52 percent of Australian men believe they are suffering from reverse gender discrimination, despite their opportunities for advancement remaining the same.
That’s according to a new report out last week from global diversity and equity inclusion consultancy, The Dream Collective.
The 40 page report collected data from 1000 interviews conducted with males working in ‘white collar’ positions, across sectors including manufacturing, education, tech, and health care.
The report addressed male perceptions and archetypes, the effectiveness of training motivators such as gender equality, diversity and inclusion initiatives, barriers in the training, and strategies for overcoming male engagement in this area.
The findings from the report showed startling differences between men’s perception and reality when it comes to issues of equality and inclusion in their workplace.
Almost half percent of respondents said they feel fatigued by the diversity and inclusion discussions. More than four fifths said they had either not seen any signifiant change top their work environment or that their work environment has become more empowering over the last 2 years, showing that discussion and awareness of inclusion benefits everyone.
Sixty-one percent said that whilst awareness and willingness to engage is high among men, they believe it is driven more by obligation than personal conviction.
Thirty-six percent believe that promoting gender equality is zero-sum game, while only 22 percent believe that their actions would have any critical impact on gender equality.
Sarah Liu, founder and Managing Director of The Dream Collective, told Women’s Agenda that the report is a useful tool for creating change.
“The reality is that, unless we actually engage men meaningfully we actually won’t be able to make progress,” she said.
“What we want to achieve with this research is to bring some of the unspoken realities to the surface so now we have created a platform for businesses to take action.”
“The biggest action to take now is to make men understand the huge and significant impact they can do. Less than 22 percent actually feel they can make a critical impact. Which is not at all true.
“We know that actually, for companies with a diversity and inclusion initiative, 96 percent have success. That story needs to be told more.”
A quarter of respondents from the report believe that they have no impact and that what they say or do has no effect on others.
“The angle needs to be that men can make a huge impact and they will make an impact, they will drive change,” Liu said.
“They will need to place the emphasis on what they can do, not just on what women can do. Which has been what the focus and narrative been on, to date. The focus has been disproportionately on what women can do.”
“Empowerment is very important. Nobody would have the conviction to do things unless they know they can make a critical impact. You become just another bystander.”
The report, which was started in September and released this week, also showed that 33 percent of men said the gender and equality initiatives led by HR are ‘not at all motivating or engaging, suggesting for gender equality to work, a fresh, new, holistic, or different approach is needed.
However, response to training was found to be mostly positive.
Thirty-seven percent said they were keen to participate together and with others, while 45 percent said training on gender equality would be good for team development.
One respondent said – “The metoo movement shifted my perception of gender equality. We all have female friends but little was spoken about until that started.”
“I had female family members and colleagues coming forward about sexual harassment which I have never heard before. Unfortunately where I work, my boss now and then makes comments that women are not good enough.”
Another respondent said that “discussions” with his girlfriend “…about critical issues in the world” has allowed him “to see a different view in the workplace and other areas.”
The report also found that men were most likely to find hearing real voices and real life experiences the most motivating for wanting to change things.
Training that includes peers and is driven by workplace champions is also likely to be highly motivating and engaging, and men will find live workshops and case studies largely motivating too.
Fifty-four percent of men believe that the actions and involvement of men are critical to achieving gender equality.
The difference between a willingness and ability were analysed too in this report. Those in top management positions were found to be most likely to present as the true ‘ally’ archetypes, with high ability and high willingness to make a difference.
Lower tier workers were over-represented among the model that needs empowerment (they had a high willingness to change things, but low ability to enact the changes.)
Encouragingly, two thirds of men believe that when colleagues make gender stereotypes or comments that are inappropriate in terms of gender equality, they have a negative effect on the workplace, with 70 percent saying they would feel comfortable speaking up about such behaviour.
In some startling statistics however, 26 percent of males said “men and women aren’t suppose to be equal”
“I feel mixed feelings about it,” Liu told me, responding to this particular statistic. “Maybe people’s upbringing, their values and beliefs are fundamentally different.”
She said that despite it being not an insignificant number, she wants to focus on what the majority thinks.
“If the majority sets a new norm, then the minority don’t have a choice but to be part of it. If we can actually leverage the remaining percent of people, we can then drive progress.”
“Working with female colleagues helped me understand that gender equality is important and worth working towards” one respondent added in the report.
Just under half of men believe that men and women are already treated equally, and that if women fall behind, men are not to blame, but it could sometimes be due to the drive or motivation of women.
Liu, who was named one of the “40 under 40: Most Influential Asian-Australians” in the Entrepreneurship category at the 2018 Asian-Australian Leadership Summit, founded The Dream Collective in 2012 after years working in HR and project management roles, and being frustrated by the lack of opportunities she was being afforded.
“There were a lot of women specific programs targeted at senior level executives, but I believed if we wanted to see the dial switch, we needed to look at the start of the pipeline,” Liu told SmartCompany in 2017.
“I don’t feel that necessarily because you have to report on something that will drive the change,” Liu told the publication last week.
“It could actually create a lot of onerous work, and become laborious for people who are actually already making progress in that space.”
Read the full report here.