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Men, masculinity and inclusion

By Chris Freeland



The Drum Network article

This content is produced by The Drum Network, a paid-for membership club for CEOs and their agencies who want to share their expertise and grow their business.

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June 19, 2019 | 4 min read

We’ve started to see a significant shift towards acknowledging one of the biggest challenges we see today - that there are not enough women in senior management and leadership roles. Within Omnicom this has been recognised with the hugely successful Omniwomen + Allies initiative, the purpose of which has been about inspiring rising female stars from across its UK businesses.

A man looks into a  piece of broken mirror.

To achieve real equality, men must successfully partner with women. / Photo by Jurien Huggins on Unsplash.

But somewhere along the way, as an active participant, supporter and advocate of Omniwomen + Allies, I realise we’ve inadvertently created a different issue for men. In a world that acknowledges not enough is being done to inspire future female leaders and where men need to be more mindful of the language they use and reminded to constantly check their unconscious bias, where or who do men turn to for advice on what’s acceptable?

To achieve real equality, men must successfully partner with women. But as we look to one another for advice and support, there is often a knowledge gap around important issues.

Different people have different perceptions and understandings around diversity and inclusion, and can feel left out when knowledge is sometimes taken for granted. Unless we make everyone feel safe bringing their questions to the surface, we will inhibit involvement and might make some people – particularly men – feel excluded. Embracing all viewpoints is the only way to dispel mistruths and to make everyone – men, women, and non-binary – feel empowered and equipped to promote and achieve gender equality together.

This kind of cultural change starts at the top, which means I have to demonstrate the behaviour I would like to see in others. In supporting a more open and inclusive conduct for both genders, we create more space for women to succeed, and more space for men to not only be comfortable in their own skin, but also to appreciate better why this behaviour is so highly valued.

Advancing at work should not be about advancing at all costs, where failure isn’t an option. A career should be viewed as a journey, a series of growth opportunities where you can learn from anyone, no matter who they are, and safely make a few mistakes along the way. It’s not about right or wrong, it’s about creating a common ground where everyone can meet and move forward with mutual understanding, respect and a sense of compassion.

To achieve this, the culture needs to be above all one of empathy. It’s the only way that people will ever feel safe enough to be vulnerable, to feel accepted and encouraged in an environment where you can apologise if you need to, have space to correct behaviours that are wrong, and experience the chance to learn from your mistakes.

There’s no longer an excuse for men who hold the power to dominate the conversation, or to be reticent about working flexibly to accommodate their family’s needs. These old-fashioned attitudes are at the root of why workplaces are currently mostly structured to reward conventional masculinity, and they create a big imbalance as they foster an expectation that women are responsible for caring and looking after others. The sad part about that is these ‘softer’ qualities we so often ascribe to women are viewed as either undesirable or unimportant.

My plan is to foster a healthier, happier and more effective business by celebrating everyone for their individuality no matter who they are, leading by example every day, calling out the behaviours we don’t want to see, celebrating those that we do and encouraging each person to be their best, so that together, we can all succeed.

Chris Freeland is the CEO of RAPP UK.


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