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How this training helped male executives confront their privilege and bias

Bonobos and Chevron offered employees workshops and seminars to promote equality and combat sexual harassment. Here’s the ROI.

How this training helped male executives confront their privilege and bias
[Photo: ajfilgud/iStock]

Jean-Hervey Cesar, the Ninjas product + performance lead at Bonobos, can clearly remember when his group of friends would use off-color language to describe a woman. He says that he would “cringe internally.” But still, like many men, he’d let it pass without saying anything.

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That is until he went through the company’s interactive workshop in March. In partnership with Promundo, an organization that aims to promote gender justice and prevent violence by engaging men and boys in partnership with women and girls, Bonobos encouraged employees to take part in the training as part of a month-long push to promote allyship.

Cesar says one particular session was aimed at getting male participants to speak up when they hear sexist language. Since then, Cesar says he’s been more conscious of his blind spots and made a more concerted effort to interject when he hears those kinds of microaggressions.

Both he and his colleague Tim Frazer, a senior software engineer, acknowledge that the voluntary  workshop served to illuminate their blind spots when dealing with and talking about women. Frazer says that he didn’t realize how often his blind spots arose from the privilege he has as a white man. But Cesar, an African-American man, says he too came to realize that he was in a position of privilege just by virtue of being male.

Many of these types of seminars and workshops have sprung up in the aftermath of the #MeToo movement. The aftershocks of sexual harassment allegations across industries took the form of raised awareness with companies scrambling to provide more training at the board of director level. One study from NAVEX Global found that 73% of 1,200 respondents said they train their board members, up from 44% percent in 2017. However, when Greenhouse and HRWins surveyed more than 1,300 businesses with over 1,000 employees, their report revealed a scant 24% are addressing sexual harassment with training.

Of the companies that do offer some type of workshop like Premundo’s, the results can have long-lasting positive repercussions beyond the more traditional diversity training. But according to Rebecca Henderson, CEO of Randstad Sourceright, a global provider of HR services, training alone is not enough. “Organizations need to couple building awareness of gender inequality with prescriptive conversations about how employees should report bias, as well as a clear breakdown of how—and through what channels—management plans to respond,” she explains.

A year before #MeToo’s 2017 inflection point, Chevron launched its Catalyst’s MARC (Men Advocating Real Change) program. Participation is voluntary and now there are more than 3,000 participants in 17 locations across 12 countries (about 60% male and 40% female).

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According to Chevron, the year-long program engages men to be more active champions for inclusion, recognizing that it’s not fair or reasonable to expect women to be the only advocates for gender equality. Women and men meet in same-gender teams for the first six months, then in mixed gender teams for the remainder of the year. “The MARC program provides structure to have meaningful conversations about a sensitive topic and is bringing awareness about unconscious biases and exclusive behaviors,” says a company spokesperson.

Kevin Lucke, vice president of lubricants for Chevron,  says he signed up right away. As a self-proclaimed podcast geek, Lucke had been listening to several podcasts that discussed the business advantages of diverse teams. “I need to learn more,” he recalls thinking. The MARC program, he discovered, “teaches us to have real dialogues about real issues.” Within the first six months of the all-male portion of the program (each group had between six and seven participants), Lucke says they explored their biases in roundtable discussions. In the second part with mixed gender groups, Lucke says they discussed similar topics, but he adds, “it allowed us to hear women instead of us telling each other what women think.”

While these discussions didn’t necessarily center around harassment, Lucke says that they ultimately helped him as a leader understand female employees and their challenges. The result caused the 35-year veteran of the company to rethink how he was selecting people for jobs. “If you were one of the people doing a job like that, you would get the job,” he explains of his former thought process behind hiring. Now, says Lucke, of his seven direct reports, three are women—up from just one before he started the program.

Henderson says this is one of the most effective ways for men to be advocates for women and reduce the probability of harassment. In addition to hiring and promoting women, she says signing a public pledge to commit to gender parity in management and equal pay, as well as advocating for or implementing a parental leave policy that provides gender-neutral paid parental leave, “are the kinds of game-changing initiatives that can create immediate and tangible change in the workplace for women and their families.”

Frazer notes that while Bonobos’s founder Andy Dunn has been committed to promoting equality, it took their new female CEO Micky Onvural to further push initiatives around that. Cesar notes that he’s not seen sexist language thrown around in meetings at Bonobos because he believes many of the higher ranking employees are women. “I’m more junior,” he points out.

“Men who are not in leadership roles can do their part as well by identifying ways that gender diversity can help solve a business need and sharing that with their supervisors,” notes Henderson. She suggests that men seek out female project partners or mentors, or take the time to connect with a female colleague outside of work, to help them understand the challenges women face on a daily basis and become more effective advocates. And if their employer doesn’t offer a program like these, “take an unconscious bias test and encourage other male peers to do the same is another way to recognize gender bias and work toward changing behavior,” she advises.

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As for eradicating bias completely, Lucke muses, “This is a journey.” He believes he doesn’t have them in full effect every single day. “The beauty of MARC is that it’s teaching us they are there for all of us no matter how long we have been trained,” he explains. As for how long he’ll keep working to overcome them, Lucke says, “the rest of my life.”

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About the author

Lydia Dishman is a reporter writing about the intersection of tech, leadership, and innovation. She is a regular contributor to Fast Company and has written for CBS Moneywatch, Fortune, The Guardian, Popular Science, and the New York Times, among others.

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