October 31, 2013 — As a Senior Partner at Mercer, I’m a firm believer that companies win when women share in leadership. And as a father of a daughter who cares about workplace equality, I realize that if we really want to “move the needle” on gender diversity, we need to reach men, who still hold most leadership positions at most organisations around the world.
In my capacity as Vice President for Engaging Men in the European Professional Women’s Network (EPWN), I have set up a series of webinars with senior corporate male executives throughout Europe to better understand the obstacles to getting men involved in issues of workplace fairness. Many of these executives are already champions of gender diversity with strong women role models in their lives. In our webinars, we try to assess what gets men invested in workplace equality—and what doesn’t.
Many men still see equality as a “women’s issue” and irrelevant to their lives. The promotion of women’s networks creates an “us vs. them” mentality amongst some men, while others are simply ignorant of the issues. Still others are fearful that promoting women will result in fewer opportunities for men.
Male-dominated corporate culture also plays a role: men who sign up to support or lead gender diversity initiatives can be regarded with scorn or suspicion by their male colleagues, and doing so may even be seen as a career-limiting move. During one of our webinars, a senior man who’d been appointed to lead a gender diversity initiative reported that he was asked by his male colleagues what he had “done wrong” to be given his new role!
My experience has been different, however. I’ve found getting involved with issues of gender diversity very enriching and highly positive for my career. It has enabled me to develop skills and have experiences that contribute to my leadership credentials. I don't think it is a coincidence that I have just been awarded a new and exciting role within my company.
So, how do we get more men to advocate for gender diversity in the workplace? First, we need to get across to men that having a gender-balanced workforce is good for everyone: gender-balanced teams are often more fun to work in, produce more innovative solutions, and create opportunities for everyone to grow. We also need male leaders to advocate openly for gender diversity, ensure that their direct reports have clear targets and accountability for driving diversity initiatives, and work to make diversity “mainstream” throughout their organisations.
A good number of men want everyone to succeed, but we still have a long way to go to "convert" those who remain skeptical of gender equity initiatives.
Please share your thoughts about how we can continue to drive men’s engagement in the space below!