In a recent episode of the SHE Innovates podcast, Michelle King, a leader in the United Nations’ women’s gender innovation work, interviews Wade Davis, a former National Football League player and the first LGBT inclusion consultant for professional sports leagues. During the podcast, he shares how men can fight sexism in the workplace – starting with speaking up. Wade also talks about Blindspots, a training program he launched to help men understand the issues women face in the workplace.
Davis notes that he wasn’t always aware of these issues while in the NFL: “When you’re playing, you just want to play the sport . . . you don’t think that you have the mental bandwidth to do anything else.” When he stopped playing, he reflected on the price of not coming out as a gay man: “I paid an individual cost of never being able to be my full and authentic self.”
Addressing the roots of sexism and inequality
Regardless of orientation or gender identity, Davis says women are always at a disadvantage because of the insidious nature of patriarchy: “They are constantly worried about their status and have to modulate feelings of someone else just to survive.” His passion around gender equality was influenced by Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center, in which author Bell Hooks talks about slavery through the lens of women’s experience.
“Everything I was fighting for in LGBT equality was rooted in patriarchy and sexism… it always goes back to women,” Davis says. He believes undoing the patriarchy paves the road for gender equality. We need to realize that when women are oppressed, men are too, he says.
The challenge in advocating for inclusion and equality is making sure you aren’t doing it for the wrong reasons. Davis is aware that taking space from women who’ve been fighting for equality is a type of oppression and actively avoids doing so. He always gives credit to people whose ideas he’s “repackaged in a way that’s accessible to men.”
Men often don’t realize that an equitable workplace elevates them too. Equal opportunities create more space for men and women: “We can recreate the corporate world in a way that everyone benefits, but we don’t imagine this is possible because we’ve grown up in a society of competition instead of solidarity.” We need to realize that all of us grow in an inclusive environment, he believes.
Engaging in open conversations
Davis recognized the value of having conversations with both athletes and men in the corporate space to help them recognize “you don’t need to be right.” These conversations morphed into training and workshops that were experiential and engaging to men. He provided spaces where men could say things that are “problematic.” Players are curious as to what it means to be LGBT, says Davis. He took part in the “High Five” initiative to remove the gulf that exists between the LGBT community and athletes. Davis says it’s an exchange that creates “awareness, connection, action.”
For Davis, building Blindspots was important for creating spaces where people can be vulnerable and honest while learning more about complex issues. One of Davis’s goal is to reach white men in the corporate world: “There’s a reason why the group that’s supposed to have the highest level of power… also has the highest level of suicide.” In 2016, white males accounted for seven out of 10 suicides. They need to be a part of the conversation to achieve true inclusiveness.
Impact of gender equality work and advice to men
The athlete says the greatest result of his work is people asking how they can help. He advises more men to start a book club, because “they need a baseline of education and experience.” He wants people to practice speaking up – asking questions like, “what do you mean by that?” when someone makes a sexist remark to show that you’re not okay with it. “We have to get better at backing up our words with actions.”
Listen to Wade Davis’s interview on the SHE Innovates podcast.
SHE Innovates is a podcast that shares the stories, challenges and triumphs of women across innovation, technology and entrepreneurship. Listen to all our podcasts on PodBean.