FROM CONVERSATION TO ACTION
When Ford started inviting fellow male MBAs to his apartment for “deep dives” into gender-equity issues, the purpose was to simply start a conversation. As the meetings and conversations grew in popularity and depth, the manbassadors began to play a more active role in partnership with female MBAs. “Men are starting to realize they need to play an active role in educating themselves,” Ford says. “It’s a growing movement of men realizing they need to be active participants. It needs to be in conjunction with women, but men have a critical role to play in this.”
And Robinson has already seen hints of change.
“I think what’s awesome is my female classmates and I have seen a change in our male classmates,” she says. Earlier in the fall 2016 semester, she says, a strong gender bias comment was made while discussing a case in a full-time MBA course. “We all felt it,” Robinson recalls, noting that all of the women in the class “tensed up a little.”
But before any of the women raised a hand to comment, Robinson says, one of the men she met at a monthly Guy Talk meeting raised his hand and said something.
A CULTURAL SHIFT TO MORE ‘MANBASSADING’
For Matheson, who also serves in a vice president role for the Women in Leadership group, the end goal is cultural change — within Berkeley Haas and within the organizations its graduates go to.
“Culture is a huge thing,” Matheson begins. “And trying to change culture at billion-dollar companies where you have tens of thousands of employees is very difficult. But within a community of about 240 per year, it’s easier to shift on a year-to-year basis.” Matheson and Ford believe that about a third of the male population in the full-time MBA program at Haas are “manbassading” in some way.
Long-term change, they say, comes from unified advocates at a variety of organizational levels within a company. “If you have support at the top and advocates at a variety of levels, that’s the key to cultural change,” Ford says.
Robinson agrees the Guy Talk lunch meetings have been a game changer.
“For me, the meetings have been transformational — even for myself and the way I think about gender,” she says. “It’s so interesting to be in an environment where men feel comfortable enough to be open about what they’re thinking about and questions they have.”
Ford and Matheson are now focused on inter-campus collaboration and have been working with other B-school manbassadors to create a best-practices commitment for outgoing MBAs to sign. “For us, it’s also about going out and making these organizational cultural shifts,” Matheson says.