Including men in the diversity agenda

Lots of people joining hands in a circle representing diversity


2016 has seen a lot of interest in the role men can play in helping women progress their careers. Up until recently much of the focus has been on women’s networks, women mentors and organisations aimed at women for women.

More and more organisations, however, believe that that focus ignores an important part of the equation – men.

They cite the need for far greater gender balance at the top of UK organisations. Greater media attention has shone a spotlight on diversity issues, but despite a number of government reviews, initiatives and targets, fewer than 10% of executive director roles at the UK’s 100 biggest public companies are held by women, according to Cranfield School of Management.

Many leading UK employers believe that bringing men into discussions on everything from childcare and housework, given the links between equality in the workplace and equality at home, to unconscious bias and other issues that hold women back at work could make a difference.

Driving this change is a belief, backed up by research, that younger men are more interested in taking a greater role in their children’s upbringing and are more egalitarian. Although figures on take-up of Shared Parental Leave over a year since it was introduced have so far been low for a variety of factors, SPL has opened up the debate around sharing childcare and domestic duties and has got dads on employers’ agenda.

Some employers have appointed male champions to promote the equality at work agenda; others have broadened mums’ networks to include dads or set up separate dads’ networks. Some are setting up e-learning and other support for new dads; at others senior male managers are seen to walk the talk on issues such as flexible working.

More and more research on women’s career progression is also including men’s opinions. The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors’ survey earlier this year compared men and women’s views on gender discrimination showed more than four in 10 young women reported that they believe their gender will count against them during their career, compared to just 4% of young men.

Collaborating with men

A report out in October focused solely on men’s views about changing workplace culture to be more inclusive for women. Collaborating with Men by Murray Edwards College at the University of Cambridge looks at the behaviours and perceptions of men regarding women’s workplace experiences.

It came up with a series of suggested solutions for men to improve the workplace culture for both women and men are:

  • ‘Just Ask’ – Create facilitated, safe space meetings in which the evidence on workplace culture can be aired along with any issues women working in the team think they experience because of their gender. Teams can then discuss possible solutions with the help of the long list of ideas that came from this research.
  • ‘Making visible’ – Implement power audits conducted by mixed gender teams after a project is finished to make visible how and where decisions were made. The aim is to improve how gender diverse teams work together.
  • Building close relationships – A key insight from the research stresses the importance of extending mixed gender networks to make it more likely that a woman comes to mind when an opportunity arises. Ways this can be achieved, according to the report, include:
    • Networking with a social agenda – for example, ‘Walkabout Wednesdays’ when everyone is expected to have coffee with someone new.
    • Networking related to work – for example, ‘Mixed gender mentoring’ to share skills and perspectives on a work project.
    • ‘Bystanders Amplify’ – One of many ideas for individual interventions suggests that by being aware of the problem perceived by women of men speaking over them or interrupting them at meetings, men can intervene by repeating a woman’s idea and giving her credit.

The report says individual actions need to be authorised by leaders taking a clear stance. It says: “Male role models are needed to transform workplace culture yet the men who take on this role often face backlash. Leaders can help by rewarding and supporting men who make changes to support gender parity.”

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