Why focusing on women in the workplace is better for men

LinkedIn (and the broader media) has been exploding lately with articles about gender diversity in the workplace. These articles range from cultural criticisms of “corporate feminism” all the way to studies that show a gender diverse company is far more profitable. I even wrote one about creating inclusive cultures instead of adhering to hiring quotas. In all of these conversations, some say there is a big piece lacking. The conversation never seems to really hit at the issues for some people, and many are claiming they are excluded from the conversation altogether.

In fact, about 50% of the population are claiming to be excluded; men. In a world of finite jobs in any company at any one time, it can be scary for men who perceive jobs being taken away from them to be given to women. This causes negative reactions to all attempts to increase gender diversity, no matter what a study says about its benefit. To many men, increasing women in the workforce means necessarily decreasing men, and they fear they could be on the chopping block.

At the end of the day, however, focusing on women in the workforce is actually better for men and increases their professional opportunities.

Different cultures

Many articles discuss the necessity of changing cultures in order for women to thrive in the workplace. We know that women bring different perspectives, which leads to more profitable companies. We also know that we need to create inclusive cultures to unlock those perspectives and turn them into business benefits. Without inclusive cultures, diversity can lead to lower team cohesion, increased conflict, and a myriad of other problems.

This call for a change in culture is where a lot of fear is created. We are told change must happen and that more women must be hired; it’s not a crazy leap to assume that means fewer men will be hired, and thus the cries of “reverse discrimination” begin. On a more personal level, no one wants to feel like they were chosen (or not) simply due to their identity. It feels tokenizing, and can lead to real disengagement. In the corporate world, tokenizing is avoided by creating truly inclusive cultures, not just hiring more of a given identity group. It begins with acknowledging that every identity group is different (and that every human is different), and that is not only ok, but preferred.

Better cultures?

But here’s the thing: a culture that includes women and their varying perspectives inherently includes more men. This is achieved through a phenomenon called “trickle-up social justice”, a quip made famous by activist and lawyer Dean Spade. Women, being a historically oppressed group (who were only granted the right to be full people in Canada in 1929), are often held in lower esteem than men. Even to this day, the gender pay gap is a huge problem – not to mention the percentage of women on corporate boards being abysmally low. Women are also traditionally less persistent negotiators, tend to prefer team environments, and are often less likely to want conflict.

When you create a culture that is aware of the issues that face certain groups of people and that is open to different ways of doing things (i.e. more congenial versus hierarchical methods of authority), then other people are included that may not necessarily belong to the one group you’re focusing on. So in this case, a culture that is inclusive of women is better for men because it acknowledges, by the same idea that every woman is unique, that every man is unique as well. That assumption of uniqueness enables men to be more of their true selves at work also; it isn’t just women who don’t agree with cultural norms at some companies, but many men are trapped by their own societal expectations and thus do not feel they can speak out.

Business success

The other side of this culture debate is cultures that allow women to thrive are linked to business success for men and women. A culture that enables women to thrive balances some old-world traditional business cultures (aggression, hard negotiating, and hierarchies), with their more inclusive counterparts (team work, avoidance of conflict, and niceness). The end result is the key to business success: balance. Forbes wrote a great piece about the power of balance being the secret to sales success. Another piece discusses how niceness is a new way to be successful in business. These types of cultures are necessary for women to thrive, but at the same time it can feel very foreign for a man used to traditional ways of doing things. For men who may not know how to work on this “balance”, having more people who embody different work and personality styles in your office means more role models, teachers, and people to learn from in your own personal growth and development.

This balance between traditional and broad-range cultures is formed because of the inclusion of different perspectives. More inclusion of different perspectives makes businesses more successful (and, in theory bigger and hiring more often). When a business becomes more successful, the whole pie increases and there is more to go around. Thus, inclusion isn’t about taking positions from men to give to women in an attempt to right historical wrongs. It’s about treating every person as an individual who brings unique perspectives to the company, which is all part of finding the best person for the job. When that happens, everyone wins.