BY MICHELLE WIMES AND REBECCA BAUMGARTNER
In the two years since the launch of the #metoo movement, the topic of gender equality in the workplace has become increasingly more politicized with unintended consequences for both men and women. While increased awareness about harassment has made it easier for victims—both male and female—to report such conduct,supportive men are leaning out of the conversation out of fear and a sheer lack of knowledge regarding how to move forward proactively and positively.
There is confusion regarding workplace etiquette, including men announcing their intentions not to hire, mentor, travel or be in a room alone with female colleagues, among other negative consequences. This creates an untenable situation which will undoubtedly hamper the growth and professional development opportunities for women in the workplace. Why? Because it further disconnects them from networks where they have typically been excluded.
In a 2018 poll by LeanIn.org and Survey Monkey, nearly half of male managers reported being uncomfortable participating in common work activities with women, with senior men being nearly 3 1/2 times more reluctant to have a work dinner with a junior level woman, and ﬁve times more hesitant to travel with one for work than with a junior male colleague. So, what’s a man to do? And how can organizations create psycho-logical safety and environments where people feel comfortable talking about these uncomfortable topics that impact their everyday interactions?
Here are a few actionable insights:
■ Ask questions.Organizations should ask women what challenges they are facing and then listen to women’s honest answers while practicing empathy. This can be done via one-on-one interviews as often happens in the individual career conversations our senior leadership team has with lawyers when visiting oﬃces. It can also be done via regular engagement surveys or annual Needs Assessments.
■ Give employees a safe place to talk.Members of the Forbes Coaches Council have made recommendations on how to create organizations where employees feel included, appreciated, and safe—the perfect foundation to foster courageous conversations about issues that aﬀect their work without turning into venting sessions. At Ogletree’s 2019 Retreat for Diverse Attorneys, we facilitated “Real Talk” discussions where conversations were had around speciﬁc issues that impacted our diverse lawyers personally and profession-ally. This biannual retreat provides a safe space for such candid dialogue.
■ Promote Diversity and Inclusion Programming.Organizations must be proactive about their D&I initiatives and encourage participation and acceptance within the workplace as a cultural imperative. Initiatives like Ogletree’s Women’s Sponsorship Program provide women access to top ﬁrm rainmakers and an advocate for their continued development and advancement. It allows women and men to get to know each other better while encouraging men to open up their internal and external networks to support women.
■ Create a culture of responsible bystanders and practicing allies. Encourage and train employees to tactfully call out actions that make them and others uncomfortable. Micro-aggressions handled proactively one at a time prevent the buildup of these behaviors over a period of time. Organizations cannot promote change if they are unwilling to identify and interrupt these behaviors when they happen.
■ Provide education and support. While we can all agree that training is not always the answer, it is a solid foundation. Recurring and ongoing education around bias, cultural competency, and personal development will help shape a culture of inclusion. Ogletree oﬀers a series of e-learning modules bolstered by group and oﬃce-wide discussions and training on each of these subjects.
■ Be aware.Awareness and comfort discussing these topics is but the ﬁrst step toward change. It’s 2019 and only 6.6% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women which, according to Fortune magazine, is the highest it has ever been. Building diverse teams requires intentionality. Being aware of the organization’s current female statistics is the ﬁrst step toward increasing them at all levels which in turn empowers women to speak up and engage more readily. At Ogletree, we have quarterly meetings with our Diversity and Inclusion Steering Committee in which we discuss the ﬁrm’s metrics and also send them to key decision makers in the ﬁrm.
■ Align policies towards decreasing the gender gap, giving equal opportunities to women and supporting women entering and returning to the workforce.Examples include promoting ﬂexible work schedules and providing targeted learning and development programs that create a level playing ﬁeld for women such that they are better positioned to take on these roles. At Ogletree, we provide opportunities to work a reduced hours schedule while still being on track for partner as well as to work remotely. We also oﬀer targeted business development coaching for non-equity women shareholders desiring to become equity shareholders. Additionally, we have articulated and regularly refer to labor and employment, immigration, class action, etc. benchmarks that articulate the substantive legal expectations for all.
When men and women work in a supportive and inclusive work environment, both groups are given the space to thrive. Providing forums for candid conversations about the challenges they face, encouraging allyship and sponsorship, educating about interrupting biases, and being intentional about oﬀering programming and opportunities to decrease the gender gap allows the unintended consequences of #metoo to fade into the background and these uncomfortable conversations become more comfortable. Only then can we all move steadily and courageously towards the goal of gender equality at the workplace. WI