It surprises me when I still hear the comment “‘Isn’t This About Reverse Discrimination Against Men?” – but I do, sadly, all the time. Do you?
Last week, I was with a senior leadership team, and one of the executive team members said to me that she had just heard this exact comment as she walked into the tearoom this morning, which made her mad! But she said the question stopped her in her tracks because she didn’t know how to respond, and she was nervous about showing her annoyance.
She said something like:
“I thought we were passed such ignorant comments in this day and age! I thought everyone got it; it’s not about reverse discrimination against men; it’s about levelling a playing field that is clear, not even!”
We went around the room, and each leader shared how he/ she would react and how they would respond. In a room full of leaders who are passionate and forward-thinking in this subject, they all struggled.
The biggest issue seemed to be that they held firm opinions, they felt the question was not valid and that it was passive aggressive at best, AND, most importantly, they were all very nervous that in an age where people start riots about diversity and inclusion issues, what if I mess up completely. My response ended up being public, wrong, criticised, offensive and judged harshly by the team.
Most, as a result of this fear, voted for probably saying nothing at all at the moment: if in doubt, self-protect and say nothing.
I thought it would be helpful to share some ‘at the moment’ responses I have used when asked this question over the years. I don’t profess that these responses are perfect – but they seem to have moved us to a more productive discussion.
Get really curious. Ask: ‘I am curious why you may say something like that. I’d love to understand your thinking?’ Then, allow the silence to linger. I mean it, say nothing…. You are likely to hear a tongue-twisted response that lacks evidence.
Some other broad questions you could ask could be:
- Do you feel that you personally have experienced reverse discrimination, or is this a general sense? Please explain and share your examples.
- Do you think this is something that all men feel here, or is this your view?
If a response is received that comes down to one or two examples (which is what I most typically hear), question the examples. Was this really reverse discrimination against men? If the discussion focuses on a woman getting a role when she was not the best person for the job – challenge the concept of merit and the subjectivity of it.
Try the facts and figures approach. If you know the actual data associated with women in leadership roles and the rate of change in your organisation–cite those examples. Typically, those numbers are enough to show that there is no discrimination against men. In fact, on the face of it, the opposite position could be interpreted.
Have a broader debate and discussion that involves others as well. It’s important to set this up as an even debate where all voices are heard (even those opinions that you don’t agree on). Sometimes, airing views aloud and hearing the evidence and the experience of others is enough to make the questioner think twice!
I know it’s hard because sometimes the questions and statements we hear about DEI make us mad, they frustrate us, and they can sometimes make us throw our hands in the air and scream, ‘What’s the point!’
My advice, take a deep breath and keep asking. The challenge of DEI is the emotion attached to it and the fear that is often deeply felt by those who have been in the majority for a long time.
The fear and sense of injustice felt by those who don’t fully understand DEI and how it impacts them personally can be very real.
On the other side of the tug-of-war, the frustration felt by those who just want change to happen and who cannot understand the pull against DEI is equally real and causes real stress.
It’s easy to walk past these comments and hope they will eventually disappear. But will they? I don’t think they will unless we keep explaining, keep challenging and try hard to bring those who feel threatened along for the ride!