by Kelsey L. Campbell
Its hard to believe, but Women’s History Month 2014 has come to an end. The March news cycle was dominated by Vladimir Putin’s hostile takeover of Crimea, Recep Erdogan’s crackdown on democratic freedoms in Turkey, and continuing violence ahead of Afghanistan’s elections.
Apart from the chaos, issues predominately affecting women were highlighted in the media this past month. Maria Shriver’s documentary “Paycheck to Paycheck” clearly illustrated the daily trials and sacrifice single moms endure all across America. Through Devex’s social media campaign #SheBuilds, we were presented the myriad reasons for investing in girls and women. President Jimmy Carter released his latest book, “A Call to Action,” in which he demonstrates that discrimination and violence against women and girls is the most ignored human rights violation today.
For me, this past month has been about celebrating women’s achievements and also looking toward the future. In recent conversations with male colleagues, I am always struck when they say things like, “Why do you have to put gender into it?” or “It shouldn’t matter if it’s a man or a woman [when talking about a leadership position].” However, when a woman is selected for a top leadership position, they often ask how she is more qualified than the male candidates. Conversely, when a man is selected for a post, no one second-guesses his qualifications. Because of this lack of recognition of the existing biases, often times these inequities have been labeled women’s issues, effectively excluding men from the resolution. This places the entire burden on women for a problem that likely manifested from all parts of society. It goes without saying that we still have a long way to go to achieve gender equality, and even more so due to the absence of men in the process.
With a few standouts, there are very few American men who are gender equality activists. There are even fewer men who will proudly call themselves feminists. Perhaps the term is intimidating to many due to the stereotypical images it brings to mind. However, in its simplest form, feminism is the idea that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. Why wouldn’t every coach, teacher, business owner, or military leader be a feminist? Doesn’t it make sense for them to want to support their employees or students to achieve their full potential? Don’t they desire to attract business from both men and women?
Like any major campaign, it is hard to achieve massive social change without bringing the men onboard. So how does a man lead in promoting equality? First, they must raise their daughters to be fearless and confident. They must coach and encourage their daughters, just as their sons, and must push their daughters to aim for the stars (and not pressure them to give up a career because its time to ‘settle down’).
Second, men must look for opportunities to be mentors, coaches, or give a hand-up in any way they can. This can be for colleagues, subordinates, neighbors, and even family members. I like to say that a smile and encouragement is a very cheap investment that pays big dividends. We all have highs and lows in our careers and personal lives; a nudge of encouragement may be what is needed to get through a low patch and aim at the far goal.
Third, men must be willing to call out sexist behavior or policies. Have a work policy that punishes a pregnant woman but is lenient to a man that injuries himself skiing? Call it out. Does a colleague of yours routinely question the authority of the new female VP in front of subordinates? Call him out. Is your agency debating a policy predominately affecting women, but has invited zero women to the strategy session? Alert management and include women colleagues. When our society and workplaces are more inclusive and opportunities are more widespread, it creates better results for all.
We ALL have to take ownership for creating opportunities for all girls and boys, women and men. Gender equality is not a women’s issue, rather a human rights and societal issue. Even though the official Women’s History Month has come to an end, I urge all to embark on an operation for equality year round.
Kelsey L. Campbell is a Foreign Affairs Specialist in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. She is a fellow at the Truman National Security Project and an Air Force veteran. The views expressed here are strictly her own.