Diversity vs Patriarchy – Let’s catch the next Wave!

Author: Karsten Jahn (coach & consultant) 

Recently I attended a conference, dealing with organizational change. One of the sessions there was about human resources (HR). This is the department of an organization that is supposed to support individuals within the organization. Here people were talking about how to evaluate the skills of employees, how to train them and the role of leadership in all this. At one point during this session a young woman from the audience got up and confronted a high-ranked HR manager from a large German energy provider, also female, with an interesting subject.

The young woman said that she was at the very beginning of her career. She recently read that a study, which shows that the careers of women are often hindered by other women, not so much by men. This sounded counter intuitive to her, as she thought women would support each other.

The HR lady responded that she has never been hindered by other women or experienced a lack of support for that matter. She continued pointing out this would not happen in her company. All that in a tone, close to scolding. Which in my opinion shows a major lack of sympathy and basically already proves the point of the study. But she continued talking, and not without pride in her voice (paraphrased):

“At our company we do not have a lot of female managers, especially in HR, even though a majority of the people in this division are women. But it’s not that they wouldn’t be able to, they do not want to go for a management career. Many young, skilled, intelligent women tell me that they rather not aim for higher management, the personal investment is way too high. So it’s a matter of choice, not of sexism.”

Instead of thinking critically about what the young woman said and discussing the very serious matter, she basically responds with disrespect and rejects the topic. That made me really mad. And I’m a white male, much further in my career. I can only imagine how the women that asked the question must have felt. Probably not encouraged, inspired or taken seriously, which is a shame, because exactly that is what HR should do. Encourage people, inspire them and take them seriously.

The question behind all this is, why do women not want to go for higher management and why do we want them to do that though. The answer is simple. Because we lack diversity. That’s also the reason why this question is not obvious to all of us. And sadly enough not even to the female HR manager…

Diversity is Valuable

We all want to learn, we all want to develop, it’s in our nature. And nothing supports this more than embracing the huge potential in the differences between and around us. People with different backgrounds add different perspectives, which help us reflect on what we do and what we think we know. That’s how we learn. Your sense of taste won’t develop if you always eat the same things, no successful musician only listens to the same type of music, no athlete just keeps repeating the same exercise. Variety is important.

When it comes to people, diversity relates to everything we can be different in: Gender, culture, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, disabilities, etc. Even mixing cat and dog people is valuable.

comfortzoneBut instead of mixing we often group with those that are similar. Psychologists explain this by the way our brain is set up. We feel more secure with those that are similar to ourselves, trust them easier. That’s why expats always stick to one another. And within each expat community you’ll find subgroups sorted by nationality. Or maybe by religion or language. And of course all of which are gossiping against each the other groups and all together against the host nation. It’s easier, it’s our comfort zone.

We say that birds of a feather flock together. And it’s true, it’s deeply rooted in our brains. That’s probably how we ended up with racism and sexism to begin with. But humans became very smart. And we found out that those who dare to leave their comfort zone, can achieve higher results. Our history books are full of examples for this. Embrace differences is leaving the personal comfort zone. Which is never easy. For no one. But it might be worth it.

Research shows that teams of knowledge workers, who have to operate creatively, are better equipped when they are staffed heterogeneously. Diverse teams achieve more. Designers collaborating with engineers, technicians with business people, senior with junior. Major synergies spark, when the mix works. But everyone has an experience, where it did not. It was probably build to fail and then served as a reasoning for people to not try again. So now we usually have homogeneous teams, everyone is similar.

Adding new perspectives would be hugely beneficial, though. But we have to want it ourselves, else it will just fail again. So we need to support minorities (i.e. underrepresented genders, age groups, cultures, whatever). And it’s not the minority as such, but it’s about looking at every person’s individual skills and needs, which emerge from their culture, their gender and so on.

If we just give them a desk and tell them our schedules, it will fail again. If we don’t adapt our styles so it comforts others, we will only get those that “convert” to our style. That is not really what we want. No one should have to change who they are in order to be successful. Only if we’re free to be ourselves, we can be truly creative. It’s time to fire the next stage…

Waves of Feminism

Feminism, as in the fight for women’s rights, is being classified in different waves. The first one was about acknowledgment and ended around 100 years ago in the western world (whatever that is). In focus were basic legal issues and to understand that women are people, too, who deserve the right to vote, to drive a car and such.

The second wave of feminism was then about extending the legal equality and had its peak in the 1960s and 1970s in large parts of the western world. Women are able do the same things as men and they have to be allowed to do that, too. Families, education, jobs… we had to adjust our laws so that women had the same options as men and that domestic violence became illegal. It was forbidden for women in Germany to play football until 1970, by the German football association.

Both waves of feminist activity were a revolution mostly dedicated to white middleclass women. According to the norms of the white male. The result, our current reality in large parts of the western world, is that we actually get to meet women in higher management positions. Very few ones, though. And most of those are “masculinized”. They appear in a business look, which is a merely female version of the men’s suit. They have to follow the lifestyle of business men. They have to play according to the rules of patriarchy. Again, not exactly what we have in mind, when we’re thinking about equality. Patriarchy is still up and running.

The third wave of feminism is addressing exactly that, taking care of the individual and their needs. It’s not just about women anymore, it’s about individuals. No privileges due to gender, sexual orientation, culture, ethnicity, etc. We don’t really know how true equality would look like, but let’s go for it, because more people will be able to live and work the way they want. And happy people are more efficient workers, resulting in products and organizations of higher quality.

What we need to do…

This brings us back to the HR lady from the conference, who said that many women at her company don’t want to go for higher management career, as the demand does not fit their lifestyle. Those are intelligent women that deny being squeezed into a structure that was created for someone else. And so they should!

We have to understand that it’s not their loss, if they don’t want to aim for a career like this, but ours. We need diversity in our societies and organizations. But we are not prepared for that. Expecting others to adopt to our system, which does not work for and barely accepts minorities, is obviously ridiculous. Yet, that is what we keep doing. We’re still stuck in wave 2.

I would expect that HR managers are aware of this. And I would expect that women in management are aware of this. A higher ranked female HR manager that is proud that their management level lacks women, because they use their freedom of choice, is mind-boggling and makes me really mad.

Our business world has been created by white men, to suit their own lives. That is a fact. We might not necessarily see it straight away, but that’s the problem with privileges. They are invisible to those, who have them (Michael Kimmel). We have to find solutions so that people can have a management career and a family at the same time. We have to find solutions so that people of different cultures can collaborate without having to abandon their own background.

Diversity is not necessarily comfortable. But it’s worth it. Let’s get out of our comfort zones. Let’s get rid of patriarchy. Let’s get rid of privileges for majorities, so that we can get rid of majorities. All that hinders diversity, which we need to be better, smarter, more creative and flexible. As a society as well as an organization.

Let’s empower minorities and listen to their needs.

Hi, my name is Karsten and I’m a feminist.

 

(This blogpost has originally been published here.)

Leadership and Living Your Life

Author: Wolfgang Lünenbürger (feminist, theologist, agency CEO)

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There is an ongoing discussion in Germany about the question whether leadership and the role of a manager are possible if you are working part time. The last round was sparked by an editor-in-chief that wanted to stay in her role after she gave birth and come back in part time for a year or so.

And as I learned just one week ago that there is a well-known agency in my city that explicitly refuses a career in part time (what is in my not so humble opinion the dumbest thing I heard for a long time), I feel the urge to share my experience and beliefs.

Everything is Possible to Do in Part Time

Back in the 90s, when I was elected member of my church’s Parliament, I was part of a groups of feminists that tried to implement a leadership tandem. We tried to find two women to share this job and indeed found a hole in the laws we had in our church. Since this day, and it was even before I started my own career, I’m convinced every task can be done by job sharing. Or in part time.

Since I reached a position that allows me to have some influence on the way we organize work and leadership, I try to show that this is true. And to be honest, I learned two things so far: (1) Yes, it’s true principally. (2) It’s hard anyway and we all are blown hot and cold between ambition, reality and all the responsibilities we have and take in our lives.

Plans and Chances

But it’s not by accident that on one of my jobs the only leader in that firm that came back into her exact position after maternity leave was one of the leaders of my team. We not only planned it carefullly, but asked as well the important questions my friend Robert Franken put up in his (german) blog post:

How do you, employer, make sure I’m able to do my job while I have a baby in a way that my needs are as important as your needs?

Back then we designed here tasks to fit into the ten hours work week she choose to have during maternity leave. And we put more and more hours back on her job, following the possibilities of her family situation. The only thing that did not change at all: she remained boss of her team, even when she was not exactly in office for many hours. It worked. And it worked nearly perfectly by the way.

Taking Leadership in Part Time

Now I’m running Cohn & Wolfe’s Germany operations as Managing Director. And my leadership team is built out of five directors and myself. Two of them work full time; one has different tasks in several firms of our group, so we as Cohn & Wolfe Germany have her part time; and two work part time, with different hours to be in the office. Both of them have made their career working part time. And for their last promotion (that includes responsibilities for clients, budgets, profits and people) they stayed with their part time.

It wouldn’t be true to say all is optimal. And it wouldn’t be true to say they are working only the hours they get payed for (what is, as everyone knows who works in an agency, true for all of us that take leadership in any agency). But what works, is, that we are able to help finding a good balance between the different roles that leaders (and not only leaders) have in their lives.

Organizing Success

I’m fully convinced that the recent success and momentum of my agency in Germany — we did triple both fees and headcount and have a very scary pitch-win-ratio — that this success has its roots in the fact that we do just this. That we put great talent exactly in the positions where they are best, regardless of their working hours. That we learned to organize ourselves and put responsibilities where they belong to be able to make quick decisions. That we strengthen the self-organizational skills of our teams by implementing scrum methods.

And that we ask ourselves

How do we as employers make sure you are able to do our job while having kids in a way that your needs are as important as our needs?

Nämlich.

(This post has originally been published on Medium.com.)

#men4equality – Why we won’t speak at all-male panels any longer

Events and panels, where only men are talking to men, are unrepresentative, one-dimensional and incomplete – and therefore boring and irrelevant. It is better, for audiences, participants and organizers, to call off such one-dimensional events rather than allowing a conversation on a low-quality level. This is why the signatories to this declaration have decided not to take part in all-male panels any more.

With #men4equality we are creating awareness for the fact that the very casting of panel lineups has a massive influence on the quality of the debate itself. We understand men#4equality as an invitation to event organizers to take this important matter into account when preparing their programs. If you’re still planning to have an all-male event, we will have to cancel our participation. Events of such kind simply do not live up to our expectations concerning quality.

List of initial signatories:

  • Rowan Barnett, Senior Director Market Development & Media, Twitter 
  • Torsten Bittlingmeier, Founder TalentManagers
  • Leonhard Dobusch, Professor Universität Innsbruck
  • Thomas Feinen, Geschäftsführer Hoffmann und Campe Verlag
  • Robert Franken, Digitaler Potenzialentfalter
  • Stephan Grabmeier, Chief Innovation Evangelist Haufe-umantis AG
  • Joachim Graf, Zukunftsforscher & Publizist
  • Hendrik Haase aka wurstsack, Aktivist
  • Ralf Heimann, Journalist & Autor 
  • Vincent-Immanuel Herr, Autor & Aktivist HERR & SPEER
  • Tom Hillenbrand, Journalist & Autor       
  • Mark Hoffmann, Co-Founder & CEO Vertical Media GmbH
  • Simon Hurtz, Journalist      
  • Christoph Kappes, Geschäftsführer Fructus & Sobooks.de
  • Friedemann Karig, Journalist & Autor 
  • Dr. Ralf Kleindiek, State Secretary Federal Ministry for Family Affairs BMFSFJ 
  • Johannes Kleske, Co-Founder Third Wave
  • Wolfgang Lünenbürger-Reidenbach, Geschäftsführer Cohn & Wolfe PR
  • Stephan Noller, Founder ubirch
  • Christian Schiffer, Journalist
  • Igor Schwartzmann, Co-Founder Third Wave
  • Michael Seemann, Autor    
  • Martin Speer, Autor & Aktivist HERR & SPEER
  • Hakan Tanriverdi, Journalist
  • Tarik Tesfu, YouTuber und mastermind behind “Tariks Genderkrise”
  • Dirk von Gehlen, Journalist & Autor     
  • Leander Wattig, Veranstalter & Publisher          
  • Felix Wegener, Veranstalter & Blogger    

Here’s a short list of things you as an event organizer should take into account when trying to make your panel relevant and successful:

  • If you are an event host, get the balance right. Reach out to organizations like e.g. the Women Speaker Foundation or speakerinnen.org in Germany, they can help you find excellent female speakers on virtually any topic.
  • When you are preparing for an event, make sure that you make gender balance your objective and not just some goal. It needs to be an integral part of your conference or panel setup.
  • Think about involving women in your planning process.

And here are just three ideas how you as a man can be(come) part of the solution rather than remain part of the problem:

  • If you’re invited to speak at a conference: Make sure that there’s a balance in diversity among the speakers.
  • Before you take part in a panel discussion: Ask the question whether there are just men on stage or men* and women* in a balanced diversity setup – hostess not included. 70% men may be o.k. in some industries, but more would only mean a lack of effort.
  • Speak out about the reasons for not attending male-only events. If you remain silent, you miss the chance of creating awareness for this problem.
  • Create awareness among your peers. Ask them why they wouldn’t bother reflecting on this issue. Help them make up their minds, too.

Always Remember:

All-male setups are simply boring.

Balanced lineups must become the norm.

Help us change the ratio. Spread the word: #men4equality

Why I don’t want to be a threat to women

Author: Robert Franken (blogger and digital consultant)

I live in Cologne, Germany. After the incidents around the central station on New Year’s Eve, which have been widely commented on under the hashtag #koelnhbf, I’m still trying to come to terms with what has happened and how the debate has unfolded. The newly elected mayor’s concept of #armlaenge („at arm’s length“) can’t be the solution to a problem that had long been ignored and that has s got nothing to to with refugees and migrants in the first place: I’m talking about every-day sexism and sexual violence against women. My perspective is a male one and I would like to describe what’s making me so uneasy.

railway-station-1029215_1920I’m heading home from, let’s say, from a night out with friends, strolling through a quiet part of town, and I’m walking behind a woman. She’s a bit slower than I am and I’m slowly catching up. And all of a sudden, I realize how uncomfortable she might be feeling. So I’m beginning to walk a bit slower, adding some distance between me and her. But yet again, since this is a deliberate decision, I’m getting the feeling of being somehow manipulative. It’s a dilemma.

Respecting inter-human boundaries has always been very important to me. A flirt turned into something more intimate only if I could be absolutely sure that I hadn’t misinterpreted anything. Thus, I definitely missed a few opportunities for having been a bit… slow. But it was because I didn’t want to take chances.

It’s a quote by Margaret Atwood that, in my opinion, sums up the whole problem:

“Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.”

It was only recently that I fully realized what it could mean for a girl or a woman to go home with a guy. It had never occurred to me that it would be a problem the other way round. Of course it didn’t, for I wasn’t exposed to any risk of being forced into something against my will. That’s a male privilege. And it’s utter discrimination against women.

Is there any rule of thumb? Probably not. But there has to be something men could use as orientation. „No means no“ (#neinheisstnein) is the slogan behind a movement for a stricter law against sexual violence. It should definitely be supported. But to me, it’s not strict enough for a respectful interaction of human beings for it is too abstract for every-day human encounter.

Being a heterosexual man, as a matter-of-fact, I just don’t expect any woman to wish for me getting any closer to her. It’s a precondition, a rule. If she does, however, I’d need pretty damn obvious signals from her. And in order to interpret them correctly, I’m gonna need a whole lot of sensitivity and empathy. Even more so, if these signals are non-verbal.

Respect while flirting also means that you just don’t seize every single opportunity for an erotic adventure. What’s wrong about a decent flirtation? It’s not about finishing a task all the time.

Back to my nightly way home. I was often close to speaking out to the women in order to signal them that I wasn’t being a threat. But that could have turned out as an all-too obvious attempt to chat up, so I kept quiet.

Meanwhile, in situations like the one mentioned above, I’m trying to keep a distance. If necessary, I’m switching to the other side of the street. Why? Because it’s not a big deal for me, but it might make a difference for the other person involved. I’ve even started whistling or humming a song once – and I can’t really sing. I just don’t want to scare anybody by any means.

Am I being paranoid? Maybe a little. But do you get what I’m trying to say?

The fact that there are services like a telephone hotline where they literally walk you home at night is proof that there is a constant potential threat (to women) out there. And no: I don’t think I’m not victimizing women when I say this.

It means that my uneasiness of being recognized as a potential threat, is by far the least important problem here. It’s the women who face the threat; who permanently have to feel their freedom and their physical and psychological integrity being at stake.

I hate that. And I want to help changing this. I’d like to be part of the solution rather than being part of the problem by being a man. This may sound a bit over-sensitive, but we can’t take a chance here. In times of every-day sexism and massive violence against women, it is strictly necessary to become an asset in this particular issue. Will you help making that change?

I am a supporter of #HeForShe, and so is Male Feminists Europe. We need to join forces and make sure that every man is carrying this kind of sensitivity into his personal and professional life. Is more necessary than ever.

Tony Porter: A Call to Men (TEDWomen Talk)

At TEDWomen 2010, educator, activist and lecturer Tony Porter has made call to men everywhere: “Don’t act like a man.” He asks all men to break free of the “man box.” Although this talk is already more than five years old, it hasn’t lost any of its power.