Gender equality in the workplace can be undermined through everyday organizational practices, from sexually charged remarks to limiting female contributions to meeting discussions or refusing to give women credit for ideas or initiatives. Male middle managers are the key to halting such practices and fostering gender parity in their organizations.
Many CEOs recognize gender equality as an important strategic priority. However, top-level strategic priorities can be undermined if male middle managers display or enable gender bias through the type of small-scale everyday organizational practices that often go unnoticed… and become accepted as the way things are.
As a result, male middle managers are the linchpin to gender equality. Because of their position in the hierarchy, and the fact that they represent 70% of managers and leaders in organizations, they are the ones who must connect high-level gender equality strategy to the lower levels of the organization.
Leadership professor Elisabeth Kelan of Cranfield School of Management conducted a research study to identify the organizational practices gender inclusive middle managers engage in to ensure gender equality. Kelan’s research consisted of shadowing three gender-inclusive managers for one week. In addition, she conducted in-depth interviews of 20 peers, subordinates and superiors of the three men to gather more material on how these managers promoted gender equality in their day-to-day actions.
Based on the 130 hours of real-time observation of the three managers and more than 1100 minutes of interviews, Kelan identified four “meta-practices” of gender inclusive middle managers:
In addition to supporting gender diversity in their organizations through high-level initiatives, corporate leaders must also involve male middle managers in the process — for they are, indeed, the linchpin to making gender inclusive workplaces a reality.Much is made of women role models leading the way for other women to succeed in the workplace. Focusing on the many day-to-day practices that undermines gender equality shows that it is equally (if not more) important for organizations to cultivate male middle managers as roles models of gender inclusive leadership. This will encourage others to display the same attitudes and behaviours.
In addition, male middle managers can struggle with supporting and empathising with people who are different. Organizations should thus make every effort to encourage male middle managers to overcome the tendency of us all to identify with people who are like ourselves.
Finally, gender inclusive male middle managers tend to be self-reflective, recognizing the impact that they have on others. These middle managers will be encouraged if they receive feedback on their leadership from both senior level leaders as well as the people they manage.
In addition to supporting gender diversity in their organizations through high-level initiatives, corporate leaders must also involve male middle managers in the process — for they are, indeed, the linchpin to making gender inclusive workplaces a reality.
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