How do you get men to take gender equality in the workplace seriously? I’m not saying that there is not some great work being done by some men, but the majority of the legwork seems still to be done by women. Take yesterday’s launch of the Women’s Business Council report. Practically every person in the audience was female and the speakers themselves remarked on how familiar many of the faces were. Equalities minister Maria Miller announced at the launch that 100 firms had signed up to the Government’s Think, Act, Report equality agenda. What’s the betting that number includes many of the companies and organisations who are already streets ahead in promoting gender equality?
Are we just speaking to the converted? How do we get beyond that group of women and the employers who see the business case for including women in business and understand the issues women face in the workplace? Apparently several men were invited to the launch, but they clearly didn’t think it was worth making time in their diaries. Perhaps it was the word ‘women’ that put them off, but even if you use more neutral terms like gender I’m not sure you would see much difference. The issues being discussed ranged from gender stereotypes at school [not to mention the whole blue/fluffy pink divide] to flexible working and retraining for adults hoping to re-enter the workforce or with caring responsibilities. Do men not have a stake in all of this since presumably a key reason women are taking time out or working flexibly is because they are looking after children who have both a mother and a father and presumably dads have an interest in how their daughters are encouraged to pursue certain careers over others? Have men not also been the sons of single parents who have struggled on low wages or benefits due to lack of career progression or inflexible working patterns?
We are told that men complain because they feel excluded from parenting issues. This is apparently due to maternal gatekeeping, but when you are invited to something and don’t turn up are you not excluding yourself?
So there we all were talking to each other about the issues which we all know by rote – flexible working, childcare, confidence. I did speak to one man, but he said he thought women should be encouraged to stay at home more and that all this women in business business was basically due to people wanting Nike shoes or the like. It’s hard to know where to begin with this argument and rather depressing that he had sat through the whole event without understanding anything of what was being said.
This is not a niche issue. Maybe women’s groups need to reach out more to men, but surely men also need to do something. As it is, I am optimistic about change mainly because of the quality and passion of the women who are already high up in industry who will push for change. The Government may have its own agenda for looking like it is doing something on women [and I am sure there are people in Government who want change], but these women will surely make a difference.