Gunnar Risting is the engagement manager at the IT consultancy in Sweden, called Netlight. I met him through a blog post that he has written called “26% of the company shall not do a hundred percent of the equality work”. In that article, he is talking about their initiative called “purple pill,” which is the men-only events about gender equality. This really interested me, so I decided to have an interview with him. Thus, this interview is about exclusive solutions to reach true inclusion.

Gunnar says that historically, the company already was addressing the issues of equality and trying to create change both in the company and in the industry in Stockholm. But also, historically, most of these initiatives have been initiated and led by the women at their company. That’s really unfair that only women had to take it up because they already have to swim against the current of the culture. You have to take that extra responsibility, and you have to be an overachiever to prove yourself constantly. And that has to change, Gunnar says. In order to be successful as a company and to make sure everyone is included to contribute to the success, you have to pay attention to such basic things as gender equality – here’s this obvious aspect of being a driver of positive change, being a role model, having personal incentives and motivation in this process. But it’s also absolutely business-critical to attract and retain top talent and to create the best product, and that’s possible only if everyone is included. Therefore, the project called “purple pill” was founded to help men be more included in the solutions of gender equality issues.

The “purple pill” project is directed only towards men due to the fact that the tech industry is still heavily male-dominated, and men often feel awkward talking or discussing topics about gender equality because they feel that they are ignorant. They don’t want to look silly, so they would rather avoid talking about such topics altogether. 

To address the situation, Netlight initiated the Purple Pill project about five years ago, which is an overarching strategic initiative to make men more engaged in their gender equality work. The company puts gender equality in a high level, general context, and in a Netlight context and discusses the connection of gender equality to inclusive leadership. 

Gunnar says that the meeting itself opens people up, and people get more attentive to such kinds of issues. This increases the sense of awareness of the norms and biases that we have. Typically during the meetings, men are divided into smaller groups, which makes the conversations flow easier since people are more open and feel more comfortable working like that. Since all the men attending the project have more or less the same amount of knowledge about gender equality, that helps participants to relax and work harder on getting more knowledge about the topic without feeling ashamed of not knowing something. 

Everyone has a chance to speak during the meeting, and people feel heard, which motivates and encourages them. The topics brought up during meetings often concern personal examples and day-to-day situations, which helps make the newly obtained knowledge more applicable rather than theoretical and helps men increase their productivity during the work since they know now what to pay attention to and where an issue can appear. Although the stories are anonymous, it brings in emotional part, that helps people understand better how to act. 

Being in the community and not just having one-to-one conversations with people about those topics makes people feel less ashamed and more open to discussing the issues they might have. The project tries to ensure during the meetings that people leave with concrete tips and a toolbox of how to react or act in different situations. A lot of people come out as ambassadors, and that helps spread the message and grow the network now.

Gunnar explains the name of the project: it’s a wordplay of the matrix metaphor, where Neo gets the choice to take the pill with the color to either see the truth and see the world for what it is or to live in denial. That’s where the name of the project came from. Now the company is trying to focus on getting everyone involved in this work. And it seems to work quite well for them.

You can learn more about Purple Pill, how you can engage yourself in gender equality and why you would care, and how to start conversations on such kinds of topics and not feel ashamed or ignorant while listening to the whole version of the interview here.

Stay tuned and be genius!

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