Dancing with the sexes

stay-at-home-dad (2)Boardrooms and ballrooms are where the sexes meet.  Who leads, who follows, and how do we keep from stepping on one another’s toes?  First, come to the party understanding the basics.

  • Ballroom: Footwork, poise and grace.  Know the dance you about to execute and keep dancing through the mistakes if any.  Choose who leads and follow well.
  • Boardroom: Process, leadership, execution.  Know what methods you will execute, and refine through the mistakes if any.  Choose who is the leader and support them.

Now that we have the analogy and the framework set, let’s dive into why I am writing this post.  It’s time for the sexes to stop fighting in the dance, both metaphorically and in reality.  Lean in by Sheryl Sandberg starts a dialog.  But for all the words there will be actions.  What has stalled the equality movement is the required shift in roles and a perception of the Zero Sum Game, a good counter point is found at this link as well.   It is a zero sum game unless we work to change the game!

In 50% and equality I start another dialog around roles and culture.  It’s not enough to appoint women to a board seat here and a management role there when a man who had that job has no role to move into.  There has to be a balance, a far more dramatic shift then simply appointing a woman to power.

When I was in third grade, we were all shown square dancing in public school.  (Amazing to think about in todays world).  I will never forget the day my teacher evaluated us after some lessons and suddenly asked me,  “Would you please dance the part of a girl”.  I was shocked.  I asked, “Why me?”  I pleaded with her not to do it.  She simply said, “you are the best dancer, so it should be no problem for you to learn the other part.”  Resigned I did so.  I was ridiculed by everyone of the boys. They would never let me forget that class until I left that school system.  The girls, while kind, did not care for me playing with them.  So, by one simple and obvious action, my third grade was in shambles.

First, if a women leads, then make corresponding roles and systems for men to follow.  Show them the steps and outline how they can challenge stereo types without fear.  Stop reverse social repercussions.  A woman who leaves the workforce to raise a child can to be accepted back into the workforce, no questions asked.  A man who chooses to be a stay at home dad faces potentially career ending choices.  Ask any man or woman who interviews new employees these simple questions.

  1. How do you address gaps in working histories?
  2. What do you think the social impact is of a man taking 2 – 5 years out of his carrier?
  3. If a man says he is a stay at home dad, what questions race through your mind?  (I am sure this is a long list)

This is a huge problem that Lean In and the new movement fails to address.  Check out this article on stay at home dads.  This single issue could derail the entire discussion.  I contend it has been a head wind against this movement all along.  One might reason a new culture will “work this out” after women are making the rules and changing the game.  Frankly, I would not wish that on my son or daughter.  They are just about to start careers and suffering through decades more of this debacle suits no one.  The process of change has to be well articulated and truthful today.

Here is what I propose.  Lean in all you like, as on long as you help men lean back.  As I said in my equality post, create a new dance.  Create a new dance hall.  Create new boardrooms and change the zero sum game that is currently being fought while learning how to bring new opportunities online.

In fact, I propose this is a competitive advantage for any economy adopting this strategy.  Why?  Because if enlightened men can bring women to the table and create new pies to share, new roles and rules will be built in.  Women need to start more new ideas and men need help them grow companies, divisions, etc.  Change is coming so lean back while they lean in men.  Focus on how to make new pies with women and share in the opportunity.  Think of the economies that exclude women.  Wouldn’t this put them at a disadvantage?  Is this a strategic defense issue today for western culture?

Build new ballrooms, don’t try to convert all the old ones by walking in and demanding men follow in a Window Waltz.  Most women don’t know how to lead in a dance.  More so if they are highly proficient in following.  The largest danger is leaning in women disenfranchise the good followers while coming to power.  This will create it’s own backlash, if it hasn’t already.  It is widely acknowledged that women bring new ideas, fresh products and solid employee relations to the table.  Let’s see that happen with as clean a slate as possible.  Build new boardrooms like ballrooms and teach everyone how to play the other role without tripping over one another.
I would like to thank Cindy Chien for the inspiration to write this series.

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