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How do we get men to engage in the gender equality debate?

Last week I had two opportunities to share my thoughts on female leadership. On Tuesday I attended the IGPP ‘Progressing Women in Leadership’ conference which saw some leading names (including Caroline Noakes MP and Jess Phillips MP) talking about both the barriers and actions needed to improve the situation. Then on Thursday I was on the panel of a Client Talk ‘Women and Transformational Leadership’ lunchtime webinar.

Supporting women in the workplace

Both events aimed to raise awareness of the importance of progressing women into leadership roles and ways organisations can support this. Importantly each event included one man who spoke honestly about their experiences and views of supporting women in the workforce and progressing women into leadership.

But in terms of attendance of men in the audience, those who had come to listen and debate, a very different picture emerged. At the IGPP event (attendance in the hundreds) I believe one man attended and at the Client Talk we had no men attending. The audience was made up totally of women.

Why are men not attending these events?

This is not unusual I find. Despite events about gender equality being open to all, men and women, it is my experience (and that of many of my female colleagues) that men mostly do not attend. And I am curious to know why. Why do men not engage so readily with the subject of gender equality?

Some thoughts and speculations on what may be holding them back.

It's just not their problem

First might there be a tendency to see lack of gender equality in the workplace and the progression of women as a ‘woman’s problem’. So, if it is a woman’s problem then only women need to sort it out may be the thinking. Perhaps men just don’t ‘see the problem’ as being something they should be involved in. They are just not interested, so leave it to the women to chat about.

They feel threatened

An alternative explanation to lack of male interest is that the subject is seen as threatening to men. Achieving greater gender balance, with more women moving into mid-to-senior roles will upend the current job allocations that go to men. Perhaps the subject represents unwanted competition which men seek to block, or if not actively prevent, then they remain neutral to any support. Maybe also a little guilt in there too from feeling threatened by women’s progress?

They feel marginalised

Or perhaps this is about not feeling welcome at the debate. Has the feminist movement made men feel outside the debate; that it’s our subject only to discuss, or worse that they may be attacked or vilified if they do come along. If so, we need to work hard to dispel this idea. We need a healthy debate, and we need to create a welcoming environment for everyone.

Working towards creating gender equality together

Given the systemic nature of gender inequality, particularly in the workplace, it strikes me that the solution rests with all those in the system, both men and women. Men need to be part of the solution. The old adage springs to mind: ‘if you aren’t part of the solution, you are going to be part of the problem’. I for one am really keen for men to engage in the conversation about gender equality and to recognise how much a lack of successful women in the workplace can hold back organisations. Gender equality isn’t just about doing the right thing from a moral stand-point. It’s also about getting diversity of thinking, ideas, and new perspectives into organisations which should be of interest to men as much as women.

I would love to hear from men on this subject. Drop me a line and let me know your thoughts!

1 Comment

Jul 12, 2022

This blog has definitely stirred some interest when shared onto Linkedin!


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