Engaging men as agents of change is critical to advancing gender equality. There are a number of obstacles, however, that prevent men from taking concrete actions necessary for challenging the status quo.
First, gender inequality may be dismissed by men as invalid. Privilege is typically invisible to those who have it and many men believe that success is a level playing field. Dispelling the merit myth is therefore fundamental to engaging men in gender diversity.
Second, gender inequality may be perceived by men as a women’s only issue rather than an issue that has implications for all genders. Helping men to understand how gender stereotypes limit the choices and experiences of men, as well as women, is important for motivating men to take action on gender equality.
Third, gender inequality may be resisted by men out of concerns that it will limit their opportunities. A common misperception is that when women win, men lose. Helping men see that gender equality benefits both genders reduces backlash and resistance toward efforts that advance equality. Men need to understand that gender equality does not mean they “get less of the pie”, but that the pie gets bigger.
Four, men may feel that they are being blamed for gender inequality. When egalitarian values and being fair to others is central to man’s self-concept, he may deny or be resistant to engaging in the topic of gender inequality because it threatens his positive beliefs about himself. To buffer guilt and other negative reactions, it is important to convey to men that gender inequality is socially constructed and universal.
Five, gender equality is perceived as an abstract business issue rather than one with real consequences for the lived experiences of women. Sharing the stories of women (and men) who have suffered from gender bias, harassment or discrimination is a powerful technique for invoking empathy and engaging men on an emotional rather than an intellectual level in the gender debate. Studies show that the emotional brain is a more effective motivator than the rational brain.
Six, men do not know how they can help. When men feel that they are part of the problem, they may not be able to see how they can become part of the solution. Transferring strategies to men for advancing women can help men ‘walk the talk’.
Felicity Menzies is CEO and Principal Consultant at Include-Empower.Com, a diversity and inclusion consultancy with expertise in inclusive leadership, unconscious bias, cultural intelligence and inclusion, gender equity, empowering diverse talent. Felicity is an accredited facilitator with the Cultural Intelligence Centre and the author of A World of Difference. Felicity has over 15 years of experience working with and managing diverse workforces in blue chip companies and is a Fellow of Chartered Accountants of Australia and New Zealand. Felicity also holds a Bachelor of Commerce and a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology.