HeForShe: Stephen Frost | Founder of Frost Included

Stephen Frost specialises in working with organisations to embed inclusive leadership into their decision-making.

Stephen Frost colour

His roles have included working as Head of Diversity and Inclusion for KPMG and the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics, as well as serving as an advisor to the British Government and The White House.

Between 2004 and 2007, Stephen established and led the workplace team at Stonewall; growing the Diversity Champions programme to the largest of its kind in the world and launching the UK’s first LGBT recruitment guide. The Workplace Equality Index from this project has now become a standard across most leading employers.

Stephen Frost is the founder of Frost Included, a consultancy dedicated to helping people and organisations understand diversity and inclusion. His latest book, Inclusive Talent Management – How business can thrive in an age of diversity, is out now, published by Kogan Page.

Today, as well as leading Frost Included, Stephen teaches inclusive leadership at Harvard Business School, Singapore Management University and Sciences Po in France.

Why do you support the HeForShe campaign?

I support the HeForShe campaign because, as a man, it’s in my own self-interest to have greater gender equality as well as being the morally right thing to do. Morals are a personal choice and I just find sexism deeply unjust and distasteful. But above, and perhaps beyond, the moral case I like to base my arguments in evidence and all the evidence I have reviewed over sixteen years in my profession has led me to conclude that there is a meaningful correlation between diversity and performance.

Why do you think it’s important for men to support gender equality in the workplace?

Gender is by definition about both men and women. All of us are under pressure, all of us are facing unprecedented professional challenges, and all of us need all the help we can get. But men are less likely to ask for help.

For example, the amount of information we have to process is doubling every two years. In many ways, it is actually harder to be a professional today than it was even ten years ago. We therefore face two choices. One, carry on, train our own brains to work harder and smarter, become more self aware and self correct our own biases and blind spots. Or two, surround ourselves with as much diversity as we can handle that will to a large extent do that job for us.

Different people will point out different biases, blind spots and challenge groupthink helping us all make better decisions. A recent study showed that women outperformed men in initiative and clear communication; openness and ability to innovate; sociability and supportiveness; and methodical management and goal-setting.

Do I want people around me who can help me with these areas? You bet.

How welcome are men in the gender equality conversation currently?

It varies. I was speaking as the “token male” (the moderator’s words, not mine) at a recent Financial Times “Women at the Top” conference in London. I made the point that (caveat, I was a man) people, men and women, cannot bring their full selves to work. By only focusing on a narrow definition of ‘women’ there was a risk that we were promoting those women that most fitted the existing male dominated culture. Half the room really appreciated this point. Half the room didn’t. Women who are fitting in to a male culture, rather like gay people in the closet, or disabled people hiding their disability, might be most threatened by men who care about gender equality. Men who care about gender equality are important allies and they need to be embraced and supported.

It’s harder for men to admit weakness in a male dominated stereotypical culture and they need to be encouraged to come to such conferences and encouraged to speak out.

Do you think groups/networks that include the words “women in…” or “females in…” make men feel like gender equality isn’t really their problem or something they need to help with?

There is a risk of that. Of course there’s a need for any ‘minority’ group to network proactively in a majority culture because otherwise the network effects are stacked against them. But if it’s only about fixing the minority then it does remove the responsibility for the majority group or the system to self correct.

What can businesses do to encourage more men to feel welcome enough to get involved in the gender debate?

Focus less on language and technical issues and more on encouraging conversation. Make it clear there is an issue of self-interest at stake here. We are not seeking charity, we are seeking performance. The notion that we are all working in perfectly functioning meritocracies is fanciful. Gender inequality is a market failure. Any senior male leader in business should be concerned about that, be concerned about economic inefficiency and seek to correct it to improve business performance.

I spend a significant part of my professional life training men to reframe diversity as a personal leadership issue that can actually help them and their business. So business can instigate inclusive leadership programmes, even keynotes, that particularly target the men.

Do you currently mentor any women or have you in the past?

Yes. I have women as mentors and I mentor them too. It’s important to point out that it shouldn’t just be men mentoring women, that could just compound the problem. Reciprocal mentoring, reverse mentoring, active sponsorship, two-way education and female role models are all important.

Have you noticed any difference in mentoring women – for example, are women less likely to put themselves forward for jobs that are out of their comfort zones or are women less likely to identify senior roles that they would be suited for?

Yes. At the risk of generalising and stereotyping, women tend to self select out more and men tend to self select in more. So we know that on average men tend to put themselves forward for promotion when they can fulfil half the criteria for a job whereas a woman would hold back until she could fulfil 90 per cent of the criteria.

We know that men are more likely to be vocal about pay and women more loyal and just quietly leave. These are patterns professionals should be aware of. My job is then to offers tools and solutions to help them lead effectively.

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