More than three years ago, Joanne Lipman was on a plane enjoying a lovely conversation with a male executive she had just met. But the moment she mentioned her destination was a women’s conference everything changed.
“Suddenly, you get that defensive look and he says, ‘Sorry, I’m a man,’ ” said Lipman, who’s the former chief content officer of media company Gannett. The man said he had just gone through diversity training and he felt the takeaway was that it was all men’s fault, she said.
The next day, when Lipman was speaking to a room full of women about gender issues in the workplace, such as being marginalized and interrupted, she stopped in the middle of her remarks.
“I said ‘This is great, but we all know this. We need men in this room to hear this conversation and be part of it,'” she said.
That experience inspired her to write her latest book, “That’s What She Said: What Men Need to Know (and Women Need to Tell Them) About Working Together.”
Lipman started researching the book three years ago, long before the Harvey Weinstein scandal and countless other men were fired amid allegations of sexual harassment and assault.
“Harassment and the sexual predatory behavior is the extreme, but it’s only enabled by a culture and an environment in which that can happen,” explained Lipman. “So if you have a culture where at the top you’ve got sexual predatory behavior, you can bet that that is also an environment where women are not valued as much as men.”
Following the #MeToo movement, not only are women talking more openly about matters in the workplace, so are men, said Lipman, who interviewed scores of male executives and leaders from companies like Google, Facebook, and Kimberly-Clark for her book.
Awareness is key, she said, especially since many men have been blind to some of the issues women encounter at work. A 2016 Pew research survey found that a majority of men believe the obstacles that make it harder for women to get ahead are “largely gone,” while the majority of women believe “significant obstacles” remain.
Part of the reason for that disparity, Lipman explained, is likely because men don’t face these obstacles themselves and part of it is due to unconscious bias — social stereotypes that an individual forms without being consciously aware they are doing so.
“It’s like that sunlight being the best disinfectant. Once you’re aware of it, you can actually take actions to counteract it,” she said.
But even when men are aware of their own gender biases and inequities in the workplace, they don’t always step in to narrow the gender gap. Catalyst, a nonprofit focused on working women, found that when men were asked what undermines their support for gender equality, 74% said fear. They fear a loss of status, the disapproval of other men or saying the wrong thing, Catalyst found.
“We’ve got to have men feel as comfortable as women are talking about this and working together towards solutions,” she said.
Lipman noted that her book is not “man-bashing.”
In it, she sets out concrete steps men can take that are not just the right thing to do, but make financial sense. “Multiple studies have found that adding women to all-male teams leads to greater financial success,” Lipman writes.
Her tips include incentives for managers to hire, retain and attract women and making sure a diverse set of people interview job candidates. If you are looking to diversify and only have white men doing the interviews, you are not likely to get a diverse group of employees, she said.
Lipman also shows how women are much more likely to be interrupted by men in meetings and how limiting that can be for a woman’s career. To change that dynamic, men and women can step forward and “interrupt the interrupters,” she said.
Most women have also had the experience where they bring up a good idea and no one responds. “It’s crickets,” said Lipman. But when a man restates the idea as if it’s his own, people applaud it. When this happens, Lipman encourages men to give credit back to the woman who had the idea in the first place.
Even though she says she hasn’t seen many real gains for women in the workplace since she graduated from college three decades ago, Lipman is optimistic.
“Men are eager. They’re eager to talk about it. They want to ask questions. They want to know and I think that’s such a positive sign,” she said.