do a lot with women in IT as well as just seeing progress and growth across the company in men and women. I’m just reflecting on your comment about men being promoted more than women and I think that’s not the case in our organisation.

We are a Ministry of Defence organisation and we are about 850 people and we are predominantly male at senior levels. We’re 50/50 across the business itself, but there are only 30% of women over at the senior level. What’s interesting when there are initiatives when looking at people surveys and things we can do differently, it’s normally the women that volunteer to take the lead and deliver on those things. We’re not gender inclusive at all, but different pockets of activity dictate which gender takes the lead.

Exactly, taking corporate responsibility, that’s a big deal, and it is disproportionately women in general. Good point, thank you.

This is really funny because my colleague Sally over there is standing up and I’m sitting down. I’ve taken the question literally and, whilst our CEO is a man, we are biased towards women. I work for a Children’s Hospice so pretty much 90% of our executive leadership are women. The fundraising team I work in, our leadership team is entirely women. So I actually think it’s quite a difficult place sometimes to be a man.

Okay, yes, that’s a very good point as well. It clearly isn’t a gender binary.

Well, we are only women, even the office cat is a female, but just next to me there are a consultant company with only men, so we just decided to merge.

Excellent, thank you very much. The majority of people in the room were standing up and it may well be that you do have very inclusive cultures. Certainly if you live by the kind of philosophies that Henry’s promoting and we’ve been here talking about here today, I can understand why you might have inclusive cultures. But what I’m here to tell you is that all the companies we worked with, and there have been quite a lot, there are some 25 in our program at the moment. Virtually everybody stands up for that question and we have far more people think they are gender inclusive than are not - until we get to the survey we are doing, and then everyone is somewhat shocked to see the differences between how men perceive some of these issues and how women see some.

What these issues are the way everyday sexism plays out, so I want to give you an example of one thing. It’s an example of double standards.

Women are judged more negatively when they behave in the same way as men.
40% of women feel they are judged unfairly.
81% of men think this rarely happens to women.

This is one of the seven issues that we’ve been researching and so we pose that question and we have a couple of examples that we know are differences. For example: when a woman gives a man in particular negative feedback in a review, often that feedback is objected to more than if it comes from a man.

There are other issues that play in this sort of area, like women being interpreted as being ‘emotional’, so when women are under stress, reacting by getting emotional, and that is somehow seen as weakness; whereas men reacting with the same emotional stimulus often just get mad, but that’s the same kind, just a different emotional reaction - but men aren’t penalised for that, so there are all sorts of examples here.

What I’ve got is aggregated data from three scientific institutes, so big institutes around Cambridge that are working with cancer, genome projects, and zoologists, that kind of thing. 40% of women felt that they were unfairly judged, whereas 81% of men think this rarely happens to women. The reason I’m showing you this is because this is absolutely typical of all the issues we’ve been researching. There’s a big gender gulf in perception.

What I really want to talk to you about today is this issue of social networks that are formed around ourselves at work. It’s important because the way we feel about our colleagues, the way we interact just beyond the every day of doing work is actually one of the things that make us quite happy about our life. It’s also important because when you make some kind of social connection with the people around you, they are more likely to know something about you, they’re more likely to involve you in the decision making process; you’re more likely to be involved in all the groundwork that happens before decisions are taken in formal meetings.

Moreover, people know a bit more about who you are and what you do so when an opportunity arises, the kind of opportunities that lead to promotion, then they know to tap you on the shoulder for that response. The problem is that these kind of social networks in a lot places are becoming a little bit more gender binary, more so than they ever were, and there’s often a tendency for men to hang out with men and feel more comfortable talking with other men - particularly when you don’t know people that well - and women hang out with women. Not everybody, this is a direction of travel point, not an everybody point. But these kind of social networks and companies that form both in work, the canteen, or in the football teams, or outside work and who goes to the bar or whatever afterwards are getting more polarised so we’ve been asking about this data that’s come from these same three scientific institutes so we’ve got a much bigger sample set and we’ll be reporting back on that shortly.

Informal networks influence opportunities but tend to be male dominated.
57% of women report that informal networks in their organisation are male-dominated
56% of men report that informal networks in their organisation are male-dominated

Science institutes are very male dominated. So, we’ve got 57% of women reporting that informal networks in their organisation are male-dominated, and I’m concerned that the men also concerned. They that that happens, they see that men hang out with men after work, they know the men better; they’re concerned about it too, but what is really fascinating is we did the same research in the department of civil service where women are quite equally represented through all levels - not quite equally at the top, but they are there at all levels and we’ve got a completely different issue.

In a more gender balanced organisation, men don’t appreciate that women find this a problem.
75% of senior women report that informal networks in their organisation are male-dominated
81% of men report that they had noticed the issue

75% of senior women reported that this was a problem, this male-dominated social network, versus 81% of men - their male peers saying that they had noticed the issue and we think this is really interesting because the more women that are in the workplace, even if they’re not equally represented, the more people think that these problems have gone away. This isn’t always the case because these gendered attributes that we attribute to each other go on underground in almost all of our heads. Now, another thing I think is worth mentioning is one of the reasons that this has got worse as it’s an unintended consequence of #MeToo. Quite a lot of verbatim we’ve been looking at in our survey and the conversation that we’ve been having with the people that we’ve been working with have said things like, “I’m a little bit more uneasy than I used to be about working late when there’s just one other woman on my team in the building, or about going on a journey to a conference with just one other woman. I feel that when I am friendly and when I have personal conversations, that perhaps my motives could be misjudged.” So that’s an interesting social context point.

What I want to do is give you a few ideas about how to encourage men and women to actually form more relaxed social interactions in the workplace. There are all sorts of ways of doing this, so for example men and women can mentor each other. There’s an idea that came up in our work about Walkabout Wednesdays where people are charged with going to meet someone they don’t know and ideally somebody of the different gender also, so just kind of being encouraged by the management to take a bit of time out and get to know people.

One idea which came from Happy is eating only in the social spaces. Rather than eating at your desk, when you have your lunch, you actually talk to the people around you. So, some ideas there about what can be done to make sure that there is a lot of mixing between people who don’t necessarily feel comfortable with each other; between people who don't necessarily know each other very well. This, of course, is a point that applies to men and women but also people of different ages and backgrounds.

What ways do you think will work in your workplaces to help more men and women get to know each other better?

The thing I didn’t say that I should have said is of course women make these gender judgements too - it’s quite important to get that across. Anyway, Jason is up for the next bit.

Good afternoon everyone, my name is Jason Ghaboos. I’m 37 years old, I’ve still not worked out how to pronounce it. The first thing to know is I’m a man, which is biologically proven. I won’t provide the evidence now, but the key for this is that actually if you look at today’s speakers, they’re all female, so I’m actually the talking guy today. You see this quite often, that men don’t often speak on gender inclusivity as a workplace issue, so no pressure on me.

I am a Deputy Director in a Home Office and I am on secondment currently with Murray Edwards College at the University of Cambridge as a workplace culture and gender inclusivity specialist. I’ve just added specialist onto that but I think it fits. I want to start with a quick question:

Are men as equally engaged in gender inclusive discussions in your workplace as women?
If no, stay seated.
If yes, please stand.

Those of you that are stood, if you could describe what’s occurring in your workplace and then reflections.

So we’re quite a big office and we have one in London and one in Peterborough. I’m just going to talk for the London office. We’ve started a group in London about inclusivity across gender, race and everything like that and about 50/50 of who we have wanted to get involved so I think that makes us pretty even.

Thank you.

So we’re female led as an organisation. I didn’t know whether to stand up or not because we don’t talk about it and thought that was quite interesting, that it just doesn't come up. Partly I guess because the two guys that are on the team are gay which doesn’t make that much difference in terms of their sexual preference but it means the gender conversation isn’t quite the same because we don’t have the same stereotypes with behaviour. I think stereotypes and characters are really important in this conversation. We were just talking about the bullish middle-aged man with white hair, I know they’re horrible stereotypes but we don’t have those in the organisation and I think that is a really interesting. We’re a micro business and it really does make a difference, if you’ve got a large organisation the conversation’s going to be completely different.

Hello, I work with Andrea so I’m one of the two guys in a very female dominated team and I actually feel really honoured to have been in the company for eight years, in a very female led organisation and I think it’s quite a unique position in terms of discussions and perceptions of the workplace. I think Andrea is a flexible leader, there’s situations that may be more difficult or challenging in other organisations. I know for example there was a period of time when a lot of people were having kids which for a team of less than ten was a big change for the company. It was very unusual to have a baby on my lap during a team meeting and being a person who’s not a parent I became an expert in kids. I liked that all aspects of gender were accepted and celebrated.

Thank you and anyone sat down, anyone brave enough to share their views or opinions?

Well I’m sat down for the same reason you stood up, we don’t actually talk about it. I’m really lucky our business is 50/50 male to female and we’re quite integrated but I’m sure that there is bias that we don’t see that we should be talking about. Ironically I was thinking about - y’know, ‘cause it’s 100 of the vote and universal suffrage and everything - setting up a women in leadership team and my natural event was to go to three women in the business and we’ve all said we need to include some men here. So it’s interesting because it’s actually not talked much for us.

Thank you very much, if you can take your seats. On reflection of what you’ve said there the whole gender issue is really interesting to me because my experience and our experience when talking to lots of different organisations and individuals is that by in large lots of people think the gender issue is done. It’s a belief that is widely held and we’ve talked a lot about representation and across the civil service the representation rate is actually in favour of women by 54%. When you start breaking that down what is really key is the experiences of those 54% of women and where are they at the organisation, are the equally spread at the senior level.

Male Allies

“I think the awareness building of men to other is quite important. If a man is noticing it and you don’t, you probably wonder why. Whereas a woman noticing it isn’t surprising.”

“We need to dispel the myth that gender issues are ‘done’. Moving the conversation to evidence based facts is key. Men leading those conversations as well as hearing the massages is as important.”

Those are two quotes from two male colleagues, senior level, across public and private sectors and what is really interesting is research increasingly showing that gender judgements made by men and women effect male and female experiences within the workplaces. However what it does is inhibit women more than men. What tends to happen which is really unhelpful is that these kinds of things are seen as a women’s issue and that doesn’t help move things forward. It’s actually an organisation issue that needs to be tackled positively. To do that men and women really need to work together to create sustained and really significant impacts and that needs to happen with more males bringing themselves into the game and holding discussions but how you do that is really challenging.

So there’s a couple of things that really we can focus on. Change needs to happen from the top down and leaders really need to be brought into this. You need to do a couple of things in combination to cumulatively allow and create an environment that enables these discussions. First there needs to be an awareness of the issues so we’ve already touched on here that some people weren’t aware those discussion weren’t happening. Leaders should be discussing things in the open, transparently.

The next section is creating desire. So what is the business case for that change, gender inclusivity and workplace culture are really important in terms of delivering that bottom line productivity and utilisation and the outputs of any organisation. We’ve heard from the previous speakers that have outlined that. Once you have an awareness and desire you really do need some of the knowledge. So some of the slides Jill talked you through earlier, every organisation is different so you need to have a detailed understanding of what those gems of inclusivity matters are within your workplace before you can take action. So instill the knowledge and invest the time to be able to understand what is actually occuring in the organisation that you lead.

Next is an ability, this one’s kind of difficult and a lot of people struggle. So once you have the knowledge and you know that this is happening do you have the ability in your organisations to tackle it. Investing in the training, coaching and mentoring to make sure men and women are able as leaders to tackle these microaggressions and daily issues that women are facing. The final thing is reinforcing, once you’ve got that in place and you’ve put the energies there, to actually try and enforce and bring about positive change in the culture don’t allow behaviours to slip back into the old ways. 

So if people could just shout out what one word comes into your head when you’re looking at that fine young gentlemen up on the screen. One word that you think summarises the feelings I’m going through there? So that is actually my first day at Murray Edwards at the University of Cambridge and I was really excited to come join Jill to work on these issues but equally I was petrified. Before I joined I was part of the home office gender equality network, so I’ve been involved in discussions around gender, which were really important to me but taking it to the next level and having these conversations staged isn’t easy. Sometimes you can be completely frozen by fear, fear of cynicism, fear of what might happen to your career in terms of people just thinking you’re doing it for other reasons rather than the ones that you are because you care about the subject matter. Even questioning yourself as a male, do I have the right to talk about these issues that affect women more than men?

But individuals should and can take actions and they form around words and actual actions. For example as a man and an individual I think it’s really important that you make a visible connection with DNI topics and inclusivity. That you actually stand tall and show your commitments on your teams, in your leadership discussions and boards. Sharing personal experiences, you don’t often hear a man sharing their personal experiences around gender inclusivity whether it is things happening to women or men. Don’t be afraid to engage openly in those discussions and ask men how they’re facing too, that will encourage other men to talk up and speak out and those discussions will happen more freely. 

One thing that is really important is male led leadership discussions are always about benefits and you should extol the benefits of gender inclusivity in the workplace to the business and individuals and share them amongst your staff. You should also take action and this one’s really difficult, think about how you can support individuals who take this action, particularly the men. So when you see those microaggressions taking place on a daily basis, challenge them, performance manage an individual, have the conversation and don’t shy away from it.

Take the people management and the corporate good citizenship role. So we’ve talked about how women in those roles are often in the conversations around the DNI. If we’re setting up a female group why not encourage men to get involved too.

Two final things around level and role. Don’t wait as an individual until you’re at a senior level. Challenge things. Have the conversations, make the observations, whatever level in the organisation you’re at. Don’t let your role stop you being involved. I mentioned earlier that these aren’t ‘women’s issues’, they’re organisational ones, and also not a HR issue and it’s not your D&I leads issue either. It’s for all of us to tackle and make a workplace as positive and happy as it can be for everyone. If we can’t do this as individuals, we make it more and more difficult for everyone - but particularly women - to not be able to access leadership roles and bring their true best selves to the workplace.

What I think we’re saying here is gendered judgements affect everyone, but the effects inhibit women more. It’s important for men and women to work together to make those changes but we’ve seen that men can face barriers and self-doubt into being able to engage in that discussion. There’s an important role to play for the organisation as well as the individual, but there’s a final question I just want to pose to your tables.

What more can be done in workplaces to engage men in these discussions?

Thank you very much for your time.

You’re kidding yourself if you think gender inequality is a thing of the past. There’s been a lot of progress, but men are still being promoted further up the ladder than women in nearly every workplace. This isn’t the result of some arch conspiracy, says Jill. Rather, “there are deep-seated assumptions that we all carry around with us from childhood about what we expect from men and women and we apply those filters through the everyday in terms of how we work.”

Jill and Jason’s project looks at the way men and women are perceived and judged by people viewing them as men and women (as opposed to how they identify themselves). As a result, it’s a gender binary project and doesn’t cover the entire scope of the very complicated issue that is gender equality.

Jill says that across all of the companies the project’s been involved with, a majority of people think they’re in gender inclusive workplaces. But once they’re questioned on a variety of topics, the difference between how men perceive certain issues and how women perceive them becomes blatant.

A prime example of everyday sexism is a woman receiving more negative bounce back for displaying the same behaviour as a man. “When a woman gives a man in particular negative feedback in a review, often that feedback is objected to more than if it comes from a man,” says Jill. But beyond the different reaction, there is a gulf in perception. “40% of women felt that they were unfairly judged, whereas 81% of men think this rarely happens to women,” says Jill.

Jill brings attention to the significance of forming social networks at work. Not only are these bonds central to workplace happiness, but after establishing a social connection, people will know a bit more about who you are and what you do. “So when an opportunity arises, the kind of opportunities that lead to promotion, then they know to tap you on the shoulder for that response.”

But despite the advances in gender equality, what Jill and Jason have noticed is that these social networks are getting more polarised. “We’ve got 57% of women reporting that informal networks in their organisation are male-dominated,” says Jill. She offers a few ideas for getting men and women to form more relaxed social interactions in the workplace, including mentoring each other, and having a designated day for employees to take time to get to know other people in the organisation (preferably of the opposite gender).

What You Will Learn in This Video

  • How getting men and women to work together more often will create more gender equality in the workplace
  • How deep-seated assumptions that we all carry around with us from childhood affect workplace interactions
  • Why forming social networks at work is so significant
  • Why, after establishing a social connection, you’ll be exposed to the kind of opportunities that lead to promotion
  • The benefits of getting men and women to form more relaxed social interactions in the workplace

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About Dr. Jill

Dr. Jill Armstrong is an academic researcher on men, women and gender equality at work. Jill is lead researcher on the Murray Edwards College ‘Collaborating with men’ project, working with men and women to change workplace culture for the benefit of all.

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