Jeffery Tobias Halter is a white man who says he can teach women how to teach men about gender equality in the workplace.
I know, I’m also skeptical about a man standing up for women. Isn’t that just another way to reinforce the norm of male leadership? But I’m also a pragmatist. So if he’s advancing gender equity, I’m willing to listen. I'm interested in how the negotiation mindset of understanding your counterpart's point of view and creative problem solving can help you achieve your goals. To that end, I spoke with a man about women's advancement to hear what strategies he's using and whether they're working.
Halter is a corporate gender strategist and founder of ywomen.biz. He spent over a decade leading diversity and inclusion initiatives at The Coca-Cola Company, where he conducted diversity training, non-bias hiring and assessment and cultural competency training for over 600 leaders before striking out on his own. He now works with Forbes 400 companies on making the case for integrative women’s leadership strategies. “I choose to focus on women because it’s the most common denominator," he says. Plus, as the father of a daughter, he believes he has a responsibility to do this work.
“I want to reframe the conversation into a business strategy,” says Halter. “I hope I am neither condescending or patronizing. I’m 100% opposed to being a mansplainer.” (A mansplainer is a man who explains something to a woman in a patronizing or condescending way.) To that end, Halter emphasizes how women are measurably a business asset. For example, according to Halter’s book, Selling to Men, Selling to Women, approximately 80% of the time, men are transactional and women are relational in their approach to buying and selling. In Halter’s opinion, this means women are often more skilled than men in reading nonverbal cues and tonal differences, which is a critical skill in selling and negotiation.
Halter offers actionable ways for women to engage with men on gender equality at work. Halter recommends taking every opportunity to use timely events, like Audi’s daughter Super Bowl ad, as conversation starters with their male colleagues. Baby steps? Maybe. But what I do appreciate about this approach is that it’s a way for women to influence the obstacle of men being either unaware or uninterested in the challenges their female colleagues face.
He also recommends that women adopt a “strategic selling” tactic with men to get buy-in for their ideas prior to key meetings. “Research shows that many times women’s ideas are not heard or are dismissed in meetings. You have to do a pre-sell before the meeting,” says Halter. “I believe men do it all the time. That way, as a woman, when someone is condescending or dismissive, you can say, ‘Well, I was talking to Dave about that earlier. Dave, what’s your point of view on this?’ You can say it’s manipulative, but I’d say it’s business.”
That's not exactly teaching women to teach men about gender issues. So is he just advising women to act more like men at work?
Halter says no, he’s a proponent of a style known as adaptive leadership, where you flex your leadership style based on how things get done at your organization. Of course, Halter also argues that he’s in prime position to advocate for women because “senior leaders are by default about 85% men,” so…. It's encouraging women to act more like their leaders, who are likely men. In fact, women hold less than 5% of CEO positions and only 25% of executive or senior manager roles in S&P 500 companies.
How does he help his clients go beyond lip service to make real change? After all, most corporate diversity programs don’t actually increase diversity.
One recent client, a top B2B Forbes 400 company, was struggling to retain women in key roles. Halter worked with a team of 10 senior leaders (eight men, two women) to analyze what factors were holding women back or causing them to leave all together through a combination of focus groups and one-on-one interviews with women across the company.
It’s going to take them seven years to double the number of women in revenue roles from 17% to 35%. Halter notes that although it’s a 100% increase, it’s also a long timeframe. But there’s no silver bullet to solving a pipeline problem. “I explain the blatantly obvious to companies. How do you advance and retain women? You ask them what they want, and give it to them. What they tell you will go against every program you have in place. So at that point you have to have the courage to act.”
This post originally appeared in Women@Forbes, where Alexandra Dickinson is a contributor. She writes about how to use a negotiation mindset to achieve your goals.