Men play a fundamental role in addressing gender inequality and there are a number of fundamental tools that can help, according to Lisa Annese.
The CEO of the Diversity Council of Australia tells me her organisation is pragmatic in its approach to assisting its member organisations in their diversity and inclusion strategies. As such, she says that change starts with those who are in control.
“Men still dominate the boardrooms,” she says. “Men make up the majority of CEOs on the ASX. It’s unthinkable that’s not a group we shouldn’t actively target.”
Lisa spoke to me in the lead up to the release of a new report by DCA on the issue, created in partnership with Dr Graeme Russell and Dr Michael Flood.
Called, Men Make a Difference: Engaging Men on Gender Equality, the report examines what is and isn’t working when it comes to engaging men on the issue, and offers a number of recommendations for getting more men involved.
Lisa tells me that while it can be controversial to suggest men can ultimately help in solving some of the most systemic issues facing women’s workforce participation – like the gender pay gap and pregnancy discrimination – she believes it’s a necessary conversation.
“We are definitely not saying that this is the silver bullet, or that organisations should stop their women’s programs or other initiatives,” she says. “But all men do have a role to play, and the role they play is just as important inside the workplace as it is outside of it.”
Lisa believes there also needs to be a significant shift from men simply grandstanding on the issue, to instead participating in direct, actionable change.
“We’re encouraging men to not just call themselves a feminist or wear the t-shirt. But to actually do stuff that makes a difference, and to do stuff all the time.”
Meanwhile, she adds that it’s important to recognise that just like women shouldn’t be lumped into one homogenous group, nor should men. “There are groups of men who have been ‘other-ed’ in the workplace, and they have a different experience of patriarchy and masculinity,” she says. “Not treated all men the same way is important.”
The report finds that gender inequalities are everywhere – they are built into the systems and structures both formally through policies and decision-making practices (such as by denying promotions to part-time staff), and informally through norms and customs (like through hiring for a certain ‘cultural fit’, perpetuating stereotypes and sexist behaviour). The report also finds that many men practice everyday sexism, without even realising it.
So what’s the most effective way to engage men on gender equality? The report authors offer the following:
- Get the foundation right – ensure gender equality initiatives involve women and men as active and equal partners.
- Get the framing right – treat gender equality as a business issue, not a women’s issue.
- Go wide – make visible and target all key gender equality areas (i.e. paid work, power and decision making, financial security, personal safety, interpersonal work relationships, caring, and community involvement).
- Get the messaging right – to appeal to men as well as women.
- Engage a diversity of men – including men in different organisational roles and levels, and with a variety of demographic backgrounds (e.g. ages, cultural backgrounds, sexual orientations).
- Educate about how to lead change effectively – by resourcing initiatives, being visible and persistent, and ‘walking the talk’.
- Make the connection between work and home – by implementing initiatives that encourage gender equality in caregiving.
- Make the connection between work and communities – by framing gender inequality as a societal/community problem.
- Build individuals’ gender confidence and capability – by providing opportunities for both men and women to change their mindsets, assumptions, and behaviours.
- Encourage men and women to challenge and change gender-biased organisational policies and practices.