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Men need to do more to advance gender equality and equity

11 June 2021 at 3:58 pm
Andrew Cairns
When it comes to improving and promoting gender equity and equality at work, there is still a gap between what men say they believe and what they do, writes Andrew Cairns.

Andrew Cairns | 11 June 2021 at 3:58 pm


Men need to do more to advance gender equality and equity
11 June 2021 at 3:58 pm

When it comes to improving and promoting gender equity and equality at work, there is still a gap between what men say they believe and what they do, writes Andrew Cairns.

A little over a year ago, I wrote a piece for Pro Bono News titled, Why businesses need a cultural overhaul for gender equality in the workplace. My views haven’t changed and neither has much else in this space. 

In fact, earlier this year Australia reported its worst result ever in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index, coming in at 50th out of 156 countries. 

The index measured four categories: economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment. Despite maintaining first place in educational attainment, the nation’s score has dropped in every other category and by 26 places overall.

The Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) and BankWest Curtin Economics Centre’s study last year highlighted the link between female representation on boards and improvements in the company’s bottom line. The study also revealed that inequalities, including the gender pay gap represent “a lost opportunity”. 

There are enormous evidence-based benefits to achieving workplace gender equality. Not only is it fair, it is the right thing to do, and it improves organisational performance, attracts, retains talent, and enhances an organisation’s reputation.

While my views on the need for a cultural overhaul in the workplace haven’t changed, my understanding and appreciation of the essential differences between equality and equity have. 

Equality is about having the same opportunities, whereas equity is about focusing on specific needs or resources to reach a position of equality. It is not always about providing equal platforms but adjusting each platform for each to succeed. In short, we must first ensure equity before we can enjoy equality.

Men have a crucial role in improving and promoting gender equity and equality at work through equal remuneration, balancing the gender representation in leadership roles, confronting and dismantling gender stereotypes, leaning into and challenging unconscious biases, and removing barriers to full and equal participation, including matters of workplace flexibility and parental leave.  

Despite knowing all the workplace benefits, there is still a gap between what men say they believe and what they do. It is the same as the conversation around race: It is not enough to say you are not a racist, you must do something to create change and take action.

In a recent interview about their latest book, Good Guys: How Men Can Be Better Allies for Women, the authors David G. Smith and W. Brad Johnson said there was a reluctance among men to engage in gender equality. They said that men were anxious about what they should be doing and afraid to make mistakes or back away because they think it’s only “a women’s issue”.

As long as gender inequality is considered a “women’s issue”, men aren’t going to feel any responsibility to fix it.

Most men have never been in a space where they are in the minority. Men need to get comfortable in these situations and conversations because research shows that when men are deliberately engaged in gender inclusion programs, 96 per cent of women in those organisations perceive real progress in gender equality, compared with only 30 per cent of women in organisations without strong male engagement.

So how do you get started? There are lots of ways men can be involved in advancing gender equality and diversity, from supporting flexible work policies and modelling the right behaviours to communicating fairly and sponsoring high-potential women. It’s not enough to be neutral. The entire organisation has to know you are a proactive advocate for women.

If you’re looking for a one-stop manual for becoming a better human at work, you could start by reading Better Allies by former Adobe vice president turned highly-respected leadership coach and author Karen Caitlin. Her top five things men can do to sponsor co-workers from underrepresented groups are:

  • speak their name when they aren’t around
  • endorse them publicly
  • invite them to high-profile meetings
  • share their career goals with decision-makers
  • recommend them for stretch assignments and speaking opportunities.

Being well-intentioned on its own is not enough. True allyship is practised daily and sustained over time.

So how will you know if you are an ally? According to diversity and inclusion thought leader Jennifer Brown, “you’re only an ally when someone says you are”.

Andrew Cairns  |  @ProBonoNews

Andrew Cairns is the CEO of Haven Home Safe, a homelessness organisation that specialises in social and affordable housing solutions. Prior to joining Haven, he held several senior management roles including more than 19 years with the Bendigo and Adelaide Bank Group and almost five years as CEO of Community Sector Banking.

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