Sixty years since the heyday of modern feminism—in terms of top jobs for women and the gender pay gap—gender parity at work remains a way off. Progress is happening but it's slow.
Worse still are the ongoing reports
of casual sexism, misogyny, and even sexual harassment in the workplace, directed against women by men.
Several high-profile initiatives are in place to support women at work. The #MeToo and #TimesUp movements have focused on female mistreatment and have been a catalyst for change. The success of remote working that companies experimented with during the COVID pandemic have greatly furthered the cause of flexible working—which is particularly welcomed by female workers. Workforce diversity initiatives have become de rigeur in large organizations and unconscious bias training has found supporters.
Unfortunately, what many gender parity solutions miss is any clear message to men about how they should be involved, or to HR professionals about how to help those men who—whether due to up-bringing or culture—have failed to adjust to the new world order and are left defensive and confused. Despite the unavoidable reality of everyday misogyny, most men are respectful and supportive of women, but many could do with some further direction and encouragement.
In a recent article Thom Dennis, CEO of culture change consultants Serenity in Leadership listed these 10 ways to get men involved in countering gender bias and discrimination:
1. Young men need role models. The police used to be role models, but now they are widely viewed as untrustworthy. Let’s not even give Andrew Tate more than a mention, but the growth of this ideological social media cult-like following for young men is extremely worrying. We must deal with the toxicity of patriarchal masculinity. Leaders are de facto role models so how are your managers behaving and what are the messages that you and they are putting out? When you are stressed, how do you behave? Any sign of disrespect gives inadvertent permission for someone else to do the same.
2. Don’t denigrate men or they won’t turn up. Many men are feeling like they are under constant attack and whilst women are on the rise personally and professionally, there is a lack of clear routes, inspiring male leaders, community, or rule book for young men to follow. We need to have the right balance between the sexes.
3. Talk about changes through the generations. A lot of men haven’t grown through any rite of passage, graduating to manhood. Talking about the changes throughout recent generations helps put down some foundations for the future. Identifying and understanding change in language and behaviour through the generations is key. For example, if I am speaking as my grandfather would have done, is that appropriate today?
4. Check your language to appeal to men. Inviting men to voluntarily explore their own thoughts on misogyny may sadly end in an empty training room. Using the right language to attract and engage them is key to involvement, participation, and a culture of respect. This requires vision and sensitivity in creating a sufficiently safe space.
5. Swerve emasculation. Misguided masculinity can lead to mental health issues, even suicide (men make up 49% of the population but nearly 80% of suicides). The aim is not to emasculate men. The changing perception of how a man should act means that men are a mix of still being scared to share their emotions and of being seen as weak by others, versus wanting to be and to do better.
6. Just say no to gender pay and opportunities disparity. Transparency of pay takes courage. CFOs and senior management need to look at their books and declare it is not ok for women not to be earning the same as men for the same work. Apart from anything else, it is breaking the law. Many men are afraid to open the can of worms in fear of how it may impact their own pay, but what does your conscience say?
7. Don’t expect women to be like men to survive and thrive. Lots of women have been successful because they dress and behave to conform to a male context, and that is also unfortunately a reason why some women are not good allies for other women. Rather than change the paradigm for the next woman coming through, there is sometimes a feeling of ‘I had to do this to get to the top, so you can do it too.’
8. Men need to be authentic advocates and allies. Bring to the forefront the mindset that women are not making demands on men. Men need to be demanding more for women because they see the value, diversity and experience they bring, rather than an association of problems with menopause, periods, and babies. Women make business, and men, better. I repeat, women make business, and men, better.
9. The models of the workplace have got to grow up so men can. Many parents, women and men, want to be supported by their work, to do well in their careers and to have time to be with their families and friends, without it having to be a choice between one or the other. Women need flexibility and men may want that too. They need to be who they are and respect what they need such as access to creches or time off with a sick child because this empowers everyone to be the best version of themselves.
10. Value EQ and CQ. Businesses need to attract recruits with emotional intelligence and cultural awareness for the best results. This starts with the acceptance that women in particular want to be heard, not given solutions by men. They don’t want to compete but to be collaborative and to move from individual whims to collective values.