Three Ways Men Can Champion Gender Equality At Work
“I used to think that the world is fair. That it was a meritocracy. I no longer believe that. I think people who think it is an even playing field are probably like me - they have had it easy their whole life. They are probably a guy, they may be white, and they have likely been in the majority their whole life and they assume that it is like that for everyone else,” says Mike Gamson, Senior Vice President for LinkedIn Global Solutions.
Like most white, male, senior executives, Gamson says he believed in diversity and thought that he was doing all he could to create an inclusive workplace. However, he soon realized this was not the case.
“Several years back, halfway through our annual global sales kickoff, a woman on my team pulled me aside to ask if I had noticed that all the speakers on stage were male. I had a moment of realization – first of all I hadn’t noticed, and second of all the reason for the gender imbalance on stage was that there were only men in charge of the respective departments. My leadership team was not a reflection of our broader team. It was a reflection of myself,” he says.
In that moment Gamson says he became determined to make a change and launched the LinkedIn Women's Initiative to support women with advancing their careers. Through this effort Gamson has increased the percentage of women in senior leadership roles from 6% several years ago to 30% today, within the Global Solutions division.
In this interview Gamson shares why inclusion is a business imperative and how men can champion gender equality at work.
Michelle King: Why are most men not aware of their critical role in advancing women at work?
Mike Gamson: There’s a natural human tendency to hire or surround ourselves with people that look and think just like us. That’s a problem for many reasons, one being that when everyone at the top looks, thinks, acts or speaks like you - it’s harder to get that natural exposure to new ways of doing things or emerging opportunities. That’s why being intentional about hiring for a diverse workforce matters so much.
I don’t think this inadvertent unawareness is uncommon though, and it’s important to spread the word about imbalances loud and clear when we see them.
King: Why is it so important to raise awareness of gender inequality at work?
Gamson: For many people, it feels like you are running uphill in your career not downhill. And I think we need to over-invest in some groups… to make the playing field level. Achieving diversity, inclusion and belonging at workplaces nationwide is an ongoing process, and there aren’t any quick fixes or “how-to” manuals to follow. In fact, employees might not even know how or where they can get involved in creating a more inclusive work environment. Raising awareness - and making it easier for your employees to access the resources that are available to them, is a critical first step.
King: How can men play an active role in advancing gender equality at work?
Gamson: I think there are really three things men can do. Firstly, recognize your unconscious biases. It’s critical to shed light on the importance of creating a company where employees of all backgrounds feel welcome and receive the support they need to do their best work. In order to do so, a crucial first step is recognizing where your unconscious biases lie, and where there are imbalances in your organization. Take time to identify where they might play a part in your work day – whether it’s recruiting, management, interpersonal interactions, etc. – and start making a plan. Recognition is the first key to making a change.
Secondly, focus on recruitment and hiring. If you are an executive responsible for hiring and expanding your staff, then from the very onset you should be deliberately hiring for a diverse workforce -- make it a part of your company’s DNA. Building a diverse team is important for not only cultivating your workforce, but also for your company’s future growth.
Thirdly, invest in high potential employees. The tables are often tipped unconsciously in the favor of white men. Making explicit investments in high-potential, underrepresented talent can help to correct that imbalance. Take the time to identify programs or initiatives you can join to support the growth of employees – and if none exist, consider starting one.
King: What lessons have you learnt from advancing women at LinkedIn, that other organizations could use?
Gamson: Start with investing and leading from within. Rather than dictating a rigid path forward solely based on industry case studies, we enlisted the help, insight and creativity of our high-potential and most senior women. In bringing together voices from a range of backgrounds and perspectives to develop and lead the initiative, our vision and actionable plan for a more representative organization truly began to come into focus.
You also have to be willing to build, iterate and customize as you go. The current structure of our Women's Initiative is not the first format we tried and while it has inspired other programs across LinkedIn, those have each been tailored to the needs of the audience they are addressing.
King: How can leaders engage their male workforce?
Gamson: Start talking about it. The jumping off point to driving change is acknowledging the need for it – and then it’s time to get to business making a plan to tackle it. When men asked me is this fair? I do I genuinely believe it is fair, because this is an equalizing set of investments. As a leader, there are plenty of ways to encourage your employees to get involved. From internal initiatives dedicated to supporting and growing a more diverse workforce, to community programs designed to pave the way for future talent, find ways to inspire your employees to take an active role in diversifying our workforce - including leading by example.
King: What is your advice for men who want to advance women at work?
Gamson: Achieving diversity and inclusion in the workplace is not just the right thing to do, it’s absolutely critical to your company’s long-term success. The energy you put into fostering an inclusive workforce will reap countless rewards for your company in the ways it fosters belonging, growth, innovation, productivity and more. Make it a business priority, because it absolutely is one.