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I was honoured when the founding members of Lean In Canada's Toronto chapter invited me to sit on an all-male panel for their recent event entitled "Men Lean In: A Discussion on Gender Roles and Relations in Work and Life."
This was the first time that men had played an active role in any of the Lean In Canada events, and interestingly enough, saw the highest attendance of any event to date. The crowd was incredibly diverse; women and men alike filtered into the room curious as to what was about to take place.
I wasn't sure what to expect as the night began, but as the event got into full swing I was extremely moved by the conversation that was taking place. There was such a deep thirst for understanding of the opposite sex. It was almost as if beyond the conversation of equality in the workplace, the room really wanted to get to the root of what truly motivates the other and what drives a specific action in their minds. We co-exist as men and women each and everyday, yet there still remains this major gap in our understanding of each other and what truly motivates our action. I don't see this as a bad thing, but rather an amazing opportunity; an opportunity to continue having these types of gatherings that foster transparency and a closing of that gap.
As men, we're brought up to be "assertive," "certain," "tough," to "always have it together." Is this even possible at all times? Similarly women are brought up with "traditional" gender roles. These "traditions" and archaic societal norms create the barriers we face daily in work and life. It is the societal expectation placed upon us, the cultural teachings we were raised with, that inspire our everyday action and thought.
I made a point on the panel that as men we need to re-evaluate our idea of manhood and success. Archaic gender ideals must go. Before asking what it means to be "a man" or what it means to be "a woman," we first need to ask, what it means to be human; because as humans we are all going through similar emotions. We all have elements of fear, doubt, anxiety and uncertainty. Some men may not admit this, but it is true. These are not male or female traits, these are human traits.
As leaders in our own rights, we need to strip ourselves of the labels we place on each other, bare all and truly connect first as human beings with a common desire to make a difference and do good. Magic can be created if we connect on the ground level first. Not as men. Not as women. Not as providers, but as human beings.
That's when a fundamental shift in engagement and equality within the workplace (and beyond) can begin – only once we've shed ourselves of our pre-conceived notions and internal or external expectations of ourselves and others. These types of gender-meshing experiences (similar to the panel I sat on recently) are incredibly necessary today at the organizational level as well: where leaders and team-members alike have the opportunity to sit down and truly engage, share and build each other up. It requires a full commitment by all involved to be present and open, comfortable enough to share and be transparent.
It is this type of empathy I believe today's organizations need to embody for us to see a shift in the conversation around equality. The millennial generation offers us hope in this regard; the first generation to have grown up in an age where the world has truly been at their fingertips. Digital technology has allowed them to connect and be exposed to others and new ideas in ways that never before existed and it is my hope that because of this, that exposure allows us to navigate the world with a level of sensitivity and community. If the Lean In Toronto Chapter and others like it are any indication of what's to come, we are definitely on the right track.
Jesse Jones (@iamjessejones) is an entrepreneur and the founder of TEN81 Lifestyle Inc. @TEN81Inc.), a lifestyle marketing agency with roots in research and strategy, focused on helping brands understand the 24-hour consumer/shopper mindset.