The Role of Men in Fostering Female Talent: Part 1

For the next two blogs, I am thrilled that we will be having Michael Chamberlain, as our guest blogger. Michael is Vice President of Marketing for Catalyst, Inc.. Catalyst has been a mover and shaker in support of corporate women for 50 years.

In both his blogs, Michael will be discussing “The Role of Men in Fostering Female Talent.” This first blog will share his points of view and perspectives. His second blog will focus heavily on recent Catalyst research and what we can all learn from it.

–Dr. Rosina L. Racioppi, President & CEO, WOMEN Unlimited, Inc.


Michael J. Chamberlain

Michael J. Chamberlain

As Vice President, Marketing for Catalyst, Inc, Michael is responsible for the care and promotion of the Catalyst brand. He also heads up the Editorial and Publishing functions. Additionally, he plans and oversees all Catalyst events related to Catalyst initiatives. He is a frequent speaker to corporate audiences and the media on engaging men in gender initiatives and on topics related to women’s leadership.

Here are Michael’s [MJC] answers to 3 questions posed by WOMEN Unlimited [WUI]

WUI: What Specifically Can Male Managers Do to Help Women Fully Express Their Leadership Traits?

MJC: There are three big areas where the actions of men allow women to express themselves as corporate leaders. First, when men act as mentors to women they help them strengthen their strengths and weaken their weaknesses. They teach them about the unwritten rules of the workplace.

Sponsors are also crucial, but in a different way. Sponsors talk about women—not to them. They advocate for them with leaders in a male-dominated environment. They give women access to opportunities they may have missed due to gender barriers. They take chances on talented people.

Thirdly, men can be pivotal in women’s leadership development when they serve as examples for other men. We need to institutionalize men’s natural instinct to be motivated by other men. If men see senior men acting as champions for women, they will be inclined to do the same—like attracts like. They will see it as enlightened self-interest and that’s the point at which the organization can provide the tools to channel that self-interest into diversity-building action.

WUI: What Subtle (or not-so-subtle) Differences Stand in the Way of Effective Conversations Between Men and Women Regarding Women’s Advancement?

MJC: I think the strongest obstacle is the concept of masculine norms. They are societally endorsed and embraced. Men frequently feel they must adhere to these norms which are embedded in corporate culture and which stand in the way of women’s advancing. Here are four of the most commonly held masculine norms:

  • Men should avoid anything feminine. They will be left out if they manifest a behavior perceived to be feminine
  • Men must be winners. Wealth, prestige and power are what they should work diligently towards. Equally diligently, they should avoid softer traits—traits commonly attributed to women and so foster gender-segregation.
  • Men don’t show weakness. Tough. Aggressive. Demanding. These are traits our research shows that people associate with male leaders. For female leaders, they use “softer” terms like: Willing to negotiate…takes a back seat.
  • The Boys Club notion. Guys are expected to play golf and behave like the other guys. Women are thought of as hanging with other women. Anything in between is still considered an anomaly.

I’d really like to emphasize that men don’t understand the unintended consequences of conforming to these norms, not just to women, but to their corporations and to their own psyches. Once men get a sense of what it’s like outside of their male privilege and why it’s important to let go of these behaviors, the likelihood of change greatly increases.

WUI: Any Personal Experiences or Anecdotes You’d Like to Share?

MJC: At Catalyst, when we talk about why it’s important to advance women, we say “It’s not only the smart thing to do; it’s the right thing to do.” What do we mean by that exactly? It’s Fairness. It’s blindness to race and ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, parental status, ability and disability. It’s awareness of all these things, but awareness also of talent and fair play.

Fairness means that organizations must dismantle systems that disadvantage some or many. It means fair behavior must be recognized, rewarded and spot lit for amplification. Leaders must be held accountable for achieving fairness, so that it becomes the shared vision and the norm.

[Next blog: Michael Chamberlain pinpoints recent Catalyst Research]