You don’t have to be male to ‘toast’ International Men’s Day

Whenever women are asked why there’s an International Women’s Day and not an International Men’s Day, many respond with, "because men have the other 364 days of the year".  In fact, though, there is an International Men’s Day, and there has been for over two decades. But do we actually need an International Men’s Day and If so, why?

The purpose of IMD

International Men’s Day (IMD) takes place every year on the 19th November and is marked in over 60 countries around the world. It aims to shine a spotlight on men making a positive difference in the world and raising awareness of issues and challenges facing men today. Issues like men’s health, toxic masculinity and the prevalence of male suicide. As we previously highlighted, men in the UK are three times as likely to commit suicide as women – and a big part of that is the disconnect between what we expect of men and what they really want from life today.

Movember and IMD

IMD takes place in November, the month designated to highlight men’s mental health issues by sprouting a ‘tache and raising funds for charities and causes that support men’s battle with common health-related issues.

Why join the movement?

I continue to believe that the gender balance conversation cannot take place in a vacuum. We don’t want to create echo-chambers and support bubbles that result in unaccomplished plans and unachievable objectives because we have not involved the other half of the gender population.

So, we need to involve men in the conversation – and by doing so we also need to listen to them. We need to understand their challenges and concerns, their lack of understanding of our challenges and concerns and their confusion about how and what to do when trying to do right by women.

International Men’s Day creates an opportunity to do so. It gives men a platform to voice their anxieties and learn from each other. It also provides them with an opportunity to find a support network that helps eradicate toxic masculinity and outdated notions of what it means to be a man.

Great examples of IMD celebrations

In the past few years, I was fortunate to be invited to a handful of high-profile IMD celebrations and a few stuck in my mind. The one I particularly enjoyed was an event put on by a gender balance network of an international bank in the City. It consisted of a panel of men of various seniority – from the UK CEO to an intern – plus a few client guest speakers.

The issues discussed ranged from flexible working to sexuality and the freedom to be yourself, to supporting gender balance as a force of good for society, work and men.

The discussion surfaced parts of the gender conversation that we don’t tend to hear in women’s events, and in this way provided a forum to listen to experiences from another perspective – and isn’t that what diversity and inclusion is all about?

I was also positively struck by the audience, which was nicely gender-balanced and very enthusiastic.

So, if women are looking for support from men, isn’t International Men’s Day a fantastic platform we can develop in order to move forward together?

Active Voice: Stuck for Ideas on How to mark IMD? Here are five.

International Men’s Day (IMD) gives people the chance to celebrate the positive value men bring to the world and to raise awareness of the issues they face.

Here are five ways to help you mark the occasion.

  1. The stigma around male mental health still exists, so, if you’re male, spend some time looking after yourself and/or check in on a friend; try to look out for each other as much as possible.
  2. In the UK, men remain three times as likely to take their own lives as women. Sometimes we say we're fine when we're not. So, if your friend doesn't seem ok, don't forget to reach out to them. Or make a donation to the suicide prevention charity, CALM UK.
  3. Organise a social event for employees to bring sons into the workplace. Introduce them to male role models who can inspire these boys to have goals and ambitions.
  4. International Men’s Day lands right in the middle of the annual Movember campaign to “change the face of men’s health” – so grow a moustache.
  5. IMD is a time to celebrate the positive influence men can and do have on society as a whole, so – male or female - why not let the men who inspire you know how much you appreciate them?

You can find more information about International Men’s Day here.

 

The Long March for Equality in the Armed Services

By Melissa Jackson

November is symbolic as the month we remember those who’ve nobly fought and lost their lives in combat. It's 80 years since the start of the Second World War and a pertinent time to consider the changing role of women in the armed forces from rear-guard support to front-line action.

I recently joined the People’s Vote march in central London. Being sandwiched between the vast number of banner-waving supporters snaking through the capital made it difficult to take in the architectural splendour of some of the city’s most historically significant buildings.

However, as the crowd thinned out momentarily in Whitehall, ahead of the summit in Parliament Square, I looked up to see a beautiful monument – a haunting sculpture dedicated to the memory of “The Women of World War II”.

These women were from an era where a time of national crisis raised their profile as the support network for the war effort. In fact, their service during World War II inspired the fight for social change and equality.

With thousands of men away on the front line, women were called up for war work, taking roles traditionally filled by men, such as mechanics, engineers, munitions workers, air raid wardens, bus and fire engine drivers.

Their status was changing and following a conscription ruling, by mid-1943, almost 90 per cent of single women and 80 per cent of married women were working in factories, on the land or in the armed forces.

All of them helped win a war, but unconsciously they were triumphing in the battle for recognition as a competent workforce in their own right and nudging the mindset that perpetuated inequality between the sexes. However, it would take another 70 years for service in the armed forces to be determined by ability alone and not gender.

In 2002, the then Defence Secretary, Geoff Hoon, said he was not prepared to lift the ban on women serving on the front line because officials were concerned that women’s presence might distract men – either because of their innate need to protect women, or simply because of sexual attraction. Really, in the 21st century? Yes, really.

Finally, in 2016 – a ban on women serving in close combat ground roles in the UK military was lifted. This paved the way for female troops to serve in infantry roles across the board, including elite special forces’ units like the SAS and Royal Marines; thereby ending inequality on the front line.

It was a watershed moment, which not only made the armed forces a more modern employer but helped ensure the right person was recruited for the right role.

But far from being something to be celebrated, it’s a shameful reminder of how long it took to get this far. Germany opened up combat roles to women in 2001, Australia in 2011 and the US in 2013.

The Whitehall monument is a reminder of the long march taken in the battle for gender equality and a symbol of hope for all women who feel there is still more work to be done.

Does gender balance have anything to do with men’s mental health?

We know that women in the UK experience twice as many mental health problems as men. But, according to the Mental Health Foundation, of the 6,500 suicides recorded in the UK last year, 75% were men. That’s shocking! Men are three times as likely to kill themselves as women. Why is that?

The truth is, we don’t have an answer. But the Samaritans report on men and suicide cites ‘masculinity’ as the second most common reason for men to commit suicide. So, I wonder, can our efforts on gender balance also address some of the male mental health issues that lead to these shocking statistics?

Phil Cox, Voice At The Table Associate, coach and therapist, suggests that society’s image of what it means to be a man (powerful, dominant, aggressive, independent, efficient, rational, competitive, successful, in control and never vulnerable) is no longer consistent with the values that men hold today. Phil’s research suggests that men value family relationships, happiness at work, openness, being loved and having purpose as much as women do. Yet these values are in stark contrast to what society tells us it means to be a man, notably the archaic ideals of masculinity – directly and indirectly.

What does this look like, especially in the workplace? Here are a couple of examples:

  • Men are discreetly discouraged from taking parental leave, working flexibly or part-time or taking on responsibilities that are routinely performed by women, like taking notes at meetings.
  • Men are judged by their status at work, their titles, the size of their offices and bonuses.
  • Examples of more crude reassertions of masculinity are men joking about women’s appearances, boasting to each other about their sexual conquests and drinking heavily after work.

All these ingrained norms and behaviours continue to reaffirm our views of the ‘gold standard’ of masculinity.

So, is it a surprise that those men who, perhaps secretly, would like to work more flexibly or spend more time with their children or express emotions like hurt or affection might feel resentful and trapped? And if that’s how some men at the office might feel, imagine what it might be like for men who are earning a low wage or none at all? How much more important it might be for them to adhere to an ideal with which they no longer identify?

In an article called Feminism for Men, appearing in a New York magazine in 1915, the first line read, “Feminism will make it possible for the first time for men to be free”. These words, while uttered a long time ago, have not caught on. Both men and women still insist that men remain in what Phil endearingly refers to as the “Glass Cave”.

So, as we celebrate Mental Health Day this month, I ask all of us to start the conversation about gender diversity not with women in mind but with men in mind. Let’s talk about how we all would benefit if men are ‘allowed’ to express their true feelings; if our boys were taught that success is not just about being able to afford a Rolex or Porsche but is equally about finding happiness, purpose and contentment in small things in life; if men and women shared chores at home and at work equally. Every step we take towards empowering women to be free must also allow a step towards a redefined version of masculinity.

To find out how men’s values have changed over time and how masculinity has not kept up with those changes, join Phil Cox’s webinar on 18th November called What Men Really Want. Alternatively, Phil also offers a 90-minute talk on this topic – a perfect way to celebrate International Men’s Day on the 19th of November.

Active Voice: 5 Things Men Can Do At Work to Use their Masculinity for Good

The world is full of stereotypes about men – from mansplaining to their discomfort at the display of any emotion (apart from anger). These may or may not be present in your office, but just in case, here are five things each man can do to turn a stereotype into a force of good.

 

  1. Give others a voice

Men have been known to speak over a colleague or two – frequently of the female persuasion. Next time you feel a sense of urgency to interrupt a colleague, hold that thought! Your voice is likely to be deeper and stronger than a female colleague’s – so use it to give her or him a stage by inviting them to speak while you listen.

  1. Share your limelight

Yes, you do deserve the credit – but all of it? Honestly, was there no-one else alongside you who helped you achieve your success? If you think there was, then share your glory with them. Approach your success with humility by ensuring that all members of your team can bask in the same sunshine.

  1. Ask for those infamous directions

Well, not literally. What I’m getting at is, don’t be afraid to show you don’t know. Ask for help! It takes a strong and confident man to acknowledge his weaknesses. Be that man.

  1. Observe your behaviour for bias towards women

Rarely does one admit that he has a bias towards women. Most men will say they don’t, and many will go as far as to say they don’t care whether they are dealing with a man or a woman – they treat everyone equally. Really? Why not put this to the test? Pay attention to the following three things: (1) Do you direct your remarks at meetings equally to men and women? (2) Do you answer emails from women as fast as emails from men? (3) Do you listen as attentively to women as you do to men? Don’t answer now… observe yourself over the next few days/weeks.

  1. Make the coffee

True, it’s been a long time since I’ve been asked to make the coffee. My male colleagues are respectful enough to offer me a cup instead of asking me to get them one. And we probably are already there – except, let’s extend that respect to every woman, including your admin staff and your juniors. Coffee for everyone – made and brought to the table by you! It’s a simple sign of respect – like holding the door open – that goes a long way.

 

Learning How to Make Fear Your “Friend”

By Melissa Jackson

Earlier this month, Lord’s Cricket ground – the hallowed home of a very British (and traditionally male-dominated) sport – went all out to bat for women. I was bowled over by the number of exceptionally talented maidens in attendance and their perfect delivery of support for each other.

“Championing Women’s Voices” was a networking event, organised by NatWest Bank, for entrepreneurial women and what struck me was the infectious level of energy in the room, dynamic enough to power-up the Blackpool illuminations.

However, one statistic that dimmed the contagious glow, was that three times as many men as women are starting new businesses. No explanation was available, but it was suggested that it might be underpinned by fear of failure.

The first panel discussion was about “overcoming fear”. One motivating speaker, Not-on-the-High-Street founder Holly Tucker, said she had learned to embrace fear and that it had become her “best friend”.

She admitted that when setting up NOTHS, she was “beyond scared”.

“Fear is the number one thing I have clung onto to make me succeed,” she declared.

“Every single business entrepreneur will say it’s failure that drives you.”

Another influential speaker, award-winning journalist Poorna Bell, said that we often fall into the trap of blaming ourselves for failure when it is often external factors.

“I have learned that if things haven’t worked, it’s not because the idea was bad, but because ‘the world wasn’t ready’,” she declared.

The third inspirational panellist was the England cricketer Kate Cross, who bravely admitted that fear of failure had been a huge challenge to her mental health. She battled anxiety and depression and effectively had a breakdown.

It’s a salutary tale on the eve of World Mental Health Day.

Sharing her experience, she said: “I ran away from my problems and flew to Barbados for 12 days. I couldn’t be with the girls and the team, I had to face my fears.”

It was a dark time, but with the right help and support she recovered and has not only returned to the game, but come back stronger and more self-aware.

“Every setback helps you learn and you constantly evolve,” she explained.

She has created her own coping mechanism - a “24-hour rule”- to take control of her demons before they take control of her. If something is worrying her, she decisively chooses to “forget about it” for 24 hours to “get herself back on track”.

You can read more about her very personal journey here.

Poorna had an epiphany following her husband ‘s premature death that, despite considering herself a strong, independent woman, she had over-relied on men.

So, she took up weight-training and discovered an unexpected bonus in that, not only did it strengthen her body, but also her mind.

She joined a powerlifting team, who supported and encouraged her.

“This was the most life-changing thing I have ever done,” she admitted.

Her team-mates were there for her 24/7.

She said, “It humbled me. I had always been fiercely independent and thought it was shameful to ask for help.

“But this made me realise it’s not shameful to ask for help. If I had failed in a lift, they were there to lift me out of the spiral that can happen.”

Her mantra now is to fit self-care into her daily routine.

She said, “I set a timer for 10 minutes each day where I breathe or go out for a walk. Making time for yourself is really important.”

You can read more about her story here.

It’s commendable that these successful women, who have learned to overcome their fears and anxieties, were willing to expose their highs and lows.

Aside from networking, every woman in attendance took something priceless away with them… that the inner strength that comes from facing internal fears can empower you to stay focused on your aspirations and pursue your business dream.

The Power of ‘Why?’

Simon Sinek starts with “why?” and so do many philosophers. Why do we exist? Why do we dream? Why do we believe? In the context of diversity at work, many ask, “Why change what’s not broken? Why introduce different leadership criteria? Why look at people from a different perspective? And why challenge what comes naturally like our biases and predispositions?”

What’s important about the power of these questions is that we each have to answer them for ourselves. No objective reason proffered as an answer will motivate you, the individual. It is your own “why” that needs an answer.

Take the business case for more women in leadership, for instance. At this stage, we have been talking about it ad nauseum. However, few incumbent leaders are motivated by the business case. As it doesn’t mean much to them personally, most are not inclined to instigate real and lasting change. The business case does not respond to their personal “why?” - “Why does it matter to me personally whether there are more women in leadership?” When our leaders can answer this question for themselves, then they can start answering the question, “What can I do to increase the number of female leaders?”

For me, the personal “why” is clear: I do what I do because I believe that by respecting the contribution of an individual, we empower that individual with purpose and meaning. And that can only lead to good.

Let me show you what I mean.  Take 'Julie' – a mid-career lawyer in private practice. Julie has been working hard for years, producing great work for the firm’s clients. She was brought up to be mild-mannered, polite and deferential. She went to an excellent school and university where these characteristics where further honed and subtly encouraged. Now Julie is working amid colleagues – many of whom are male – who were raised to be assertive, single-minded, self-serving and confident. Because of this dynamic, Julie often feels uncomfortable speaking up at meetings, insisting on her points of view or pushing forward her own agenda for promotion or salary increase. The knock-on effect is that she is unlikely to feel like a valued contributor; or worse, she could be judged as being insecure and lacking in leadership competencies. Her motivation will begin to dwindle and she will soon start asking herself why she’s working so hard if she isn’t vested in the job like other staff. Her colleagues, however, those who have managed to be heard and push through their ideas and interests, are feeling valued and encouraged and see purpose and meaning in their work: other people’s respect and recognition.

Julie – who could be your daughter, sister, niece or good friend - has many peers like her at the firm, as well as other sectors, like Lucy in Asset Management, Terri in Tech and Yemi in Academia.

What if it were within your “why” to give Julie and her peers (and others who are currently struggling to be heard) a voice? Imagine how that would change the work environment. Julie would start expressing her ideas, which might be very different from the rest. She would feel that her opinions are worth expressing, in fact are solicited, and that her contribution is valued and appreciated. This would give meaning to her work and she would continue to deliver well into her most productive work years. That’s great news for Julie and her peers – but not only them. It’s great news for business, society and – most importantly – you! You have empowered another person and yourself by understanding what motivates you. By answering your own “why?” you gain an insight that propels you as an individual and us as a society.

To find out what the “why?” in diversity might be for colleagues and friends, join us on the evening of the 10th of October as we celebrate Ada Lovelace day with the BBC Women in STEM at our evening panel event Women in Tech: Breaking Barriers.

Saluting the Victorian Mother of Invention

By Melissa Jackson

Note to self… and all readers… go and hug your computer on 8th October. No, I haven’t lost my marbles or turned into some strange, tech-geek, cyber warrior, I’m genuflecting to a remarkable woman, who is often overlooked in her contribution to the development of the device that has revolutionised the world.

We often hear the alliteration “founding father”, but what about mother? What should we use to describe mothers of invention and discovery? Wonder woman seems too trivial. Wise woman; too patronising. Smart sister? Absolutely.

My subject – Ada Lovelace - was smart beyond belief – a mathematical genius and credited with being the first computer programmer in an era when women were seen and not heard.

But if you ask people (and I have) – if they know who Ada Lovelace is, they draw a blank. My mission, therefore, is to fill-in some of the gaps so that you can “wise up” to her brilliance and spread the word about her place in tech history.

Born in 1815, she was the (noble) progeny of an art and science gene pool – the romantic poet Lord Byron and mathematician Anne Isabella Milbanke, 11th Baroness Wentworth.

After her parents separated, when Ada was a baby, her visionary mother steered the course of her education and insisted that she learn maths and science, which was revolutionary for an aristocratic young lady.

One of her tutors was Mary Somerville, a Scottish astronomer and mathematician, who was among the first women to be admitted into the Royal Astronomical Society.

Recognising her brilliance, another of her tutors, maths professor Augustus De Morgan, told her mother that if a young male student had her skills, “They would have certainly made him an original mathematical investigator, perhaps of first-rate eminence.”

Undaunted by parochial Victorian attitudes, Ada unobtrusively honed her skills and at the age of 17, she met Charles Babbage, a mathematician and inventor. He became Ada’s mentor and she began studying advanced mathematics.

Ada was fascinated by the ideas of Babbage, known as the father of the computer, who was working on designs for a “machine” to solve complex mathematical calculations.

She described how codes could be created, for the device, to handle letters and symbols along with numbers. She wrote the first algorithm that was meant to be processed by a machine. She also proposed a method for the machine to repeat a series of instructions, a process known as looping, that computer programs use today. For this reason, she is often considered to be the first computer programmer.

Her life was cut short by cancer, at the age of 36, depriving her of a career that would have certainly produced further remarkable achievements.

But her accomplishments are destined to endure with the annual Ada Lovelace Day - this year on 8th October. This is a dedicated international celebration of the achievements of women in STEM. It aims to increase the profile of women in STEM and, in doing so, create new role models who will encourage more girls into STEM careers and support women already working in them.

We, at Voice At The Table, are hosting our own celebration of Ada Lovelace Day - Women in Tech: Breaking Barriers - on 10th October at the BBC’s New Broadcasting House in central London.

Join the conversation on how to survive and thrive in the tech and other male-dominated sectors; pick up practical tips from our panel of leaders on what it to takes stand out; and help support other women who are breaking barriers in male-dominated work environments.

For tickets, click here.