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Time to Recruit Men for Gender Equality

When our recent partnership with global technology company Avanade resulted in hundreds of men signing up to be mentors for the formerly all women Aspire Foundation mentoring programme, there was a moment where I thought I could be making the biggest mistake of my career.

Up to now, the mission of Aspire was to empower women in business to be leaders and then help them empower more women around the world—with the ambitious goal of reaching 1 Billion women by the year 2020.

Why were men joining Aspire and what would they bring?

Over the years I’ve heard it all from both men and women: why only women? Positive discrimination ... is it a women’s knitting circle? ... you are man bashing ... will I have to burn my bra?

Yet since starting Aspire in 2001, I’ve watched our programmes grow and our events double and triple in attendance, women appreciating being in the company of other like-minded women in a supportive, collaborative and distinctly female space to grow, learn, and create change. And the need to receive inspiration, tools and contacts is paramount for today’s women to survive and thrive as the new leaders of this world.

Still, outside of Aspire, women’s leadership grows at a snail’s pace. Global issues haunt us and women’s motivation levels sink to all time lows. The stories of stress, depression, career stagnation and bias regularly seep into my inbox. Many women simply resigning their positions; others becoming whistle-blowers, and still others severely indecisive as to stay or go within their corporations.

When one of our new Aspire male mentors (a former Royal Navy engineer turned performance coach, working on an oil rig) signed up to attend our next event, M.A.D Global Leadership, in January, I had to confront my own unconscious bias. I wondered how the only man in the room would be received, or whether he would upset a 15-year track record of female empowerment?

I took a breath and realised I, too, need to seek equality. And that any man who signs up to be a volunteer Aspire Foundation mentor for women, and who then wants to attend an all-women event is a man who ‘gets it’. We took the leap and invited him to attend in the hope more like-minded men would follow. And they have.

In order to bring about real change for women, men who are still largely the world’s decision makers need to be engaged at higher levels than ever before. While women make up almost half of the workforce in many parts of the world, men still overwhelmingly hold the most senior roles in business, politics, and education. Men can - and should - be partners in engaging other men and in moving our world toward gender equality.

It goes without saying that gender equality is not just a women’s issue, but a business issue, a human rights issue. I am also convinced gender equality is the nail upon which almost every other crisis in the world now hangs. Gender equality affects us all. When we achieve true equality, we all will benefit from the gifts of each gender in their free expression.

There are men in the world who will watch a video like 48 Things Women Hear In A Lifetime (That Men Just Don't), or who will read a blog article like The Thing All Women Do That You Don’t Know About, and will immediately take a stand, whether with the HeforShe gender equality movement, or through Aspire or by quickly realizing their unconscious bias, and undertaking to change themselves and others accordingly.

These are men who love their wives, mothers, daughters, and sisters, who have seen the obstacles business, society and culture have set before their loved ones; who have the power to tear down those obstacles; who want to ally with us to educate other men and help move organisations and the world towards gender equality. As one man recently said to me: “This is a no-brainer. I have daughters.”

 Empowering women empowers the whole humanity. And these men believe in it as strongly as we do.

I hope and believe that together we can make this coming Aspire event an expression of that inspired expectation of things is to come in organisations and our world.

Posted by admin on Monday, January 11, 2016
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