Thom Dennis, CEO of culture and leadership specialists, Serenity in Leadership
Many gender parity solutions are aimed at protecting women but men are struggling to keep up with the new world order and there is an ever-widening gulf between the sexes leaving many men defensive, confused and unsure of how to be involved. Some men remain fearful of going against the stereotype and see championing women as a sign of weakness or positive discrimination. Other men are largely unsure about how to help and are scared of getting it wrong, even to the extent of being afraid to get in a lift alone with a woman. The narrative needs to change if we are to see workplaces free from sexism.
The gender parity statistics are still shocking. Despite seemingly significant progress in terms of women in the workplace, sexist discrimination is still rife. The 2022 gender equality report from Randstad surveyed 6,000 workers across construction, education, healthcare and technology in the UK. 72% of female respondents said they encountered inappropriate behaviour from their male counterparts, and 73% stated that their employers were not providing enough support for female employees dealing with menopause. 96% of women felt that having a female manager would either maintain or improve their working day.
Another research poll published by Samsung Newsroom revealed the prevalence of gender-biased language and stereotypes in professional settings with women nearly three times more likely (42%) to be asked to make the tea than men (16%) and almost three times more likely (43%) to be the recipient of a sexist joke than their male counterparts (15%). 40% have experienced gender-biased language in meetings and 30% during interviews, and 19% said they did not have the confidence to challenge or report gender-biased behaviour at work, despite wanting to.
A new report from Remote has revealed that 88% of women feel organisations should provide more flexibility with remote working, to enable them to commute in the daylight during the winter months with 47% of respondents saying they felt uneasy commuting in the dark and 40% stating they felt vulnerable and 32% unsafe.
Whilst these figures compellingly show the need for change, we need more than 50% of the population to be on board to make further progress. It will only be when men challenge the discriminatory behaviour of other men and also ask for equal rights and pay for women, that gender barriers at work will begin to crumble. Following the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements women are justifiably more passionate about the cause but respecting that the time for change is now will encourage action today.
10 ways to get men involved in neutralising gender bias and discrimination.
1) Young men need role models. The police used to be role models, but now they are widely viewed as dysfunctional and unfortunately 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. 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, and no rule book to follow for our young men. We need to have the right balance between the sexes.
3) Talk about changes through the generations. Break the cycle of aspiring for a Stepford wife. With the destruction of a real sense of community, 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. Female leaders are in a minority, which means that women at work are already marginalised. Every time a woman is promoted they don’t need to be replaced by a man. Transparency of pay for example 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? Could you be the next Bradley Cooper? Look after your people, not just your shareholders.
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 career 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.