Today is the International Day of the Girl.
It’s also a day, unprecedented in recent history, when there is a widening gap in trust among genders. As more women are speaking up in the aftermath of the #MeToo movement, more men are feeling like they are the victims of this movement. The Senate Judiciary Committee hearings to confirm Judge Kavanaugh have electrified the space even further. They thrust our country into a place where the political divide is impacting the gender trust divide.
Does women’s empowerment have to mean that men are losing their power? Is power a zero-sum game? I believe not.
It’s time we start an important dialogue that bridges this trust gap. In the view of the world that suggests that if women are to get power, men have to lose power, no one wins . In this view of the world, power is defined as “power over” rather than “power to.” Working together, men and women have the power to drive the human race and progress forward. I believe that you, the male leaders in business, get this and you have a unique opportunity to lead us forward.
I am inspired today by a young woman whose video is going viral. I’m inspired because in some of the first lines of this video she starts to share what the experience is like for many young women:
“I can’t walk to my car late at night while on the phone, I can’t open up my windows when I’m home alone, I can’t use public transportation after 7 p.m., I can’t be brutally honest when you slide into my DMs, I can’t go to the club just to dance with my friends, And I can’t ever leave my drink unattended.”
This young lady’s words describe a sense of constant vigilance, an experience to which I can personally attest. Likely this is not something that many men are even aware that women experience.
This sense of vigilance is an experience of many young women in the workplace as well. It can be related to how they dress, whether and how they speak up in a meeting, how they are being perceived by others, their self-perception that they have to work twice as hard or be twice as good in order to be promoted. It’s exhausting.
This is where you, the male leaders in organizations come in. I know that you are well-intentioned. You want the women in your lives (your daughters, wives, sisters) to succeed. Likely you have even advocated for the women in your workplace (your colleagues, your mentees).
Here is my request of you. Take the time to get curious about what it’s like for the women in your family and on your team. Have a conversation with them about their hopes, the impact they want to make, what they believe is getting in the way of that impact. Ask them what it’s like in the workplace for them: what energizes them, what exhausts them. Then just listen with an open mind and an open heart.
Share your own experience of what it’s like to be a male leader in a #MeToo world. Yes, it can be confusing and you don’t want to cross any lines that you’re not sure about. You want to help, but you’re not sure how. If you have any questions about what is appropriate (in meetings, lunches, dinners, informal interactions) just ask them. Don’t make any assumptions.
Yes, I know this conversation may be hard. I promise you that this trust-building conversation in itself will be transformational for both of you. And yes each of us together can bridge the gender trust divide one conversation at a time. Because that is what leaders do. We exercise courage to influence others and make a positive impact. There is much work to be done and we need both genders to be powerful to move our world forward.
Please share your thoughts, and even better, your experience. That is what we need in today’s world to heal this gender divide so we can move forward more purposefully toward the missions that matter to each of us.
A version of this post first appeared in my Forbes leadership blog.