Breakthroughs, Careers, Challenges, Communication, Impact, Inspiration for Change, Men and Women, Men vs. Women at Work, Thought Leadership How To Build Effective Gender Partnerships And Help Men Create A Healthier Culture Of Masculinity Written by: Kathy Caprino

Part of Kathy Caprino’s series “Building a World That Works For All”

In today’s times, we’ve all witnessed our world changing in dramatic ways, with a backdrop of multiple crises, a toxic culture of masculinity, and rapidly shifting gender roles. Much has been written and shared about what needs to happen concretely in our society and workplaces today to revise the rigid rules of masculinity and femininity that have been culturally enforced for decades.

In this blog and my Finding Brave podcast, I’ve interviewed numerous leading experts including Terry Real, Michael Kaufman, Ed Frauenheim,  Jeffery Tobias Halter, and more about these topics, including exploring issues around the negative impact of our patriarchal system on both men and women, how it helps men to engage in the gender equality movement and how to inspire men’s engagement in it, the dramatic negative impact of Covid-19 on womenreinventing masculinity, and how women need to close their power gaps (many of which are culturally and societally sustained), if they wish to thrive at work and at home.

Late last year, I was excited to learn about a powerful, wide-ranging conference focused on this topic. The MARC Summit by Catalyst (Men Advocating Real Change) was a one-time, virtual conference held December 3-4, 2020 featuring thought-provoking programming to inspire participants to engage in effective gender partnerships and encourage men to model a healthy culture of masculinity in the workplace and beyond. Its aim was to redefine the role of healthy masculinity in milestone moments and break down the artificial barriers between men and women, work and home – in a year when those have been chipped away already.

It is the first-ever multidisciplinary convening of TED speakers, activists, actors, professors, authors, journalists, psychologists, and other thought leaders working on gender equity around the world.

Some of the recognizable speakers included:

  • Peggy Orenstein, NYT bestselling author and TED speaker
  • Mark Greene, author of The Little #MeToo Book for Men and Remaking Manhood
  • Mark Hedstrom, US Executive Director at Movember
  • Tony Porter, CEO of A Call to Men
  • Gina Rippon, Neuroscientist and author of The Gendered Brain
  • Thomas Page McBee, international speaker on gender
  • Judy Chu, lecturer at Stanford University, author of When Boys Become Boys
  • Jason Wilson, Founder & CEO of The Yunion, Amazon best-selling author of Cry Like a Man

Chevron Chairman and Chief Executive Mike Wirth shared this about the conference:

“The MARC program inspires men to be advocates for equity, enlisting them as active and visible allies. This is especially important in an industry like mine that has historically been dominated by men. Nearly 5,000 Chevron employees are currently involved, and the majority of them are men, and they are all encouraged to engage in honest conversations to confront behaviors, biases and barriers.”

To learn more about the core aims of the Summit, and the impact it created, I was excited to catch up with Ludo Gabriele, Catalyst’s Senior Director of MARC Branding.  Gabriele is responsible for developing and executing the MARC brand amplification strategy and acts as a voice for MARC to ensure the continued and growing recognition and strength of the MARC brand and the impact it represents. He is also the founder of Woke Daddy, a platform that has received international coverage where he shares his thoughts about fatherhood, masculinity, and society at large.

MARC is a Catalyst initiative that inspires men to leverage their unique opportunity and responsibility to be advocates for equity. Through research-based, experiential learning, MARC disrupts traditional DEI approaches to enhance gender partnership and accelerate the creation of inclusive workplaces.

Here’s what Gabriele shares:

Kathy Caprino: What are the key statistics and trends regarding masculinity and gender equity today that illustrate the need for a summit like MARC?

Ludo Gabriele: Men still hold the vast majority of top leadership positions around the world in corporations and government: While 2020 was an all-time record, only 37 of the companies on last year’s Fortune 500 were led by female CEOs. As of January 3, 2020, women represented 27.2% of the total of U.S. House of Representatives. Numbers don’t tell the whole story and we are making progress in terms of equity and representation, but we still have a long way to go.

MARC, as an initiative, is built around the reality that men’s relative power and privilege means that they are in a unique position to drive change. Engaging the majority—men—in equity and inclusion work is critical to create meaningful cultural change.

Caprino: What was the primary goal and purpose of launching The MARC Summit? Why was now the right time for this major milestone in the history of the MARC initiative?

Gabriele: The primary goal of The MARC Summit was to inspire participants to engage in effective gender partnerships and specifically to encourage men to model a healthier culture of masculinity in the workplace and beyond.

Three years after the beginning of the #MeToo movement, and nearly a decade into MARC’s focus on engaging men as advocates for gender equity, masculinity still feels at a crossroads. While the gender conversation is maturing, it is still often oversimplified and polarized. 2020 felt like an important year to invite men into the gender conversation from a place of empathy and to convene the most powerful voices of healthy masculinity like it had never been done before.

The significance of this moment was heightened by the global pandemic, which created an extraordinary set of challenges for women from an equity standpoint—but also for men. COVID-19 removed the imaginary walls we artificially created between work and life: In some ways, it gave us all the opportunity to show our full selves and our humanity, which was also one of the goals of The MARC Summit.

Caprino: What were the key issues addressed during the summit? How did the speakers you chose help tackle those issues?

Gabriele: The first half of the summit was focused on understanding gender conditioning in childhood and how it affects everyone across genders and other dimensions of difference. We are all the result of our upbringing, our environment, and our past experiences, which help shape the beliefs and biases we carry with us in the workplace, whether we are aware of it or not. The second half of the summit was about introspection and action taking.

We curated a diverse, multidisciplinary roster of speakers from 11 countries, who are arguably the world’s leading experts on masculinity in their respective fields. We wanted to provide a diversity of perspectives to offer an array of entry points for our attendees to be able to relate.

Caprino: Which aspects of the summit do you believe were most effective in accomplishing your goals? Were there any specific highlights or breakout stars on the speaker list that went above and beyond what you expected?

Gabriele: From the inception of The MARC Summit, we were very intentional in creating an event that was not your typical DE&I conference. To that end, we knew that we wanted to provide a holistic, disruptive learning experience – rooted in science and facts—that would not stay confined within the context of work but that would have tremendous workplace implications. We were purposeful in bringing forth the compassion component that is often sorely missed in the gender conversation.

Having a multi-disciplinary line-up of experts from all over the world and across dimensions of diversity, including gender identity, and race, really provided a depth of knowledge and perspective that was truly unique and valuable and constituted a highlight within itself. The interactive engagements which followed each phase of the summit were also really successful; participants were eager to engage in conversation, be vulnerable, and do the work, which is ultimately how change takes place.

While it is challenging to single out segments out as “highlights,” I would say that the presence of Sesame Street as the first keynote of the Summit created a deeply emotional reaction and connection. The candor and vulnerability of Justin Baldoni was deeply insightful and generous, which holds a great significance given the size of his platform.

Last but not least, the rich conversation between Mike Wirth and David Taylor, respectively CEO of Chevron and Procter and Gamble, was crucial to root the learning into the context of the workplace.

Caprino: What was the significance of organizing the summit into four life stages? What themes stood out the most from each phase?

Gabriele: It was a key component of the learning experience. We intentionally took a developmental approach to design the programming. We chose the life stages of men as a framework to encourage participants to reflect on their own experience and to help them create connections between their current perceptions and biases of themselves and others in the workplace and beyond.

Inviting participants to reflect on their past to better understand their current self was one of our tactics: For the first two phases of the Summit, we touched on media, parenting, education, socialization, consent, and identity with an intersectional lens.

The last two phases of the summit were focused on adulthood introspection, where we touched on mental health, emotional health, restrictive gender norms, and leaving a legacy where we invited participants to take the leap from individual advocacy to creating structural change.

Caprino: Why is acknowledging and understanding men’s socialization and the toxic culture of masculinity critical in addressing “man-box culture?”

Gabriele: We leveraged the concept of the man-box as a common thread of the programming to show how it follows us all our life. The man-box is the rigid set of expectations, perceptions, and definitions of what is considered “manly” behavior, and it affects everyone across lines of gender. It is the air we breathe, and the water we swim in.

Putting the emphasis on the collective socialization of manhood, instead of grouping men under a divisive label such as toxic masculinity for example, puts accountability on everyone, without attacking men in their sense of self.

Caprino: How can we embrace gender partnerships to lead inclusively and drive lasting change, both personally and collectively?

Gabriele: At MARC, we define gender partnership as individuals of all gender identities assuming mutual accountability for advancing equity and inclusion and working together to achieve collective culture change. While the primary focus of MARC is around engaging men, MARC is not exclusive to men. Effective gender partnership can only be achieved by bringing everyone to the table.

MARC’s unique focus on gender partnership means that MARC’s programming is not about women carrying the burden of advancing diversity alone, nor is it about women telling men what to do. Likewise, it is not about shaming and blaming men, nor about men “saving” or taking isolated actions in the name of “helping” women. Partnership implies degrees of mutuality. This also means that men are not the only ones with work to do.

Gender partnership is not just about men and women partnering; it is also about those who identify as men partnering with other men to learn from and with each other.

This is about advancing equity through a shared investment and accountability and about open lines of communication and connection that breed empathy and inclusion.

To partner effectively, there must be humility on all sides, empathy on all sides, and commitment on all sides. A key part of that is about being intellectually curious and acknowledging and gaining a deeper understanding of the ways in which we are all complicit in perpetuating the status quo and working to counteract that by coming together to define new ways of operating.

In her flash talk about gender partnership, Alix Pollack, Vice President and leader of the MARC initiative at Catalyst, shared a call to action for all of us:

“We must work to strip bias from our systems and inequity from our processes, but we must also look inside. We must acknowledge and embrace that, although we may not have created the problem, although we may not even see ourselves as part of the problem, we can nevertheless still choose to accept responsibility for addressing it. We must hold ourselves to account. We must do our own work.”

We believe those are words to live by.

For more information, visit Catalyst’s MARC: Men Advocating Real Change.

Kathy Caprino is a career and leadership coach, speaker, trainer and author of The Most Powerful You: 7 Bravery-Boosting Paths to Career Bliss. She helps professionals reach their highest potential through her Career & Leadership Breakthrough programs and Finding Brave podcast.