Those of you who know me in the context of Ecotopian Careers might not know that in a previous life I was a researcher focused on the subject of men and masculinity. One of the things I was most proud of during that period was the creation of The Five Stages of Masculinity, which is a model that maps out the different understandings of masculinity in society, and how men can (hopefully) evolve through the five stages as they become older and wiser.
When I work with coaching clients at Ecotopian Careers I frequently speak with middle-aged men who talk about obstacles they have experienced in their attempts to switch to a climate career or green job. During these conversations I often hear about frustrating discussions and interviews with younger people (and especially younger women), and it occurs to me that these obstacles can be more easily overcome with an understanding of The Five Stages of Masculinity. What follows are some basic tips for middle-aged men to keep in mind during their climate career switch: these tips are relevant to most men, but particularly those in their 40s and 50s with senior professional experience.
Stage 2 and Traditional Business
Stage 2 on The Five Stages of Masculinity is described as “Conscious Masculinity” and refers to a state where men are conscious of traditional expectations of masculinity and seek to fulfil them. Stage 2 is where all of the stereotypes of masculinity are born: competition, aggression, being tough, all that manly stuff.
In the traditional world of business, Stage 2 masculinity was pretty much essential if you wanted to progress. Most senior professionals performed Stage 2 in order to succeed, culminating with the almost sociopathic CEO that most of us have rightly come to loathe.
If you are a man today in your 40s or 50s you are probably familiar with the expectation of Stage 2 to ensure success: you may even have mobilized it to your advantage. Even if you don’t like Stage 2 (and have actively resisted it), you’ve probably been conditioned by it to a certain extent, and may have taken it onboard in ways you don’t even realize.
Stage 3 and Progressive Business
Stage 3 on The Five Stages of Masculinity is described as “Critical Masculinities” and refers to a state where men are aware of the problems of Stage 2 and how power, sexism and patriarchy work in society. We can loosely describe Stage 3 as “feminism,” assuming you understand the word to mean equality between men and women.
In many businesses today, Stage 3 has become increasingly prevalent. While we certainly have not yet reached equality between men and women by many measures, there is at least an understanding that more needs to be done to ensure equal pay and opportunity, and the eradication of harassment in the workplace.
Stage 3 is a tremendous leap forward from Stage 2. But, rightly or wrongly, many men feel uncomfortable with it because they perceive that it does not really do justice to their lived experience, such as all the useful things they have achieved using Stage 2 characteristics. There is also a confusion at both Stage 2 and Stage 3 about the difference between individual and systemic power. In other words, Stage 2 typically speaks about their own experience (“hey, I’m not oppressing you!”), whereas Stage 3 typically speaks about collective experience (all men benefit from patriarchy!). Neither Stage 2 nor Stage 3 are comfortable with the complex dynamic between these two co-existing realities.
Stage 4 and Climate Careers
Stage 4 on The Five Stages of Masculinity is described as “Multiple Masculinities” and refers to a state where masculinity can mean anything you want it to mean, and where you can move fluidly between Stage 2 and Stage 3, taking the best bits of both. If a man reaches Stage 4, it’s typically during middle age. So, let’s get into the climate career switch obstacles.
Frequently, when a middle-aged senior professional man tries to make a climate career switch he will find himself being interviewed by a younger person. That middle-aged senior professional man has probably to some extent taken onboard “Stage 2 energy” and it can—consciously or unconsciously—unnerve the younger interviewer, creating a blockage to rapport that can result in no job offer, even if his skills and experience are fabulous and obviously transferable. If the younger interviewer is female, she is likely to be even more attuned to that Stage 2 energy, because even if she is a successful woman with the power to make a job offer, she has no doubt experienced Stage 2 oppression and is rightly cautious about opening the door to more of it.
So here’s my main advice. One of the key characteristics of Stage 4 is what I describe as “radical vulnerability,” which means you’ve actively got to give your power away. You do not need to conceal your achievements, but you need to make it clear that you have no intention of hoarding more success and power, rather generating it in others. This is important for any domain, but particularly so for climate, because this is an unusual space inasmuch as it genuinely operates on a level bigger than the individual and actively requires uncommon levels of altruism and humbleness (many people new to the climate space are surprised that it is so generative).
Now, you can’t just cynically perform radical vulnerability, you actually have to embody it for it to work. If you’re a middle-aged senior professional man, believe me when I tell you that you have enough power in the bank to give some away. You’ll need to do a full audit of where that power resides and “offset” it, down to how you occupy the space, and even the vocabulary and grammar that you use which may have historically been constructed in a way that has enabled you to dominate.
And if you’re worried about what happens when you give away your hard-earned power, here’s the great paradox: you accrue even more power! Stage 4 is a whole new level of mastery, but instead of it being the type of mastery that lords it over people, it’s the type of mastery that people want to be around. Give it a try: you might like it 🙂