Why is it so hard to have an honest conversation about what it means to be a man today? Andy Katz-Mayfield is intent on answering this question.
As CEO of Harry’s, the popular men’s grooming startup that’s raised over $474 million in funding, Katz-Mayfield has spent the past six years contemplating men’s health and wellness. His business mission is to understand why men buy the products they do (men’s care, specifically). But beyond affordably priced razors, Katz-Mayfield and his co-founder, Jeff Raider, are unpacking the messiness of masculinity, via social campaigns and blog posts targeting men and boys.
“Men today are equally as comfortable being nurturing as they are strong, accepting of others as they are self-assured,” the Harry’s website reads. “And there’s wonderful chaos to be found in the middle.”
In truth, however, the vast majority of men are not as comfortable being nurturing, self-accepting, and compassionate as they are being strong and “self-assured.” Harry’s explored this dissonance in the recent short film, “A Man Like You,” featuring an alien who asks a young boy to teach him what it means to be a man. In a recent LinkedIn article, Katz-Mayfield reflected on the interviews he conducted for the film:
“The more we dug, the more we realized that the negative pressures society imposes upon men—particularly through outdated norms around hyper aggression and sexualization and machismo—can actually be really harmful. Not just to guys, but to communities.”
While he admits he doesn’t have all the answers and won’t always say the right things, Katz-Mayfield argues it’s liberating to try “exploring what it means to be a good man, and a good person, in the world.”
Speaking with Quartz, Katz-Mayfield shares the importance of listening to women, admits that he wishes he had taken more time off when his daughter was born, and explains why the success of his men’s grooming brand is dependent on hiring women.
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?
I’ve always tried to understand gender in the workplace, but before starting Harry’s it was easier to think about it in a more abstract, theoretical way (yes, I’m aware that’s my privilege as a white male). But as soon as my co-founder Jeff and I began to work on Harry’s, gender diversity became front and center. We were acutely aware that, as two men starting a brand for men, we had to take a conscious and proactive approach to building our early team with strong female perspectives, too. That meant hiring amazing women, but also creating a workplace where men and women are equally valued, supported, and set up for success.
Ever since that initial realization around launch, our journey at Harry’s has allowed me to navigate the nuances and intricacies of building a truly fair, diverse, and healthy team, while having a more explicit perspective on gender equity externally in the world, too. I hope that the Me Too movement is serving as an important reminder (and in some cases, a wake up call) for people whose business models or circumstances in life haven’t necessarily compelled them to think about the issue; the movement is shining a light on the fact that, as a society, we still have a long way to go.
2. Do you identify as a feminist? Why or why not? How do you define your feminism?
I do identify as a feminist, and that’s because my favorite description of feminism is that “Feminism is the radical notion that women are people.” I always try to take an intersectional approach to feminism (and all things), acknowledging the factors—like race, class, ability, ethnicity, occupation—that further shape our lives.
3. What do you do on a day to day basis to advance gender equality?
In my role as CEO, I actually have a great deal of power, and responsibility, to advance gender equality at Harry’s every day. I think a lot about the policies and processes we put in place, and consider it my job to make sure that we’re being progressive and inclusive in everything we do, from our perks to our promotion and compensation processes.
For example, I’ve been a strong supporter of our four-month paid parental leave policy, which is inclusive of all parents because we know that a policy of equality is important in supporting both women and men in the workplace. Additionally, I think it’s my responsibility to get involved as a co-sponsor of our Women’s Employee Resource Group to advise and show my support for activities like networking, bias training, and building community among female colleagues and allies. Finally, I continue to take responsibility for building a leadership team that’s balanced, and I’m really proud that more than 40% of our senior leadership team is women.
4. What’s the biggest threat to men in America today? Why?
In part due to outdated gender norms that position the ideal man as stoic, unfeeling, and strong, one of the biggest threats to men in America today is mental health. Men die by suicide 3.5 times more often than women, and we know that men struggle to ask for and get the preventative mental healthcare they need. At Harry’s, we set aside 1% of our sales to support nonprofit organizations that work on this issue, and hopefully foster a world where being a good man is no different than being a good human.
5. Do you talk about sexism with your male peers? If so, what strategies prove most effective, and if not, what’s your biggest inhibition to doing so?
It’s interesting, I’ve found that as my friends and I become fathers, we talk more and more about sexism and the unequal pressures of parenthood. I consider myself an active parent, and since my wife has an incredibly ambitious career that’s important to her, we’ve always agreed in the principle of true co-parenting. But even despite the sacrifices I’ve made, my wife has made more—beyond the tolls of pregnancy, my wife took her full maternity leave while I took only a couple of weeks.
We both share responsibility in our daughter’s life today, but becoming parents was not equal despite equally demanding careers. And this experience of becoming a new dad is something I talk to a lot of guys about; I don’t think my experience is unique. As a result, a conversation about fatherhood has opened up to a conversation about the other hidden ways that inequality quietly, sometimes subtly, shapes our lives and experiences in the world.
6. What is your biggest anxiety about being a man?
As a straight, white man, I sometimes struggle to find my own voice in conversations about sexism. On the one hand, I want to be an ally and use my position of relative power and privilege to be helpful. On the other hand, I want to really listen, and not assume that my voice has a place in every conversation. And to be honest, there is a lot of pressure to do and say the right thing, which can sometimes be paralyzing. That inner conflict can actually create a lot of anxiety. I want to do the right thing, but it’s not always clear exactly what that looks like.
7. What do you wish your female co-workers, and women at large, knew about you?
I’d want my female colleagues to know that I’m here to listen without judgment. I don’t assume I know everything about the experiences of women at Harry’s, but I am always genuinely curious, open-minded, and receptive to hear about the things we’re doing well, the things we’re missing, the things we’re messing up, and everything in between.
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?
I split my time between New York and Los Angeles—arguably two of the most progressive cities in the world—so I actually feel a different tension: not between men who would criticize my feminism and women who think I’m not speaking loudly enough, but rather the tension between speaking up and taking the space to really shut up and listen. That tension is hard to navigate, but I’d hope that because it comes from a place of positive intent, people are sensitive and forgiving when I’m sure I’ll inevitably mess it up.
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?
Candidly, I wish I took more time off after my daughter Chloe was born. Besides the extra time to bond with Chloe and the relief it would have provided my wife, I think it was a missed opportunity to role-model gender equality to the whole Harry’s team. In order to create cultural change, you need to do more than just create a great policy—you need to live and role model it yourself. So in this case, I’d take back something I didn’t do.
10. What’s the best advice you’ve received from another man, and what’s your best advice for young men today?
One great piece of advice I got from a professor in business school is the reminder to ask myself the question: “Are you really listening or are you just waiting patiently to speak?” I think about this almost every day, and particularly given the craziness of our current political climate, I think we could all benefit from a little more real, active listening.