What does it say about a work culture when, in a company of more than 160 employees that offers reduced hours with full benefits for employees, only one of the many participants in the program is a man?
Maybe it doesn’t say anything at all about the work culture. Maybe it says more about the individuals involved. Or maybe it says opportunities don’t always feel like real options.
The reason why I know this number is that someone asked me about it during a group discussion, “Inclusive Leadership: Why Company Culture and Men Matter,” a conversation hosted by Heartland with professionals from a myriad of backgrounds. As a senior interior designer at BWBR, these Heartland events offer a unique opportunity to engage with other professionals, and this day the conversations proved to be both daunting and inspiring.
As a member of a company that is currently discussing the subject of company culture and women in leadership, the topic was very timely. The Heartland discussion was honest, at times moving and, as a professional woman trying to navigate my way through the maze of the corporate/work world, discussing some of our common challenges made me somehow feel bolstered and encouraged. However, the lack of male participants at this discussion was very disappointing. Typically, these discussions are fairly balanced between men and women. This time the attendance was 90+% women. According to the organizer, men just didn’t want to attend. What does that say about our work culture?
I looked up the number of men participating in our reduced hours program out of curiosity when a woman in the group asked about the participation in our office.
I am not sure if the number was completely surprising. Our industry, architecture, has been male-dominated for decades. Only recently have we seen an increase of women rising up in older firms, but the numbers are still sparse. In our firm, roughly 40 percent of our staff are women. We switched to all laptops over a decade ago and now have access to work on the cloud and other tools outside of the office that make flexible work possible. We are employee-owned, and recently the number of Associates in the firm who are women reached 50 percent. While our company certainly has opportunities for improvement, we are proactively creating flexible policies as well as working on hiring, developing and mentoring women.
Still, the lonely number left a question that was discussed in the Heartland group. Are we making advancements if cultural stereotypes on leadership and flexible participation exists? Are we progressing if men don’t want to get involved?
Something a nurse in the Heartland group mentioned grabbed my attention. She admitted that she wasn’t initially very motivated to come to this particular discussion. As a nurse, she mostly works with other women and said the topic wasn’t one that resonated as something she personally needed to explore. However, as the morning progressed, she confided that she realized, while working with women, her company is run mainly by men in a very old school way that isn’t very inclusive of women or different ways of showing leadership. She also reflected on the fact that, although more women are now doctors than in the past, the leadership is still mainly male. Even on the nursing side, as the male nursing staff has grown over the last several years, they are also the ones who are now being promoted to leadership positions.
Her discoveries were enlightening to witness and made me realize how important this type of discussion is for all of us, women and men.
So, when it comes to gender equality in the work culture, why do men matter? Simply put, they matter because they are still in positions of power. Yes, women have made strides and worked incredibly hard to achieve them. Women can forge ahead, and we will, but without the participation of men on this issue, progress will take infinitely longer. When men and women partner together, it will open up opportunities for all of us: more potential, new solutions, increased respect and relevance, even the ability of everyone to participate in reduced hours.