HeForShe: Chris Parke | Co-founder & CEO, Talking Talent

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Chris Parke is the Co-founder and CEO of Talking Talent.

His passion for the commercial benefits of gender diversity, coaching and development led Chris to found Talking Talent, building unique approaches to helping women realise their full potential. TT supports some of the world’s leading organisations to retain and develop talented women. The work Talking Talent partners on with clients is regularly featured in the press and for awards, for innovation and strong ROI.

Why do you support the HeForShe campaign? For example – do you have a daughter or have you witnessed the benefits that diversity can bring to a workplace?
HeForShe Chris Parke

The HeForShe campaign has done incredible work in making men realise that they’re part of the conversation. Some men were already promoting gender equality, and even more wanted to participate but were unsure how—HeForShe has changed that.

I launched Talking Talent, a gender diversity coaching and consulting business in 2005. So much has changed since then, but we still need more men engaging in this debate in a positive and supportive way. The HeForShe campaign is showing men that their involvement is critical in enacting change and that’s one of the central tenets of our work at Talking Talent. For progress, we need inclusion. We help men to see the business benefits of gender diversity while reassuring them that a change to the status quo isn’t necessarily a threat. Then, we give them the tools and confidence to engage.

When men know that they are not being pushed aside or blamed, they have more empathy and become more active advocates. Gender diversity is good for everyone, and the solidarity the HeForShe campaign champions is getting us closer to the critical mass of male advocates we need.

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

For change to occur, the majority has to support it. It’s that simple.

Inclusion and diversity in all its guises is fundamental to team performance. Currently, masculine leadership styles dominate, and this can lead to a slight mono-culture in which other styles of leadership aren’t valued. This applies to really talented men who may have less overtly masculine styles as much as it applies to women. A large number of men would also benefit from increased femininity in styles of leader-ship at the top of the house, which will come when we have a better gender balance.

How welcome are men in the gender equality conversation currently?

When I started Talking Talent twelve years ago, I was often the only man in the room at networks and conferences. At best, I was one of a few. There were also times when I received a fairly mixed welcome! Thankfully, there’s been a real shift in ways of thinking about gender equality since then, but there is still a significant way to go. It’s really important that men are welcomed and encouraged to take the ‘podium’ to voice their support. This last piece is critical, especially for those men working in traditionally masculine and male dominated environments where they may be the early champions of change. This takes real courage and at Talking Talent we work really hard to find and then sup-port these men: We help them to have an authentic voice. To show their vulnerability in not having all the answers, or maybe not even the right language, but to demonstrate their passion and values. To articulate the business rationale for the change too.

It’s also important that we encourage the champions we find, rather than look to jump on the first thing they get wrong in their articulation of their support and position. Sadly, I have seen this happen more than once and with really damaging consequences.

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?

Not necessarily. I think it’s more about how men are invited to participate in finding the solution. That they feel properly welcomed, and that when they get into the sessions they don’t feel targeted as the cause of the “problem.” We just have to make sure we don’t split the genders in a way that says: “This is men’s fault. What are they going to do to fix the problem.”

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

Invite them along to the debate through conversation. Start with the most senior leaders, those who are in a position to advocate change in an authentic way. And involve everyone—make sure male leaders and line managers are a central part of any women’s leadership, development, or diversity programme too. Engage men through their hearts and minds. You need the PowerPoint as well as the Excel! In my experience, the most effective approach shows the psychology, values and behavioral based rationale alongside what this means for engagement, productivity and ultimately business success. It’s not ‘either/or’.

To this last point – try and drive initiatives through the business and not HR. Even if the vision and platform is created by experts within the HR function, it needs to be led by the commercial leaders in the business. You’ll engage men far faster if they can see the leaders engaging. Don’t dismiss some of the very real fears that some men have about what engaging in the debate may mean – how they will be seen by their peers, or their seniors? How can you give them the courage to stand out from the crowd?

Equally, don’t ignore how some men will feel about the potential losses that may result from gender equality, be they rational or otherwise. If these feelings are attacked or ridiculed they will get driven underneath the surface and cause further problems later on.

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

I’m incredibly lucky. In my role as CEO of Talking Talent, I have coached some of the world’s most talented women at all stages of their careers. The business has supported over 15,000 women and their leadership teams across the globe, which is a good foundation for my future ambitions for Talking Talent’s role in this space.

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?

Women are only less likely to put themselves forward for a role if the environment in which they work doesn’t value their style or their way of getting work done. If they don’t “fit in” with the majority then of course it’s going to be harder consciously and unconsciously on both sides of that equation. It’s often daunting to be the pioneer!

In fact, the catalyst for Jo Lyon and I to found Talking Talent was a recognition that as executive coaches we observed the women in large corporates and other leading organisations having a completely different experience of their careers then the men we sup-ported. Some of that was undoubtedly due to gender roles and differences, but far more was rooted in systemic challenges presented by the organisations they worked within. Their organisations were not set up to embrace difference. Twelve years ago, Jo and I had a vision that business psychology and leadership coaching could be used—and are actually needed—to unpick systemic challenges and find more sophisticated and innovative ways to change paradigms. That’s what we have done with the last twelve years and with some great success.

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