A Call to Action: Engaging Men in Gender Equity

United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

Evidence shows that we have a long way to go before women are fully equal and empowered in the workplace. Mercer’s When Women Thrive research shows that in the average global organization, only 20 per cent of the top roles are held by women and even fewer are in the role of CEO.

The UN Women’s Empowerment Principles are an excellent way for organizations to focus on the actions they need to take to advance women, and to treat women and men fairly. But to speed up progress, we need to engage individual men, especially the senior ones. We need to think about two things: why men should engage in gender equity conversations and what they can actually do to help.

Although some men are unaware, unsure, or even fearful of women’s advancement, it’s clear that gender equity is good for both men and women. Studies show that the flexibility and freedom it brings is good for the development of men’s leadership skills, their mental and physical health, and their personal relationships.

 For the most part, men are keen to get involved and there’s a lot they can do at individual level to support gender equity:

  • Sponsor female and other diverse talent and take part in or become an ally to women’s networking groups. Speak up and act on issues that affect diverse talent.
  • Get involved in a mentoring or reverse mentoring programme, or agree to become a role model leader.
  • Be vocal about your commitment to diversity and inclusion and get involved in activities in your organization.
  •  Show your support for flexible working. Support family leave and use your full entitlement.

I also recommend men learn more about the issues. David Leser’s Women, Men and the Whole Damn Thing is essential reading for all men, and Kristen Pressner’s Are You Biased, I Am Ted Talk is spot on. And take a look at some of the international gender equity programmes, like Male Champions of Change in Australia, MARC by Catalyst in the USA and The Mentoring Foundation in the UK.

Getting men involved in the conversation early is a critical step for organizations that want to improve gender equity, and  I have run a number of programmes at Mercer and for PWN Global (a leading women’s network) which concentrate on this.

During one Mercer programme a focus group asked 60 men their views on gender in the workplace. We provided data on the advancement of men and women. Many of the men were surprised to learn that despite an increase in female representation at manager level and above, women were still underrepresented in key roles. To inject some female perspective, we asked women at Mercer to record a video on issues they experience at work and the behaviours they would like to see change. This was a real ’aha’ moment for many of the men, for example when women talked about needing men to be more considerate of family responsibilities when organising meetings.

What was also interesting was what the men said they want from the workplace – for many that was flexibility and the ability to take significant parental leave. It was clear that many men do not feel able to ask for this. In response, Mercer introduced an ‘All Roles Can Flex’ policy in the UK, which has enabled both men and women to adopt flexible work patterns and which has really boosted employee engagement.

There’s no doubt that when it comes to gender equity, many men are willing to step up as allies or even as activists. But for us to make large scale progress we need to engage and involve all men, even those who are cynical or disengaged.

Together with UN Women, we will be running a webinar early in 2020 focusing on this. In the meantime, please feel free to connect with me, and let’s work together for the benefit of all genders, the companies we work for and for our families and societies.

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Photographer & Videographer Credit: Mercer
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