Interview with Jake Stika of Next Gen Men
Next Gen Men’s goal is to cultivate open, safe spaces to bring boys and men into critical conversations about gender.
They seek to facilitate open dialogues while also encouraging young men to step up and support others in order to drive positive change, dismantling the status quo.
In our conversation with Stika below, we dig into topics like:
Why men should participate in conversations about diversity, inclusion, and equity
How men can engage in these types of conversations
How to discuss male gender-based issues constructively
Small things you can do around the office to help break down stereotypes
His perspectives on the importance of men’s participation in this dialogue
How men can become more involved in diversity, inclusion, and equity efforts
Interview with Jake Stika
“We haven’t really worked on what raising boys to men means, or considered what that looks like in a healthy and positive way, so Next Gen Men seeks to fill that void.”
Stefan: Can you tell me a bit about yourself and the work that you do?
Jake: Four years ago, my best friend Jermal Alleyne and I started Next Gen Men to redefine what it means to "be a man." We do that through empowering, engaging, and educating men and boys around gender in schools, communities, and workplaces.
Unfortunately, a lot of men come to question masculinity and gender norms only after facing trauma, hurt, or loss. This was true for our co-founder and myself. Between us, we had experienced the loss of a sibling and struggled with depression, so we started to see how common and isolating these experiences really are.
At the same time, there is a lack of support and dialogue in the gender equity space for men. We haven’t really worked on what raising boys to men means, or considered what that looks like in a healthy and positive way, so Next Gen Men seeks to fill that void.
There’s also the question of how we can engage leaders (predominantly male) into these conversations in a way that helps them understand that this is not a nuisance or something at odds with their goals, but actually benefits them along with everyone else
Involving Men in Diversity and Inclusion Work
“The starting point for positive change is having conversations and learning about yourself, your peers, your environment, and broader systemic issues.”
Stefan: Can you talk more about the corporate work you do and what you do with these leaders?
Jake: Broadly speaking, a lot of men’s work is very individualistic; they might do it for themselves or in their romantic relationships, but there are few men that step up or step out for systemic change. The reason for this is because whether we like or not, men benefit from the status quo, and it's easier to maintain it.
To address these issues, Next Gen Men does a lot of leadership focused workshops and presentations. For example, we talk about unconscious bias, challenges the LGBTQ community face, sponsorship, and much more.
The starting point for positive change is having conversations and learning about yourself, your peers, your environment, and broader systemic issues.
Without that core component of deliberately engaging in a learning process, privileged male leaders in a given organization cannot meaningfully create positive change. Their institutional investors might be pushing for more diversity and inclusion, but an affinity for diversity and inclusion work will not suddenly come naturally for someone who has never lived their life that way.
Stefan: You gave a talk at the SaaS-[E]quality Unconference. Could you share some key points from that?
Jake: My talk, "Male, Pale & Stale as part of your D.I.E. Strategy" explored some of the following themes:
Reframing the discussion to engage those in privileged positions
We are critical as a society towards old white men in power, but if we can reframe that and see it as an opportunity to engage those people into these conversations, in order to actually effect change sooner.
Building empathy, including male gender-based issues
Especially from the gender equity standpoint, we need to build empathy to create these kinds of changes. If we are talking about other groups but not about men’s gendered experiences, men see these conversations as happening to them and not involving them. There are many male gender-based issues in society. For instance, 3 out of 4 suicides are by men, and men are the primary perpetrators of all forms of violence (and more likely to be victims themselves). Further, men experience increased rates of incarceration, homelessness, and addiction. A lot of that comes down to the socialization of men. This is something we need dialogue around.
Deconstructing the concept of masculinity
When we hear the phrases "be a man" and "man up," we all know what that means to some extent. Nobody has to tell us what that means because we've all experienced it over the course of our lives. Examining those expectations is an opportunity to talk about how the concept of gender as a male has impacted you and how it impacts those around you. We can cultivate empathy to better understand gendered and lived experiences of others.
“Men often shy away from these conversations because they feel like they have privilege to lose.”
Stefan: What are some of the reasons that men often don't engage in inclusion or equity work?
Jake: The status quo benefits us as men because we live in a patriarchal society. When 476 of the Fortune 500 CEOs are male, and leaders in other capacities are predominantly men, it’s clear that men rule the world. Capitalism, the industrial complex, and globalism, all play into these ideas of patriarchy.
Men often shy away from these conversations because they feel like they have privilege to lose. There is a way to reframe that to show there is actually a lot of benefit for men to join in on the conversation.
Deconstructing the Concept of Masculinity
Stefan: What are some of the benefits men would have from joining the conversation?
Jake: We are in such a stressful environment. Millennials are contending with trying to be breadwinners and protectors - the traditional archetypes of what it is to be a man. Men are grappling with ideas of what they are supposed to be in their professional and personal lives. The more we play into these tired tropes, the more pressure, stress, and anxiety we feel. We are in an environment that doesn't give us a lot of resources or support on that.
This impacts ourselves and those around us, including in the workplace, in our personal lives, and in society at large. If we take apart some of those constructs and create partnership, we become better for that. We benefit, and our relationships benefit.
In the workplace, as a man, the idea that you have to be dominant, domineering, a leader, and a know-it-all - it's destructive and exhausting. On the other hand, coming from a place of true vulnerability and saying you don't know something, allowing others to step in, and working with contributions from others, alleviates some of that burden.
At the same time, this creates a collaborative team where everyone’s voice is heard and their contributions are recognized. It takes an organization further. This type of change happens through men’s involvement in the dialogue.
Stefan: You mentioned a few men's issues like rates of suicide and violence. Are there some workplace-specific examples?
Jake: #MeToo is a huge one - male leaders are the primary perpetrators of sexual violence in the workplace. Unfortunately it has created this language now about "getting MeToo’d.” This is despite the fact that being falsely accused is a rare occurrence, especially in comparison to the likelihood of women experiencing sexual harassment over the course of their lives. Regrettably, this is all upheld by problematic structures between the genders.
How Men Can Get Involved in Diversity and Inclusion Efforts
Stefan: What are some effective ways you've seen men get involved in diversity, inclusion, and equity work?
Jake: I would highlight the following steps:
The first step is understanding that you have privilege and stripping the stigma from that. Understand that it is an unearned benefit.
Leveraging your privilege
Use your privilege to help others. This is not from the perspective of benevolent sexism but as a true partner.
Listening is a huge part of this. Often, us men get caught up in doing and action items. If we listen to the issues and understand them, we will hear the same stories. It helps us to see how common it is and brings better awareness while cultivating empathy.
Being an advocate for change
This is standing up and saying you are not okay with the status quo even if it benefits you, because it hurts others.
“If we take apart some of those constructs and create partnership, we become better for that.”
Stefan: Can you give examples of workplace privilege that is common amongst men, and small things they could do to make a difference?
Jake: I recommend stepping into tasks that are neglected by men. Some examples are:
Do the dishes
A lot of communal workplaces have common kitchens, and women are predominantly still doing the cleaning and tidying.
When is the last time a man planned a birthday party or a retirement party? Look at some of the tasks that are traditionally assigned to women and step into those tasks.
Lead By Example
I always remember a great example I saw firsthand. Next Gen Men was working with a tech company, and one day the CEO was sitting at the receptionist desk. He noticed that every time the receptionist had to leave, his female VP of HR had to fill in. He realized that was not the best use of her time, and he filled in instead.
That demonstrates leadership to everyone else. It encourages them to step in and understand that these things are not a woman's job.
Think of Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group: in every meeting he takes notes and tells everyone they should also take notes. Without action like that, note-taking often falls to a female assistant in many organizations. These are broad statements but they are all stereotypes that exist.
Stefan: Is there anything else you want to add for a man reading this who wonders how he could get started on this process?
Jake: It starts with dialogue. Have a conversation with your peers at work about privilege, their lived experiences, and what gender is, both inside and outside of the workplace.
Have conversations with women in your life about their lived experiences regarding gender. You will hear some of the same things coming up in each story. Cultivate that curiosity.
Don't just wear diversity and inclusion hats in the workplace - aim to be diverse and inclusive individuals in your overall life.
Stika’s Recommended Resources
The Modern Manhood Podcast, supported by Next Gen Men and Alberta Podcast Network explores the concept of masculinity with an array of diverse male voices. There are new episodes on a regular basis.
As a guest on Modern Manhood’s recent episode, "The Year in Review with Jake Stika," Stika discussed how Next Gen Men's work builds on feminist movements. He went on to say that what has been missing in these dialogues "is the inclusion of men," not because they were actively excluded, but because "there wasn't always a big incentive" for men to become involved.
In the wake of the events of 2018, Stika pointed to the now-increased conversation and visibility of the types of issues where men are necessarily implicated, naming examples such as the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements. As a result, there is more momentum for men "to move to conversations about gender and masculinity."
However, this is not to say that the role of men is confined to this in such conversations. Rather, Stika is clear that "with any sort of social equity movement, you need the dominant group to be involved as a part of it" in order to effect change. This dialogue is not limited to safe spaces or the workplace, but rather needs to be applied on a broader scale.
An initiative of Next Gen Men, Equity Leaders offers the opportunity to partake in workshops regarding topics relating to unconscious bias, privilege, allyship, gender, masculinity, feminism, mental health, and inclusivity, among other topics.
Thank you for your time Jake!
Thanks for reading! If you're interested in more resources like this you can sign up to our mailing list, or if you've got advice/experiences that you'd like to share - we'd love to hear from you!
Crescendo is the diversity education app for Slack and we’re on a mission to help companies create more inclusive workplaces. You can learn more here!