I’ve written about masculinity a few times — one of my favorite posts of my own ever is “The boys don’t cry problem of work,” and I’ve also talked about the central male issue of achievement vs. fulfillment — and, in general, I think masculinity is pretty broken. Look at #MeToo as the major example. The other major example would be: “Work is still mostly a man’s world, and 85% of people dread going to work every day.”
This is largely about how we put men in boxes, especially around their ability to display characteristics that would make them good leaders or, well, better people. If a dude displays empathy, he’s “soft” and “not a guy who can drive the biz.” This is a real fucking flaw. Don’t believe me? OK. Let’s turn to a University of Michigan business school professor writing in Harvard Business Review:
Showing vulnerability. Men are socialized to not ask for help or be vulnerable — and they can be penalized when they challenge this notion. An informative set of studies from 2015 finds that when male (but not female) leaders ask for help, they are viewed as less competent, capable, and confident. And when men make themselves vulnerable by disclosing a weakness at work, they are perceived to have lower status. This is problematic, as not seeking help when you need it or admitting areas for improvement inevitably leads to mistakes and less development.
Men show vulnerability = lower status. Men ask for help = won’t get promoted. Basically men doing anything truly emotional? They get cuckolded at work. As that is happening, some bellowing, bell-ringing sales guy just made $842,000 more across the course of his career.
Hopefully you see where this is an issue.
So what do we do?
I’m not sure “we” do anything, because this is a massive societal issue about how we develop and then subsequently treat men. And if you don’t think this is all tied to loneliness, which is more common in men even when they don’t admit it, I got some bootleg HR software I can sell ya. (Work isolation is an even bigger problem.)
Basically, within an organization, if a man shows emotion, that doesn’t make him weak and shouldn’t be seen as such. I have no studies on this, but I would assume male sales guys who show emotion and build empathy with clients/prospects have a higher longer-term value. If all you do is bully your way to the sale, which is kind of the archetype of the male sales dude, that hits your numbers/quarters but I doubt your 36-month value is that great. That said, the modern business climate gives approximately zero shits about 36-month value so long as the three-month value is intact. That’s a wholly different problem.
Men are allowed to be emotional. They can show empathy. They can be vulnerable. Heck, showing vulnerability might even be considered a strength in some. It’s all OK. It probably makes our organizations and our work better in the long-run. We should be embracing this, not belittling and demeaning men for being real with themselves.
Remember: in the course of working with people, if the natural order of stuff flows, you will probably lose a parent or have a client/prospect/colleague who loses a parent, loses a child, loses a marriage, etc. We worry a lot about “new product features” and we worry basically not at all about “new people features,” which is arguably the more important side of work. One of the reasons we worry less about the people features side is that men still run work, and men want to be talking about margins and deliverables, not Jim’s wife leaving him. But that’s a flaw. Jim’s wife leaving him is going to change Jim. It will change Jim’s connection to work. It will change everything about Jim sees those deliverables. We need to have those conversations and let those moments be real, even though Jim has a penis instead of a vagina.
This is a path to changing work and making it better. It’s not fancy tech or AI, but it might make more of a difference.