Getting more men into the equality debate

How can employers reach out to more men to include them in discussions about gender equality? A webinar this week heard from two experts.

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Gender equality is more than just a women’s issue. With men making up as much as 70 percent of the workforce in some sectors, it is important to mobilise as many people as possible to push for greater equality and a roundtable hosted by flexible childcare provider Bubble this week heard from two business leaders about how best to include and motivate male allies in the workplace.

Both Simon Watson, Male Allies Chairman of NatWest Group, and Dagmar Albers, Diversity and Inclusion Lead at Pfizer, agreed that the pandemic could provide an opportunity for accelerating moves towards equality at work through the way it had enabled a rethinking of work. Albers said younger workers increasingly wanted to share care and highlighted how gender equality starts at home.

Watson admitted that the term ‘male allies’ caught in his throat when he first heard it. “It can put people off rather than encourage more people in,” he said. “We want as many men as possible in discussions on equality and diversity.” It is important that the language and tone used is not accusatory, but participatory, inviting people to have conversations and it is important not to assume that men are a homogenous group.  Creating small groups where everyone can talk is better, he said, than pushing people out so that they become a negative force or a distraction. “Most people come with good intentions. We need to engage them and reach a consensus.” Men still make up the majority of employees at NatWest and need to be active in conversations about equality if progress is to be made, said Watson.

Conscious inclusion

Albers agreed that gender equality could not be achieved without men understanding the issues women are facing.  She spoke about the need for an inclusive culture without any blame game and prefers the term conscious inclusion rather than unconscious bias for this reason.

That means flexible working to open up jobs to more people, gender neutral job adverts, flexible working workshops focused on individuals and teams, more equal parental leave policies, a decision tree tool to help employees make better decisions about pay and leave, career support programmes housed in one place and workshops on issues such as self advocacy which are run by a diverse group of employees – men, women, different ethnicities and so forth – who offer positive role models. Pfizer’s next workshop is on how to measure your success so you can feel confident about your achievements. Workshop attendees are encouraged to share that they have taken part with other colleagues to generate excitement.

Watson also spoke about NatWest’s mentoring programme for junior women, its mentoring circles and its buddying system for new dads which provides accessible role models.

There was also a discussion about assumptions. Albers spoke of the importance of asking questions and listening to answers, rather than making assumptions, giving the example of managers who assume they are protecting women returning from maternity leave by not promoting them and men not taking Shared Parental Leave because they wrongly think other men will be against it. In a conversation about attitudes to money and how women tend to undervalue themselves, she said both men and women have an important role to play in advancing equality at home and at work.

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