(L-r) Kathy, Sophia, Taylor, and George

On January 18, the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota’s hosted its inaugural Men of Influence Business Breakfast. The event focused on helping men understand the urgency of our need to assert more leadership in protecting and advancing gender equity. I was pleased that nearly 100 men, each with the power to change culture, were present and eager to engage. This was an important, albeit modest, step forward on an issue as important as any with which we are struggling today.

Gender inequity manifests itself in both overt and subtle ways: from the predatory abuse of power and sexual trafficking of vulnerable youth, to unequal pay for equal work, women being underrepresented in decision-making circles, and much more.

Male leadership in all areas-corporate America, community organizations, sports teams, high schools, college campuses, neighborhoods, homes, places of worship and elsewhere-must prioritize the messaging and modeling of more respectful, empowering, and inclusive values and behavior. We men must acknowledge our historical role in the issue. But more importantly, we must fix it, in a committed, collaborative, and constructive way.

We are living in a hyper-polarized political environment. However, everyone’s voice and involvement is welcome and required. At its core, gender equity is a matter of fundamental social justice, a human rights issue. Gender equity is not, and cannot become, a political issue.

Gender inequity remains deeply rooted – it has been for centuries, across cultures. Case in point: an open letter published in the New York Times by French film star Catherine Deneuve and 100 other French women. The letter argues in favor of men’s “freedom to pester” women and condemns the #MeToo movement – warning about a new “puritanism” resulting from recent sexual harassment allegations. That is, shockingly, how deeply rooted gender inequity is in our society.

How is it possible that women are still not universally valued first and foremost for their skills, intellect, judgment, life experience, and perspective? Perhaps because gender equity has been viewed for too long by too many as a women’s issue – a battle to be fought, and a struggle to be endured, by and for women.

But shaming is not a solution. Neither is overreacting, which would be inappropriate and unhelpful. We must be rational, exercising influence with good judgment, and vigilance. We must protect against condemning any innocent men. And we must guard against subtle changes in the workplace that result in the counterproductive exclusion of women to avoid risk. We must behave better, more equitably and more inclusively – not isolate women.

I invite all men to capitalize – with courageous leadership – on each moment when we can leverage our influence to message and model more respectful and empowering behavior:

  • Talking to the boys and young men in our lives about how to treat girls and women with respect, dignity, appreciation, and reciprocity-and as intellectual equals both within and outside the workplace.
  • Talking to girls and young women about what they have a right to expect and supporting them to have conviction in asserting themselves to protect their rights, to dream big dreams, to demand equal treatment in the workforce, and to understand, with confidence, the kind of behavior they never have to tolerate, from anyone.
  • Stepping up as advocates for better messaging from certain corners of the music and entertainment industries, which is not held accountable for producing material that is at times profane and denigrating of girls and young women in the most offensively exploitive terms.
  • Talking to our friends, family, and neighbors, in our workplaces as business leaders, as leaders in our places of worship. In short, anywhere and everywhere we can have a meaningful impact – because we can have a meaningful impact, and because we must.

These are universal convictions that defy race, socioeconomic status, religious affiliation, or political persuasion.

It is time for all men to be all-in, every day, to bring about lasting and meaningful gender equity, in every sphere where we exert influence. It is time for men to become Champions of Change.

Written by George D. Martin, Trustee, Women’s Foundation of Minnesota

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