Tips and tools from a corporate gender strategist.
Jeffery Tobias Halter is a thought-leader on how companies can recruit, retain and advance women in the workplace. He is the President of YWomen, a consulting firm focused on engaging men in women’s leadership issues. Prior to creating YWomen, Jeffery spent over 20 years in various sales roles at the Coca Cola Company, and was later appointed their Director of Diversity Strategy.
We had a deep discussion about what male allies and advocates can do to support women in the workplace. We talked about the four barriers that men face in demonstrating their support and how they can be overcome. We explored the business case for gender parity, metrics to drive accountability, and male gender fatigue. Jeffery highlighted some actions that CEOs can take immediately to improve diversity at their companies, and he shared two free tools that can be used to gender sensitize ourselves, our leadership and our organisations.
Jeffery is author of two books, Why Women and Selling to Men, Selling to Women. He writes for numerous business publications and is a two-time TEDx speaker.
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Read the Transcript
Rana Nawas: (00:00)
Hello everyone. My guest on today’s show is a man, only the second man ever to come on When Women Win, and that’s because he advocates for gender parity on a daily basis. Jeffery Tobias Halter is a thought leader on how companies can recruit, retain, and advance women in the workplace. He’s a gender strategist and the President of YWomen; a consulting firm focused on engaging men in women’s leadership issues. Prior to creating YWomen, Jeffery spent 20 years at the Coca Cola company, most of it in sales and sales management until one day Coca Cola faced a $200 million dollar discrimination lawsuit, and then appointed Jeffery as their Director of Diversity Strategy. We had a deep discussion on what male allies and advocates can do to support women in the workplace. We talked about the four barriers that men face in demonstrating support and how they can be overcome. We talked about the business case for gender parity, using the right metrics to drive accountability and male gender fatigue. Finally, Jeffery highlighted two actions that CEOs can implement immediately and also share two free tools that can be used to gender sensitize ourselves, our leadership, and our organizations. So let’s get into it.
Rana Nawas: (01:22)
Jeffery, it’s my pleasure to welcome you onto When Women Win. Thanks very much for taking the time.
Jeffery Halter: (01:27)
Thank you for having me on. I appreciate it.
Rana Nawas: (01:28)
So, how did you get into this space? It’s not a common one for most men.
Jeffery Halter: (01:34)
Yeah, it’s actually a funny story. If you had told me 15 years ago this is the work I’d be doing, I would have laughed at you. I’m a career sales guy, 20 years in sales, sales management and I was working in sales training at the Coca Cola company after about 10 years in sales management and I was asked to take a lateral position to lead an initiative on diversity education. The company had had a $200,000,000 discrimination lawsuit and we went through a massive restructure and what I say is that I was voluntold to go take this job and I took over Diversity Education. I’m a straight white guy and I had no idea why I got volunteered for this project because I didn’t know what I didn’t know and so we would run this training and I would have to sit in class every day in my session and observe. What I started to hear was in a company that I grew up in, knew and loved, I would hear stories of racism, stories of sexism, stories of homophobia and I had what they call in the industry “a white male epiphany,” where you realize what white male privilege is and that the world revolves around me. I’m always the default gender in the room. My voice is always heard. My views are usually respected, especially in hierarchy of companies and I chose to get curious because the people who are telling me these stories weren’t just strangers, they were my friends and colleagues. And so I would go out and take them to coffee and I would say, “tell me what I don’t know” and this is at the end of the day and at the end of our time together. This is the one takeaway for male leaders everywhere; go and genuinely talk to your people and ask them what are they experiencing that you don’t know or understand and you get so much feedback from everyone about the little subtle things that we think are minor that turn out to be major. I launched my company seven years ago and just to give you a perspective, I did almost 50 events last year. I was on the road for 32 weeks talking about this subject from every kind of industry you can imagine; from Women in Titanium to Chamber of Commerce to Bristol-Myers and large financial institutions. For years we’ve been talking about women’s leadership development and women’s leadership advancement, but we’ve never talked about fixing the culture or quite frankly, engaging men as advocates and I find that in this work, up to 30% of men want to be advocates. They just need to be invited in and basically told what to do and they’ll sign up.
Rana Nawas: (04:35)
Can I ask Jeffery, when you say 30% want to be advocates, so 70% don’t. Those 30%, what’s driving them?
Jeffery Halter: (04:45)
Yeah, what I have found is that advocacy comes from some type of personal connection. That 30% number I use, I don’t have research on. That’s just my anecdotal data and I don’t want this to sound like, “oh my gosh, it’s only 30%. What are we going to do?” I actually think 30% percent want to be advocates and another 50% will get there, if they see a good business reason for it. And then we’ve always got that 20% that won’t be there. But what’s driving them is that advocacy comes from a personal connection, that either being the son of a working mother, that being the supportive spouse, have a working spouse, maybe they’ve got a sister. But I have found the men who are really passionate around this have daughters who are now making their way in business and they’re coming home and saying, “dad, I’m being faced with this issue. I’m being faced with this bias.” And don’t you have 600 people who work for you, don’t you have 1200 people who work for you? And it’s men realizing the responsibility they have and accepting that. That’s a big shift. But they’re doing it largely because their daughters are asking and it’s important to unpack that they’re not doing it in a patronizing, you know, pat women on the head type of way. They’re doing it as, “oh my gosh, I never realized it because so many of men biases that we carry, we’re not aware of in the moment. We judge business through a veil, through a very male lens.” And as you start to dissect issues, you realize what’s going on in the workplace and then you have a responsibility to change it.
Rana Nawas: (06:36)
And is it, Jeffery, a zero-sum game? I mean, you talked about white male privilege. Do men have to give up privilege so that women sort of get parity?
Jeffery Halter: (06:47)
You know, it’s really interesting. It’s a couple of different factors. Many men do carry a bias that is zero-sum. And it’s not necessarily that I have to give up something. It’s a belief that if I’m advocating for advancing women, are men being displaced in this process, From a job’s standpoint? And in most of, well certainly North America and most of Europe, we have such a talent shortage for baby boomers retiring, that there’s more than enough jobs to go around for skilled, talented people. From a “what am I giving up?” viewpoint, I actually believe it to be an evolution in what leadership looks like. There’s a great research piece done by John Gerzema, it’s called “The Athena Doctrine” and John interviewed 40,000 people around the globe and he asked for the words of 21st century leadership; things like supportive, collaborative and all the things that when we think of millennials, there’s this really new view of leadership. But then Gerzema went back and asked them to put a gender to those words. Is that word male? Is that word female? And overwhelmingly, the response was words that are associated with women are in fact the traits of 21st century leadership. And so I see it as a shift in how we lead and manage people, not necessarily as giving up privilege.
Rana Nawas: (08:27)
So these men that see it that way and really want to support, what’s your advice to them on how they can advocate for women and make a change in their workplace?
Jeffery Halter: (08:37)
Yeah, there’s really a number of things that come to mind and they each answer a fear that gets in the way. So I’m going to give you a barrier that men are experiencing and then I’m going to give you a solution to that, if that makes sense. So there are four male barriers that have to be overcome today: apathy, empathy, lack of accountability and fear, and each of these links to a solution that men can do and they fall into: listen, learn, lead and have the will. So listen addresses, empathy. It’s this notion that women are in fact having different experiences than men are having. So how can I bring some empathy to that? As an example of that, I was doing work with a large pharmaceutical company and I made a comment. I do a seven hours session on male engagement. So there are 30 men in a room and we’re talking about engaging and advancing women. And I made the comment that women’s voices are talked over in meetings, routinely three to four times a day. I got a call two weeks later from a senior scientist at this company who said, ‘Jeff, I didn’t believe you. I’m a scientist. I require data and research and so in my staff meeting with my 12 direct reports, half are women, I kept a tally sheet of every time a woman’s voice was talked over or her ideas stolen. And when I reached 40 tallies on my sheet.” He said, I” knew we had a problem. And so I have implemented new staff meeting rules around having every voice heard.” So that’s a really powerful, simple tool around empathy and listening.
Rana Nawas: (10:36)
And that’s a no interruption rule in meetings, for example.
Jeffery Halter: (10:39)
Absolutely, yes. One of the best things companies can do is ensure every voice is heard. Apathy is really not understanding the business case and that’s where you need to learn. I don’t understand why we need to do this “women’s” thing. Well, in most of the world, women are the leading consumers of everything bought and sold, 22 trillion dollars in the world economy. There’s a fascinating trend going on in the US, Canada and most of Europe; women in the next 10 years are going to inherit almost 40 trillion, with a T, dollars as their parents die and as their husbands die. So, they have their own wealth to manage and 60% of the time they fire the male financial planner who is always been patronizing to her and she hires a woman. And so the financial institutions of the world are really trying to struggle with this “women managing wealth” and they can’t hire and train women fast enough. Accountability is solved by leading. Leading means you ask tough questions. Leaders lead. And so what that looks like is when a position comes open and you’re asked to nominate people and you see that Jim, for the last five job openings hasn’t had a woman ready to be promoted. That’s when a leader does his or her job and say, “Jim, you know, we’re really trying to advance women to better meet the needs of our business and apparently you don’t have the skill set necessary to develop talent unlike you.” And it only takes a senior leader asking those questions a few times. Additionally, accountability is tracking and measuring. And this isn’t about quotas. There are probably a dozen different things you can measure to hold people accountable. So are you doing diverse slates? Are you doing diverse panels? Are you doing pay equity reviews? There are all kinds of measurable things. So that fixes the accountability piece. You’ve got to tie it to compensation; that gets leader’s attention. And in fact, if you look at the diversity in the top 50 list of best places for women to work in the world, all 50 of those tie executive compensation to the completion of a diversity plan. That’s not a set number of women that you have to meet your plan to get part of your bonus. And that’s really critical. So, you put your money where your mouth this, and that’s what senior leaders expect.
Rana Nawas: (13:40)
So let me just get practical here, just to understand this better because companies are struggling with this here in the Middle East. So, take a management consultancy, the consultants get their regular salary and then the bonus at the end of the year. Are you saying that an option is to say, “okay, well we’re going to retain 20% of your bonus unless and until you satisfy some diversity metric, like have two women on your team or something like that?”
Jeffery Halter: (14:12)
Yes and it’s not necessarily a withholding of base pay, it’s more the optional bonus you get at the end of the year in a consulting firm, which obviously, you know, is a big part of their compensation. But what you bring up is a really key point. It’s not just about having, let’s use that word “two women on your team,” at the end of the year. You’re held accountable for when a job comes open; do you ensure you have a woman ready now to be promoted? So we have a job opening. Do you have a woman available? It doesn’t say she’s going to get that promotion. Gender is never a pass on talent, but I can grade you on: do you have people ready to be promoted? What are your regrettable losses? Have you utilized diverse panels of interviewer? Because we know how that can be; when a woman shows up and is interviewed by four men, well, she doesn’t stand a chance. So there are other metrics and this is really key for a lot of men to get their head around; it’s never a pass on talent because that’s just quota and tokenism and you’re setting women up for failure. But there are other metrics I can put in place. One that I love to use, and you brought up consultants as an example, is what is the composition of the customers you’re calling on? Because we’re seeing more and more women sitting on the buying desk. I do a lot of work with B2B and the Department of Defense and again, you know, you’re seeing a lot more women showing up on it, buying commercial real estate, buying desks – heavy industrial buying desks and so a good thing I can hold you accountable for is give me an assessment of what your customer base looks like and do we have women calling on our customers? And the airline industry is a great one. When you think about the industry as a whole, you know, where women or many are responsible for the entire inflight experience, the reservation experience…etc. Well, do you have women calling on your airline companies? Same thing with accounting firms and finance. So, that’s another key metric. Anything I can hold you accountable to, I need to.
Rana Nawas: (16:35)
Yeah. I worked in aviation for the last 11 years as an Aircraf Aisore and it’s interesting where the women are.There are women in aviation but they’re not the CEOs or the fleet planners who I would talk to the Fleet Planning Director. But like the head of legal would be a woman. You know, in technical roles, it was amazing. There’s a lot of women in technical roles but yeah, not so much on the CEO level yet.
Jeffery Halter: (17:05)
You bring up a good one, and this is actually a metric that a lot of companies have gone to because many times this starts in legal but there are probably over 100 companies in the US – and thee are multinationals – where the legal group has said “if we’re going to retain your firm, we want a diverse group of people who are going to be representing us.” Then the last one is fear. And that is where it gets back to “you have to have the will.” And it’s as simple as, you know, obviously as I do this work, and I talk to men, it is just a step change, really driven by two things: progressive leaders who realize that women are an integral part of the future and we can’t solve our business issues with 50% of the talent pool. So a lot of them will just do it because they know in their bones it’s good for business. And the other half are driven by this personal connection of having someone in their lives… and that’s really how you overcome fear and it’s also how you overcome this male cultural norm of -let’s call it the locker room humor – of you supporting this women’s initiative because God knows I’ve gotten my share of that. And in fact, in my younger days in Corporate America, I was probably an enforcer of that. And now I basically look at men who say “what are you doing this women’s thing for?” And say, “look, I’m not doing it for me. I’m doing it for my daughter. And Oh, by the way, I’m doing it for your daughter because I don’t think you want your daughter working for Ron down the hall, who we know is a sexist who tells off color jokes, who, you know, is just a bad manager on top of everything. And so I have a responsibility as a leader to address this, don’t you?” And you kind of put it back on them in business terms and personal terms. And I find 9 out of 10 it works. And the other tens, they’re just idiots and we should just ignore them.
Rana Nawas: (19:25)
So I come across idiots from time to time, you know…
Jeffery Halter: (19:27)
Of course you do…
Rana Nawas: (19:29)
And it could be men or women by the way, who genuinely don’t think there’s a problem. So I’m looking at these barriers that you listed, you know, empathy, a lack of empathy, a lack of accountability, apathy or fear. And I feel that these could apply to senior women too, actually. Have you come across that?
Jeffery Halter: (19:49)
There’s a lot of research on this that says women are actually sometimes much tougher on other women. And again, this is a bias that plays itself out. So if, as an example, we want to promote Cynthia and Cynthia is a high potential. And Mary in the meeting, who’s a senior leader says, you know, “I think Cynthia is really ready to take on this big role.” A lot of men at the table will roll their eyes and go, “oh my gosh, she’s just playing the women’s card.” Or “if I’m going to give you this chance, you better be really, really good because I can only call in so many of these favors.” But you know what, by the same token, if I as a male say,” hey, I think Cynthia is ready for this,” the tone changes. I’m seen as a visionary man who’s supporting the women’s agenda. And so there are things I can say and do that women, quite frankly, can’t. And I’m not saying that’s right but that’s the bias that sits in that room. I actually think there’s probably three cohorts of women out there today because I don’t want to paint it all women in that light. I think there’s, we would call them, the trailblazers and they’ve been at this spike for a long time. They had to work really hard. And that’s their belief. It’s very much a boomer belief, right? The same thing, bloomer men feel like you gotta work really hard to get that next thing. And then you’ve got a cohort of women,these are the women that I work with, who are doing women’s leadership events, engagement and running associations and are very pro-women. And then I think you’ve got a very large group that are just kind of benign, you know, they don’t have a strong point of view. They want to come to work and they want to provide for their family. They’re pro-women but in a very quiet way. And then part of that benign group is also, I find, younger millennial women who are saying, “I don’t understand why we’re having this conversation. Isn’t this my mother’s conversation?” You know, my peer group is incredibly supportive and my peer group is multinational and multigenic. I’ve got transgender friends and all this other stuff. And my point is they just don’t have the business experience yet. We’ll take the pay gap in the US, for an example. Up until your 30s, men and women, believe it or not, are paid roughly equal. The biggest pay gap, under the age of 30, usually exists because only 6% of women negotiate their salary coming into their first job versus 66% of men. So if there’s a wage gap, it’s because you didn’t negotiate, but raises and promotions tend to be very similar up until the age of 30 and then once you start to have children, once you start to move into bigger jobs and responsibilities, this is when you start to see the wage gap really expand. This is when biases in selection and advancement start to show up. And so it’s really not until your mid-thirties that you have the maturity to see that you aren’t being treated fairly. So I just think it takes them time before they realize it.
Rana Nawas: (23:19)
And hopefully that the millennials men and women are coming up with different values versus the boomers. And you made a point earlier when you were talking about learning and you mentioned that it’s about millennials and not just women who want this new deal. And so I wonder really if maybe the millennials won’t have it as tough as our generation, at least, I hope not.
Jeffery Halter: (23:47)
It’s fascinating because I have not seen any research or any hard research that says the belief is that millennials are better at this, right? We look in the US at Silicon Valley as an example of very young, smart, typically white or Asian men running companies and their diversity numbers are actually worse than most progressive fortune 100 companies. And so we don’t see any proof that they actually understand the concept of leveraging diversity and embracing diversity because they are women’s numbers and you need to look no further than Google or Facebook or any of the big tech companies to see that you would think they get it, when in fact, they’re not demonstrating that they did.
Rana Nawas: (24:40)
We have this assumption, but it’s not backed up by the data yet.
Jeffery Halter: (24:44)
Rana Nawas: (24:46)
Okay. Well, Jeff, could we talk a little bit about male gender fatigue? I think it’s a term you use in your book. What do you mean by that?
Jeffery Halter: (24:55)
Yeah. Basically what that means is, you know, the US has been at it for 20 years, and most of Europe has been at it at least 15. And it’s this belief that “aren’t we done?” Aren’t the numbers there? Because the fatigue part comes from looking around the organization, seeing a lot of women and believing women have in fact made it, when in fact, women are still just sitting in middle management and there may be some in rising senior roles. So we have women, we just don’t have them in the right roles yet. But one of the things I’ve been talking about lately is that there’s a lot of talk around this fatigue notion that it’s going to be 50 years, 80 years, 100 years before we have gender equity in the c-suite. And my belief is those are based on historic trends because if you had asked people in the 1950s, “will we ever go to the moon?” People would have said “no, it’s impossible.” Or if we had predicted the Internet, you know, 25 years ago, we couldn’t have done this. It’s this combination of boomers leaving this huge war for talent where you’re going to look around and even if you wanted to promote just white men in most countries in the developed world, there’s just not enough of them. And so I believe we are reaching an exponential leap of point for women and it’s also driven by a big issue called Social Media. And we need to look no further than the Google walkout which affected every global multinational. Employees are standing up and demanding transparency. They’re demanding board seats and we can say, you know, this will never come to pass. I believe Google has opened the door on more and more employee rights issues. If you look at the Google demands, they were about transparency, about doing away with a sexual harassment, coverups and pay transparency. So I think that’s the new norm. And employees are gonna vote with their feet. If you’re not a progressive company, I’m not going to come to work for you. You had mentioned earlier consulting companies; this is a great one. I was talking to the Chief People Manager of Deloitte and 80% of Deloitte’s workforce are millennials and they’re driven in a business model that says “we need fresh young talent who wants to get on an airplane 45 weeks a year and go work with their clients” and you know what? Millennials don’t want that anymore. And so you’re seeing that Deloitte changed their business model. They’ve also implemented a program on personal leave. They don’t talk about it a lot but it’s public domain information so I’m not sharing anything out of school; but they have a voluntary personal leave program because specifically they found that they were losing a lot of women around life events and this is an accounting company at its core and they analyzed this information and they realized it was going to cost them a lot of money, but basically if you’re at a certain level you can take up to three months leave, fully paid, anytime you need it in your career. And what they found was, four months after implementing this program, the Chief People Officer got letters from three different women who said they were thinking of leaving the company to take care of sick parents, sister with cancer and adopting a child and they didn’t think the company, progressive as it was, would support them and allow that they all took advantage of this program. And every one of these senior track women is now committed to staying with Deloitte forever. And Deloitte believes this program is now cash flow positive because it reduced turnover so much. But think about that as a way to, you know, attract and retain their best and brightest. And so this notion of supporting you, while in return asking for great engagement, I think is the new algorithm on how companies attract and retain the best and brightest talent.
Rana Nawas: (29:47)
As we wrap up, I was going to ask a few sort of a rapid fire questions and one of them was; if you had one piece of advice for women, what would it be?
Jeffery Halter: (29:56)
Many women, I believe, sit in jobs too long. If you aspire to move up in organizations, you should not sit in a position more than three years. Your first job is around understanding. Your second year is around mastery and your third year, you should be ready to be promoted out. By the way, that means you have somebody ready to replace you and if you’re working for a bad boss or a bad company, leave.
Rana Nawas: (30:23)
I think that’s really important to emphasize. That’s what the advice I give. You can’t change a bad boss. You won’t get anywhere with a bad boss. And finally, Jeffrey, you know, there are CEOs and business leaders listening to this podcast. Apart from running the report and to close the gender pay gap, what two or three things would you suggest they do tomorrow to help advance women to the c-suite?
Jeffery Halter: (30:48)
Yeah, I think the biggest one, and it goes back to the “listen, learn, lead, have the will.” Senior leaders, as you’re traveling and the higher up you are, the more important this is, you should be taking a group of women to dinner, to lunch every time you travel and ask them what they’re experiencing and having the no holds barred. This is something that a lot of companies I’ve worked with do. They’ll have lunch and learn with the senior leader. Just tell me what your experiencing and it is so eyeopening because smart senior leaders know that they’re not getting the truth. The people around them are paid to buffer them from bad news and bad information, so that’s a big part of it. And then the second big one is you have to talk about it as a business imperative. You have to talk about why it is important. It’s our customer. It’s our consumer. It’s the war for talent. You have to make this a business priority. This is really critical. I’m not telling you to call it a “women’s imperative.” I’m calling it a “business imperative.” You have to link this to your business. So I work with all kinds of companies and what I have them do in their business planning process is: if you were going to do a big merger and acquisition, if you’re going to launch a new brand, you’d put your best and brightest people on it, you would invest millions of dollars. And yet, when it comes to women’s leadership, we leave it up to a bunch of volunteers. We give them less than $100,000 and say “go solve this problem.” Well I want you to take women and put them through your business planning process, just like you would with anything else. And what you’re going to come up with is root cause issues that you have to overcome to solve this. And all of a sudden it’s treated like a business imperative because the companies that are making real progress don’t call it a “diversity initiative” or a “women’s initiative.” They have a compelling change story and it’s built into the strategies of everything you do. And it’s up to the CEO and the senior leaders to talk about that.
Rana Nawas: (33:09)
Yeah, exactly. I’m so tired of the social impact.
Jeffery Halter: (33:13)
Rana Nawas: (33:13)
The Social Impact Initiative.
Jeffery Halter: (33:15)
Yes. It’s not a nice-to-do. it’s an imperative.
Rana Nawas: (33:18)
Yeah. It needs leadership and it needs budget.
Jeffery Halter: (33:21)
Those two things – yep!
Rana Nawas: (33:23)
Jeffery, this has been really enlightening. Thank you for all the work you do with YWomen and I’m going to put, in the show notes, the two books that you’ve written so that listeners can find you. Where might that be?
Jeffery Halter: (33:34)
Yeah. Thank you very much. My website is www.ywomen.biz. Please go there, I’ve got a number of free tools that organizations can download. One I’m particularly pleased with is called “The Male Advocacy Profile.” It has you do an assessment, there’s also a female version and it’s a 20 point quiz. The first 10 ask you questions about how you think about gender equity, but then the next 10 are the actions you take to demonstrate gender equity because a lot of people think about it but they don’t take any action. And so it gives you a very numeric gauge of your own success. There’s a number of white papers you can download, and then the last thing is I have a program called “Staff Meeting in a Box.” This is an email that comes out every three weeks and it contains a white paper or a short video clip. It’s free. You download it, you read it before your staff meeting, I provide three questions and all you have to do is talk about gender in your staff meeting and that’s going to get the conversation started. So those are the two best free tools I can provide you.
Rana Nawas: (34:48)
That’s amazing! That’s a ton of resource. Thank you so much again, Jeffrey, for your time and for all the tools you provide on your website.
Jeffery Halter: (34:54)
All right, thank you!
Rana Nawas: (34:56)
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