Building a House for Diversity: Men who Support Women on the Road to SUCCESS
Despite multiple and continuous efforts made at every level of society, gender inequality remains a rampant issue in the world. Women still suffer from multiple social, economic and physical biases based on their gender. Women have been upfront in trying to bring change yet it is evident that it is difficult to achieve the gender equality we aspire without the engagement of half the society: men. As well put by our association’s 2019 President Sewit Haileselassie during her opening remark on the October 3, 2019, monthly event, “One cannot clap with one hand.” AWiB presented another intriguing monthly event at Hilton Hotel to address this issue with the topic, “Building a House for Diversity: Men who Support Women on the Road to Success.”
We brought two extraordinary men who are actively engaged in pushing the gender equality agenda forward. These are male feminists who are front-runners in acknowledging the importance of gender equality for our world to prosper and grow. The first speaker was Ato Esayas Yeyesuswork, a human resources professional who has more than 30 years of experience in leadership, business management, and human resource management. He holds an Executive Masters of Business Administration (EMBA) and B.A degree in Economics from Addis Ababa University. Currently, he is working as a human resources, brand and communication manager at National Oil Ethiopia (NOC). He also actively engages in voluntary work. He is very passionate about mentorship and works on mentoring young women through his voluntary works. Esayas is a proud father of a daughter.
Our second panelist was Andrew DeCort who is director of the Institute for Christianity and the common good. He is the author of Bonhoeffer’s New Beginning: Ethics after Devastation. Mr. Decort holds a PhD in Ethics from the University of Chicago and has taught courses in ethics, theology, and Ethiopian studies at Wheaton College, the Ethiopian Graduate School of Theology and the University of Bonn. Andrew is passionate about friendship, learning and service. These men were welcomed to the stage by Sewit to share their ideas and perspectives on why men should be supporting women and how exactly men can support the women in their lives succeed. The speakers were also to discuss how women could bring men on board to support them and advocate for gender equality.
Esayas supports women because he believes it is a responsible and rightful act to do as a human being. He believes it is a social duty for one to support women and with little effort and advice it is possible to change many women’s lives. He also mentioned that men would also benefit from this interaction by feeling a great sense of reward when one sees the women flourish and accomplish great things. He shared his own experience on how much he has learned from women he mentors. There are many possible ways for men to support women, but for Esayas, mentorship is the best way to reach out and help them grow into their full potential. He said in this male-dominated world, girls and women would need a man’s perspective to cope and flourish. For him, mentorship means attentive listening without passing any judgment and providing a different perspective, supporting women reach their full potential. He also brought multiple, excellent ways companies and HR managers can support their female employees at work go up the ladder and join the upper management, which seems to be far reaching for many women. Some of the important changes that need to be achieved, he pointed, are providing accommodating workspace. With this regard he acknowledged some of the current government initiative such as providing day care centers. Yet this effort needs to be amplified a thousand times to close the gap and create a level playing field for women. The other point he brought was to treat women with empathy instead of sympathy as the prior consists more understanding, tolerance, and challenges HR managers to put themselves in women’s shoes so women can get what they deserve instead of hand-me-downs. In relation to this point, Esayas requested companies to look into their motives as they hire more women; is it to look good in public or is it really to advocate gender equality and treating women with fairness? He also discussed the importance of awareness-creation among HR managers adding, “Change only comes through awareness. By creating conversations in the workplace on this topic, managers could become more understanding and look out for workplace gender biases. As HR Managers become more aware, they could also avoid insensitive gender-biased communication that is mostly a norm in our culture. By adopting these elements into our organization, by adjusting our working space to fit the needs of our female employees, engaging in active mentorship and empathizing with women, we can help them flourish, reach their full potential and take leadership.
Our second panelist, Andrew, discussed why men need to support women from a religious perspective. He led with how human beings rely on each other for mere existence. Neither men nor women are self sufficient on their own. As human beings we all need each other’s support to simply exist. We are made to communicate and cooperate with one another to flourish. By supporting one another we ensure all reach full potential and flourish.
For Andrew, supporting women is fulfilling his life purpose and achieving his God-sent mission. In the Bible, he said, it is mentioned that God created men and women in God’s image to exercise leadership for creation to flourish. In this teaching, it doesn’t put men first or above but equal to women. Purpose and authority is given equally to women to rule and lead just like men, so God’s creation can reach its full potential, bringing freedom and prosperity to this world. So when men decide to support women, they are fulfilling God’s will. For one to support another human being means leaving your privilege high ground and help them carry the weight of their life. Therefore, for men to support women, Andrew pointed, they need to be willing to let go of some of the privileges a patriarchal rule provides them for the sake of fulfilling God’s high purpose. The second important reason Andrew says why men should support women is because it aligns with another important teaching in the Bible. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” This teaching eliminates all the possible gender biases and paves the way to gender equality in all forms. If men are able to love women as themselves, they would support, protect, love, respect and cherish women as much as they possibly can and help them reach their full potential.
Andrew agrees with Esayas on active listening being the best way men can be supportive of women. Andrew suggests active listening requires:
- Presence – Providing safe spaces for women to share their feelings and thoughts
- Attention – 100% undivided attention
- Patience – Listening without interruption and without men assuming they know what women would say
- Empathy – No judgment
- Affirmation – Showing gratitude for sharing women’s thoughts and revealing themselves
- Enquiry – Giving agency to women to make the decision, showing availability to help without control
- Memory – Remember what has been told and shared before
With these remarks from the panelist, the discussion went directly to a Q&A session. Many questions were raised from the podium and also from the audience. Some of these questions included:
- How realistic it is for us to think that religion in general and the Bible in this particular scenario could serve as a tool to bring gender equality when in fact patriarchal societies use religion as a main source of aggression and bias and there are many teachings in the Bible that put women in a lower social status? A concern was also brought forward on why religion is needed to justify equality and moral standards
- Why should businesses adjust themselves to accommodate women? Are there other underlining factors aside from being morally righteous?
- How can we have civil and fruitful conversation with women without having aggravated and escalated emotions as most of these conversation with men in our lives tend to become heated and disruptive?
Answering the questions on religion being a source of gender bias, Andrew pointed that religion is a man-made institution and that it is our obligation to challenge and cross-examine what our pastors are teaching because there is no defined role for men and women in the Bible. He also pointed that Ethiopians nationwide are very religious people and religion is very important in their lives. Hence, in order to bring a sustainable and rapid change it is important to involve our churches, priests and other religious teachers.
Esayas indicated for companies to adopt gender equality as an agenda is a question of survival. He also advised to be strategic when women have discussions with men on gender issues. He encourages coaching men and creating awareness among men as many men are not fully conscious of the bias that surrounds women on a daily basis. Andrew also noted some men suffer from masculine fragility—fear of losing power and control—so the men might be aggressive and there needs to be a strategic conversation in order to avoid unnecessary conflict. Overall, as a last word, Esayas advised to keep the conversation going to get the change and Andrew suggested to reform our church to reform our community.
The evening came to an end with a closing remark by AWiB 2019 President Sewit Hailselasie.
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