I’m pretty lucky – in my line of work when I tell people what I do, it immediately opens up a dialogue where even complete strangers seem extraordinarily honest in sharing their story.
(This is in comparison to my accountant husband who seems to be on the opposite end of this spectrum – I have nothing against accountants, it just seems to be the way!) In particular, I’m often struck by men’s willingness to share with me, which almost seems cathartic.
Why is this?
There has been so much focus on what has changed for women over the past few decades. We’ve seen more women entering the UK workforce with 2.2 million of those women now being the breadwinner. We’ve discussed the glass ceiling and the unconscious (and at times conscious) bias against women who work part time or flexibly due to childcare. And we’ve discussed the gender pay gap, appalled by the statistics and even more shocked at how many years it will take to reduce it.
The media and film industry is filled with stories of women who are trying to juggle it all – I watched Bad Mom’s recently that made me both cringe and shake my head in despair. And organisations have put a significant amount of resource to supporting women progress, rolling out unconscious bias training, returnship programmes, creating dedicated Diversity and Inclusion teams etc.
And the men…
Well, there are generally four categories (I simplify of course):
- Confused – “What gender issues? Our organisation doesn’t have any biases, unconscious or otherwise, everyone is treated fairly.”
- Passive – “I get there’s a problem but there’s plenty of resource out there supporting women, I don’t need to do anything.”
- Angry – “Unbelievable, another female only programme!” Just watch, next they’re going to make all us men redundant!”
- Engaged – “We need to sort this out. The business case is strong and I want to do everything I can to make sure women get treated fairly.”
Empathy with the angry
This may surprise you, but I understand the angry men. Let’s widen the lens and look at our gender issues more holistically. Men have traditionally been the ‘provider’ of the family. The societal and organisational expectation is that they step up and work harder to financially support their family. But just as women over the past forty years have wanted to focus on their careers, there is abundant research to show the shift that men want to be more involved fathers. They want to be present and school events, pick up and drop offs, and be around to read bedtime stories. And yet there is less acceptance from organisations of this change in role for men.
Very few companies put resource towards supporting men achieve the balance they need in their lives or into creating a culture where everyone can work flexibly, not just women.
In fact, men have been put under more pressure to adhere to their gender stereotypical norms following the 2009 economic crash – we expect that they will financially support their families at a time of significant social, political and economic instability.
What should organisations do?
The golden question. Organisations need to spread their resources when it comes to achieving gender balance. That doesn’t mean stopping the women-only programmes but also opening up a dialogue with men too. To date the conversation with men around gender balance tends to be based on them doing what’s right for women. After all, we still have majority men in positions of power so if they buy into the business case then the organisation will follow. A fair argument and we definitely need to hang on to those engaged men and continue to build the pool.
However, that’s not the only reason we need to engage men in the conversation of gender balance. My research on Flexible Fathers, together with the multitude of men who want to talk to me about this issue, suggests that they want more gender balance because it will improve their lives too. The Samaritans reported the 2017 UK male suicide rate is three times higher than for women and highest for men aged 40-44.
This is the time in their life when they generally have dependents and are under significant pressure to provide. The figure suggests many men haven’t got the right balance in their lives, causing stress, anxiety and unhappiness.
So let’s talk, men. Let’s find out more about the other side of the gender coin. Let’s put resource into developing a strong culture where men and women are encouraged to work flexibly, in a way that meets both business and personal needs. Let’s focus on creating a society where it is accepted that women progress their careers and men look after their children.
About the author
Nadia Nagamootoo, Director at Avenir Consulting. Nadia is a speaker and consultant specialising in creating gender balanced organisations.
Her work focuses on creating a platform where both men and women can talk openly about the organisational support and barriers they face, progressing towards a gender-neutral organisation where everyone is accepted and respected for their individual needs.