I always thought of myself as an enlightened, progressive man. Maybe I didn’t exactly paste the word “feminist” on my forehead, but fundamentally I consider the designation correct. When it came to equality, I always thought: sure thing, of course. It’s 2019, people. What are we still talking about? Why aren’t we making it simple?
Then Fränzi Kühne, my colleague and co-founder at TLGG, became pregnant. When she conveyed this news to us, we didn’t exactly share her joy. Someone even blurted out, “Do you want to ruin us?” A reaction chock full of gender clichés and pigeonholing, typical of employers stuck in a Stone Age mentality — one that I hadn’t expected from us at all.
The fact that I, of all people, was this somebody is extremely unpleasant for me to contemplate today. And it prompted me to think: what role can I – as a male colleague, manager, and founder — assume if I wish to promote equality? And how much room am I allowed to stake out in this discussion, if I want to avoid the bearing of the proud masculine ally who mansplains feminism to the world?
Well, here’s what I try to do. Turns out being part of the solution, not the problem, is easier than one might think.
One thing I have learned is that each and every one of us can contribute something to combat stereotypes and their consequences. We can all reflect on our activities in our respective roles — whether that is as a colleague, as a manager, or as a founder.
As a colleague, I have noticed that it is often the small things that make the biggest difference. I strive to create a meeting climate that encourages women to speak up. This means paying attention to the dynamics in the room and to the power relations between different meeting participants.
Sometimes it’s as easy as asking a male colleague not to interrupt a female colleague, and sometimes it means reminding myself that a meeting is a dialogue, not a (male) monologue. It always means listening to suggestions or concerns my female colleagues may have.
As a manager, I try to create structures that accommodate different lifestyles and family models. Many of my employees have a second job at home, whether that is being a parent or caring for an elderly relative. Treating this “emotional” labor as exactly that — labor — is of utmost importance to me.
Through flexible work hours and vacation policies, we enable both men and women to be in charge of their own schedule. Unfortunately, emotional labor is still pre- dominantly carried out by women, which is why we actively encourage our male employees to take parental leave. Many companies are afraid of the potential costs these policies entail — I have found that treating our employees like the adults they are increases efficiency, creativity, and satisfaction.
As a founder, I see it as my duty to use my platform as an advocate for gender equality. We still need more male voices championing these topics in public discourse — especially since many men are more likely to listen to a fellow man.
This starts with openly supporting my co-founder Fränzi Kühne as Germany’s youngest supervisory board member and ends with demanding female participants when I speak at a panel discussion. It also means refraining to engage in the “locker room” talk that is all too often still socially acceptable in male-dominated business circles.
Turns out that in 2019, the merciless power of stereotypes still deprives both men and women of their freedom as individuals. Gender equality hence requires men and women to jointly renegotiate their roles. At the end of the day, we all have the right to live in a society that benefits everyone, regardless of their gender.
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