The recent Women’s Movement, which has been extremely important in bringing attention to sexual assault and harassment in the workplace, has inadvertently created a culture of tension between male and female employees at many companies.
According to a Lean In survey, almost 30% of male managers are uncomfortable working alone with women, and the number who are uncomfortable mentoring women has more than tripled. Travel policies are being affected as well, with professionals sharing stories with NBC News about companies allowing only those of the same gender to travel together and not allowing young professionals to travel at all.
Such dynamics set everyone, both men and women, up for failure. By missing out on mentorship relationships, women’s career trajectories are compromised. And the stress men experience due to the uncertainty of how to interact with their female colleagues can diminish focus and productivity.
Not only does this growing tendency toward gender polarization threaten to disintegrate corporate culture from the inside out, it isn’t sustainable. According to the Department of Labor, women comprise 47% of the U.S. labor force. Half of our workforce actively disengaging the other half is the recipe for a human resources disaster. It’s also monumentally bad for the bottom line.
Reports show that poor teamwork can increase work stress and, in turn, stress can decrease productivity and cost as much as $8,000 per employee per year. And the overall cost of disengaged employees can cost companies up to $550 billion a year.
With both human and business capital at stake, how do companies stop this disengagement between men and women from becoming the status quo? The solution lies not in issuing professional policy but rather, in shifting personal paradigm. According to Johnny Taylor, president of the Society for Human Resource Management, “The #MeToo movement will fail if it focuses on legalistic solutions rather than practical ones.” He believes the solution needs to focus on changing culture rather than just creating rules.
In lieu of professional training to support a cultural shift, companies can start to bring men and women back into a synergistic relationship with small, internal initiatives.
Small Steps Can Make a Big Difference.
- Acknowledge the Problem. Cultural challenges become less insidious when brought into the light of day. Hold a company meeting and let your team know that management is aware that the culture has changed and ensure them the company will take further steps to help employees navigate the change.
- Create Co-Ed Listening Sessions. Create a safe atmosphere in which men and women can come together and share their fears and frustrations and brainstorm solutions. Avoid creating separate sessions for men and women as this can potentially increase the sense of division.
- Lead by Example. Leadership and executives need to show the rank and file that men and women can work together in a collaborative, conducive manner. Create case studies of how this has worked in upper levels of management and share them with your organization.
- Increase Professional Development Initiatives. The more individuals can tap into and lead from their personal strengths, the better their chances of navigating and succeeding in times of uncertainty.
The Ultimate Goal Is Building New Models for Partnering.
For diversity and harassment policy to ultimately succeed, new models of partnering need to be built for those affected by the policies. Creating a more collaborative culture for men and women to work together requires a different kind of professional development approach, one that emphasizes the human nature at play in the equation.
While a company’s culture may be driven by its mission and vision, the reality is, it is actually created by the mindsets of the individuals within that company. It’s the behaviors and attitudes of the people who surround us, more than anything else, that determines the day-to-day work experience we find ourselves in.
Whoever said business isn’t personal was wrong. It’s highly personal. We aren’t just employees; we are people. Every individual within a company’s ranks brings a unique set of talents, passions and quirks that, when leveraged, position them to make an even greater team contribution. In fact, Gallup reveals that employees who exercise their personal strengths on a daily basis are 8% more productive and six times more likely to be engaged.
In addition to taking small steps within your organization and positioning employees to lead their careers from a place of strength, a modicum of common sense can go a long way in rebuilding the professional connection between men and women.
Good women are not looking to falsely accuse or alienate men. And good men are not looking to harass or alienate women. That alone is common ground upon from which to build more productive relationships. Are there those who would desecrate that common ground? Sadly, yes. But they are not the majority. So, they should not get to set the tone for the rest of us.
If we let those who would harass or lie about being harassed break our collective trust in one another, then we’ve given our power to the weak. Worse, we let those who would try to control one another control us all. Our strength, both in and out of the professional arena, has always been in our ability to come together. We, as men and women, hold the power to change the way we perceive each other. And through it, the way we connect and collaborate.
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