Five ways to get men on board for gender equality

23 July 1019

By Alison Maitland

Men who advocate for gender equality are often described as ‘ambassadors’ or ‘allies’, which to me suggests their role is a supportive one, while women should do most of the work. It’s true that women have largely led the fight up till now. But I believe we’ve entered a new phase where male advocates recognise they have to drive change, not just cheer from the sidelines.

There have been significant advances in getting men on board for equality in recent years, the most prominent being the UN’s global #heforshe solidarity campaign. In business, the Male Champions of Change (MCC) movement, founded by Elizabeth Broderick, started with a group of male CEOs in Australia and has been making wider waves. Their strategy is ‘to shift the systems that perpetuate and entrench inequality by redefining men’s role in taking action and supporting influential leaders to step up alongside women’. As well as the MCC, there’s also the well-established Catalyst workplace project, Men Advocating Real Change.

There are many reasons why men’s leadership is needed for equality.For a start, it’s about basic justice and economic development. As Simon Gallow, development director at UN Women, says, ‘equality for women means progress for all.’

Second, there’s abundant evidence that gender parity benefits business, with balanced boards and teams outperforming unbalanced ones. This evidence has encouraged investors and regulators to compel companies to take action to reduce the gender pay gap and redress the imbalance that still shows up in senior roles.

Third, it’s more effective when men drive change alongside women. Research by BCG worldwide shows that, in companies where men are actively involved in promoting gender equality, 96% report progress. In companies where men are not involved, only 30% report progress.

Here are five ways to get more men on board for change.

  1. Make inclusion about everyone

Your organisational strategy should be based on inclusion for all, making everyone accountable for creating inclusion at work and ensuring that everyone benefits. If initiatives are focused only on specific groups of employees, it’s harder for the rest to feel involved or to see what’s in it for them. As diversity is good for business, it makes sense to start from the presumption that everyone is responsible for ensuring that it flourishes. Develop and maintain the clear link to business results.

  1. Show the benefits for all

Policies and processes should take everyone’s needs into account, even when they are triggered by a specific goal, such as retaining female talent. For example, men should have the same access to flexibility as women, yet the unwritten rules in many organisations prevent this. Agile working produces business benefits such as greater productivity, lower costs, and enhanced reputation. So why not make it universally available? It will help you achieve gender equality more quickly too.

  1. Encourage leaders to speak out

Role modelling at the top is always important, as it makes others in the organisation feel supported to do the right thing. However, many male business leaders initially feel uncomfortable speaking on the gender topic. So it’s important to provide safe spaces to practise, and expert advisers or coaches who can guide leaders to speak from the heart while also using sensitive language.

  1. Back men when they advocate gender equality

The same structural and societal barriers that hold women back can make it difficult for men to speak out on gender. It can be hard for men to take a stand, especially in male-dominated environments where they can be subjected by other men to ridicule, or accused of betraying the brotherhood.

Chris Parke, co-founder and CEO of Talking Talent, has encountered negative reactions from men when advocating for female advancement. He has also experienced a drop in his own confidence when addressing female audiences, so he can empathise with how women may feel when they are in a minority at male-dominated Boards and meetings.

At a recent event on ‘engaging men’, held by One Loud Voice and the International Women’s Forum UK, Chris recommended giving men clear frameworks for how they could make a difference. These included contracting with them on their formal and informal roles, and pointing out practical actions they could take, as managers or team members.

  1. Ask men to commit to small steps for a big difference

Simon Gallow shared examples at the same event of small changes that men have pledged in order to support gender equality in the #heforshe campaign. ‘I’m going to make sure the “usual suspects” don’t do all the talking in team meetings,’ one man promised. Another pledged to ‘encourage my sister to be more confident in STEM subjects.’ If enough men say No to allowing inequality and exclusion to persist by making small shifts like these, they can add up to a big difference.

This is an edited version of a column first published in July 2019 by International Women of Excellence (IWE).

©Alison Maitland 2019, all rights reserved




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