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How We’ll Win

How We’ll Win is a year-long exploration of the fight for gender equality.

Adam Grant
WILLFUL BLINDNESS

Wharton psychologist Adam Grant says men should learn to listen like they’re wrong

By Leah Fessler

For the past seven years, Adam Grant, age 37, has been rated the top professor at The Wharton School. With a PhD in organization psychology, Grant focuses his research on mentorship, emotional labor, and gender equality, and has written extensively on these subjects.

He’s the author of three books, including Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy, which he recently co-wrote with Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg.

I introduced myself to Grant in 2016 at a conference where I, at age 22, was among the least important people in the room. He made time for a chat over coffee, listened to my career anxieties, and has since opened countless doors for me, capitalizing on his professional network to advance my career, and the careers of women I believe in. Beyond mentorship, he uses his power to sponsor women.

In conversation with Quartz, Grant explains why willful blindness is the biggest threat to men today, how he uses research to change defensive men’s minds, and the importance of listening like you’re wrong.


1. Did you actively think about workplace gender inequality prior to the Me Too movement? And what’s the most important lesson you’ve learned from Me Too?

Yes: I’ve been teaching about gender equality for the better part of a decade and writing about it for the past five years. The most important lesson I’ve learned from the Me Too movement is that abuses by powerful men are far more common than I realized, too many organizations are orchestrated to protect those men, and one of the most powerful paths to change is to get more women in power.


2. Do you identify as a feminist? Why or why not? How do you define your feminism?

I’m a feminist. To me, it means believing in and advocating for a world where women have the same freedom and opportunities as men.


3. What do you do on a daily basis to advance gender equality?

I think it’s more important to ask what more I could and should be doing every day to advance gender equality. Some initial thoughts: mentoring more women, amplifying not just the work but also the voices of women, and recommending more women for senior jobs.


4. What’s the biggest threat to men in America today? Why?
It’s time to wake up and smell the inequality.

Willful blindness. A shocking number of white men believe that there’s more discrimination today in America against white men than against women and minorities, even though there’s a mountain of rigorous evidence proving that belief false. It’s time to wake up and smell the inequality.


5. Do you talk about sexism with your male peers? If so, what strategies prove most effective, and if not, what inhibits you from doing so?

Almost every day. The most productive conversations I’ve had with defensive men happen when I share an elegant study and ask them to explain it. For example, when a case about successful venture capitalist Heidi Roizen is changed to Howard Roizen and everything else is left identical, why do we judge them as equally competent but like her less?



6. What is your biggest anxiety about being a man?

Am I supposed to be anxious about being a man? Sorry, I must have missed the indoctrination ceremony into precarious manhood.


7. What do you wish your female co-workers, and women at large, knew about you?

That even when I’m arguing like I’m right, I’m listening like I’m wrong.


8. Some men feel like they can’t win: They’ll be criticized by men for speaking up, and by feminists for not speaking loud enough. What would you tell these men?

Suck it up! It’s a fraction of the price women pay. There’s evidence that women often get penalized when they advocate for gender equality—it looks like nepotism—whereas men are more likely to get celebrated for it. “He’s such a good guy!”


9. If you could take back one thing you’ve said or done that contributed to bias at work or at home, what would it be? Why?
Not having men advocating for gender equality would be like not having white people advocating for civil rights.

All the years I failed to advocate for women because I didn’t think it was my place. Not having men advocating for gender equality would be like not having white people advocating for civil rights. These issues affect all of us, not some of us. As Martin Luther King Jr. put it, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”


10. What’s the best advice you’ve received from another man, and what’s your best advice for young men today?

An amazing former student, David Rider, used to lead training for Men Can Stop Rape. He taught me that you can often reach young men by asking them about times when people have stereotyped them or held prejudice toward them based on the group they belong to or the way they look. Now imagine that someone is doing that to you every minute of every day.

My best advice for young men is to (a) recognize that if one day you have a daughter, you’ll suddenly become more concerned about women’s rights, and (b) don’t wait for that day. There must be women who already matter deeply to you—mothers and sisters and aunts and friends—and there are small steps you can take every day to create a world where they have more freedom.