This article was based on episode 129 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio, Amazon and Stitcher. Get the chance to win a free 1-hour coaching call with Neal when you become a member at themodernmanager.com/join.
In discussions about gender in the workplace, we usually focus on issues impacting women. When women are assertive, they’re bossy. When women express their feelings, they’re weak. In both of these examples, not only is the standard set by male expectations, but they’re also about women’s behavior. It’s only in passing that we think of or refer to men who are passive or emotional.
But society is changing. Men are experiencing new challenges in today’s modern office as the traditionally accepted male stereotypes are coming under scrutiny. Neal Conlon, a Marine veteran with fifteen years of experience coaching and consulting, addresses contemporary issues for men and encourages men to take steps towards a healthy integrated masculinity in the workplace.
Here, Neal unpacks the contemporary realities of a society still in gender-role-limbo, what essential inward work men can do, and how managers can support healthy, integrated masculinity in the workplace.
Neal defines “feminine” and “masculine” as an inner, essential inclination towards specific behaviors rather than something linked to sexual orientation or biology. Someone who leans into the masculine side of the polarity embraces a pragmatic approach and prioritizes safety and security. Someone who leans into the feminine side of the polarity tends towards nurturing, with an energetic, open approach.
Neal believes that every person contains both masculine and feminine aspects inside of them. Since birth, we’ve been inundated with messages about gender. Over time our personality forms as a combination of our genes and life circumstances. Whether we outwardly lean toward masculine or feminine behaviors is the compilation of who we are combined with individual choices. This means we can continually foster and evolve how we embrace the masculine and feminine sides of ourselves.
THE BLUEPRINT HAS CHANGED
For much of civilization, men and women were assigned distinct gender roles and expectations. Until fairly recently in America, men were expected to make money while women took care of the home. Over the last sixty years, women have increasingly been earning higher education degrees and climbing the career ladder. In effect, the gender blueprint has crumbled.
As women ascended, men willingly or unwillingly were forced to descend from a place of privilege, security, and power. This left many in a state of confusion and loss. For some this meant wondering where they fit in the shifting landscape while for others it meant digging in their heels and doubling down on masculine traits.
THE DAYS OF THE BOYS CLUB IS OVER
The male-centric norms and culture established decades ago still affects modern workplaces today. Neal points out that although the workplace has been changing, it hasn’t shifted evenly across industries or seniority. For example, even ten or fifteen years ago at hedge fund or investment banking firms, most of the female employees were executive assistants, whereas nowadays the roles are mostly shared. This means that many older men were shaped by and still remember a more gendered workplace which makes shifting behaviors that much harder.
WHAT’S A (WO)MAN TO DO?
As men and women embrace a less gendered world and work environment, each must do their part to support the transition.
Men can embrace the shifts in expectations and roles.
Begin a mindful practice of examining your understanding of gender stereotypes of men and women - both positive and negative. What
Attend masculinity events to explore unhealthy attitudes.
Recognize your need for support, and reach out during difficult times to get the help you need.
Understand when you are overshadowing women’s voices. Focus on empowering others rather than having your voice heard.
Women can show respect to men who are embracing the change.
Reflect on your understanding of different gender expectations for men and women.
Reinforce the positive change by acknowledging and showing respect to the men who are putting forth the effort to shift their mindset and behaviors.
WHAT’S A MANAGER TO DO?
In order to create an inclusive environment and healthy company culture, managers need to lead with high emotional intelligence. By understanding the changing and complex gender dynamics, managers can work to ensure that everybody feels seen, heard, and safe.
Demonstrate your commitment to including diverse voices. If your team has a lack of diversity, find ways to get different perspectives into the discussion.
Help facilitate the learning process for your male colleagues. When a man is struggling to find his place in the new reality, speak with him about what changes he needs to make and why. Explain why limiting his speaking time in a meeting is important, the dynamics at play, and how by holding back he can impact the greater team.
Help men see that they are not being asked to leave the table, only to make room for more people to pull up a chair.
Encourage female voices to speak up and speak first so it’s not only on the men to hold back.
The effects of change often take a long time to settle in. Though societal expectations for men’s and women’s roles dramatically shifted decades ago, changes in the workplace and our understanding of gender are continuously evolving. By acknowledging these shifts, and working to embrace not only inner needs but also outer changes, both employees and managers can work together to create a more inclusive, healthy, integrated workplace that supports everyone.