Why including men in the gender equality challenge is the key to changing bias, breaking silos & broadening perspectives

Article provided by Philippa White, Founder and CEO of TIE

Did you know that to tackle the gender equality challenge in countries around the world, boys and men are a vital part of the equation? 

Of course they are. It’s impossible for women to tackle this alone. Boys and men must be a part of the solution.

And, to achieve such equality, we must disrupt the comfort zone that society has created around men and age-old styles of alpha leadership. Both because men have dominated most corporate hierarchies for too long and because the qualities and values associated with successful leadership are often revered in male leaders and criticised when exhibited by female leaders.

The status quo and erroneous belief about the superiority of males over females needs to be shattered from early on. And a new “diversity comfort” level needs to be created.

For years TIE has been disrupting the comfort zones of global seasoned professionals and igniting their humanity and ingenuity by connecting them with global challenges around the world.

We work with organisations in 25 countries, but one of the NGOs that comes to mind is a children’s rights organisation in India called Shaishav.

Shaishav is a grassroots NGO working out of Bhavnagar, Gujarat, India. They work with and for marginalized children, as a completely participatory, child-rights NGO. They believe that all children should enjoy basic rights and experience the joys of childhood equally; that all children should become productive, socially sensitive, and democratically skilled citizens.

A crucial, often-overlooked element to empowering girls is the sensitization of boys. And when it comes to Shaishav’s gender work, they work closely with adolescent boys and instil in them empathy for girls, which in turn instils respect, and makes them view girls as equals.

We can learn a lot from these organisations.  One image from our work with Shaishav stands out – of boys and girls marching in the streets, united, using their voices to show the world they are in this fight together.

Men aren’t the problem. And it’s not just about Girl Power being the solution.


The reality is that we live as part of communities, as part of families, as part of organisations. Cutting boys and men out of the conversation and as part of the solution won’t make the problems go away. In fact, creating a “them and us” situation will only make the problem worse. We see this in politics, we see this in global crises, we see this when it comes to borders, and we see this in the gender discussion.  In fact, the Lean In Foundation found that in the post #MeToo era, 60% of male managers say they are uncomfortable mentoring, socialising or working alone with women, leaving women with less access to leadership opportunities than prior to the movement.

Transforming the way boys become men is a key strategy to achieving gender justice. But also, involving men in the real challenges women face and having them be part of the solution, is the only way forward.

And we can learn a lot from these international development strategies when it comes to the corporate world.

One of my good friends, Victoria Brooks, is on the front lines of this work with corporates in London, UK. Victoria is a strategist specialising in the development of stories that inspire environmental and social impact. What she is doing provides a beautiful example of the power of truth as a force for disruption, specifically in the context of the gender divide. Core to her work is the importance of men understanding the barriers women face in the corporate world in order to co-create tangible solutions which impact gender equality at work. (You can listen to more about this in a podcast we did here). 

In 2017, Victoria worked with Bloom UK to create The Booth of Truth, which is a safe place for women (and now men) to anonymously share the truth of their struggles for equality in the workplace.  The truths that emerged shocked the media industry, lifting the lid on sexual harassment, unequal pay, exclusion from office social outings and being passed over for promotion. In the last 5 years, the Booth of Truth has acted as a powerful vehicle to build true understanding on dozens of topics between men and women. 

These truths were harnessed in 2019, when Victoria and her co-Founder Siobhan Brunwin, launched The Exchange, Bloom’s cross industry programme with creative, tech and media companies, inviting senior male leaders to be matched with rising female leaders to co-mentor each other on how to close the gender divide in their workplaces over 6 months.  The simple act of sharing lived experiences honestly with each other in a confidential and action-oriented space has triggered deep change.

What started as an experiment with 46 participants in 2019 has grown to engage over 300 UK leaders over the last three years and has proven to be highly impactful.  Measured both quantitatively and qualitatively, in 2020, the male Exchange participants demonstrated a 493% increase in clarity on which actions will positively impact the gender divide in their business, whilst women reported a 257% increase.  Anecdotally, the Exchange has triggered hundreds of actions taken within UK companies to close the gender divide, one radically candid conversation at a time.   Why has this worked?  The men and women involved all embraced vulnerability, empathy and visibility of their blind spots.

What we can learn from both Shaishav and Victoria’s work is that empowerment is a process. A gradual process of visibility, conversations, dialogues, resources, and recognition. This process is not restricted to marginalized and vulnerable communities or one gender, and it is for everyone to become stronger, more confident, and take control of their actions. And involving men in the process of empowering women is necessary to fix the problem from the grassroots level.  It is important to lean men into discomfort as this is how we make invisible experiences of inequality visible.

Also, gender equality won’t happen if the only strategy is top down, but it should start early on with boys learning to see, appreciate, and respect the wonders that women bring to any endeavour.

It is about disrupting old fashioned stereotypes, and creating a platform where men and women can understand one another. Mutual understanding is key.


The idea of disrupting comfort zones to bring out the best in people and therefore help make the world a better place is at the heart of what TIE does.  We need to help expose people to challenges they wouldn’t normally face to make them more resourceful and smarter. To learn new ways of solving issues. To break out of silos and broaden perspectives. To make us better. And in turn, improve the world around us.

Philippa White featuredAbout the author

Philippa White is Founder and CEO of The International Exchange (TIE), a comfort zone disruptor. A unique professional development programme that exposes people to global challenges to ignite their humanity ingenuity and purpose. Following a hugely successful career in advertising working for some of London’s biggest agencies, Philippa launched CPD-accredited TIE in 2006. Philippa is passionate about bringing out the best in people as she believes it will lead to a better world. TIE cohorts receive experiential learning, helping to effect tangible change by working directly with NGOs globally. Through Philippa’s inspired course design, alumni expand their horizons and push their boundaries. They learn how to step out of siloed thinking, work collaboratively, communicate more effectively, discover their purpose and new-found confidence.

About the author

Alison is the Digital Content Editor for WeAreTheCity. She has a BA Honours degree in Journalism and History from the University of Portsmouth. She has previously worked in the marketing sector and in a copywriting role. Alison’s other passions and hobbies include writing, blogging and travelling.
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