Witnessing young people emerge into adulthood is a great privilege. Watching them discover what is important to them, their values – what they believe in, their aspirations – is a wonderful experience. My role as a parent has changed from ‘boundary rider’ to coach and adviser as my children have grown. I know that my university student children are very much on their own journey.
Yet, I also know that it is up to me to introduce them to concepts and ideas, to show them a different viewpoint and also make sure that family is a warm and safe place that they can relax in, have fun and be a place to come back to.
My 17-year-old son has recently completed high school and will start his tertiary studies in the next few weeks. I have wondered (with a strong mother role model such as myself) – about what his thoughts are on women’s leadership and balanced voice are. In other words I asked myself the question, ‘Have I raised a young man who will embrace diversity in all its aspects?’
I was invited to a preview of the movie Suffragettes in late 2015, and I thought this would be a great opportunity to take my son and then have a conversation with him after the movie about feminism, and the women’s movement. I wanted to know what his thoughts were.
When we arrived at the theatre, I was surprised that of the 300 people attending, he was one of only two men present. My son was pretty unimpressed with me inviting him to a ‘women’s’ event. I either misunderstood the invitation or was the only one that thought it would be a good idea to include a next generation male in the discussion.
At the conclusion of the movie I could see that my son was not only bored, but angry. We left the theatre and I dared to ask “So what did you think of the movie?”
He responded, “It was completely anti-male. The movie made out that every man in it was mean and evil.” He challenged me: “Why did you take me to it?”
I was clear on my intentions – I wanted him to know the journey that society is taking to give women not just equal rights but the right to vote and equal pay – and how the journey around the globe has a long way to go.
In the film, I saw men who were confused and struggling to understand the change that was going on around them. There was little context given to the story of the ‘men’ and why it was so hard for them to change – or embrace a new world where women would be their equal. A few small hints were given as to the male struggle – but for my son, a young man who did not have the historical context prior to seeing the movie, these hints were not obvious enough to give a ‘balanced view.’
I am so glad that he did come – because I learned something. It did give rise to a robust discussion between us, and I was able to see the world through his eyes – which was extremely insightful.
I implore others to consider including men (and their young men, sons, nephews, brothers) in every conversation about women in leadership, equal future, and balanced voice. We need men in the conversation about diversity and inclusion.
Now it is time to consider how many women’s-only events do we see with no men on the invitation list or on the panel discussing balanced voice. We need men to give an alternative view, and maybe have an idea or two on how this community issue can be tackled by the ‘whole of society,’ not just half of it.
We cannot look to history to help us with the journey forward to achieve balance. And it is the same with family life. Parenting and family life is now about equal contribution. Last century when I grew up, men were ‘the head of the family’ and the ‘bread winners’ – this is no longer the case. ‘Family’ is about respect, equal contribution and communication – it is a place to belong and be able to be one’s self.
My life outside of work is about home and all that that means – vivid, rich and challenging as it may be. It keeps me in balance. And guarantees robust debate – what a ride.
This article originally appeared as part of my LinkedIn posts