After some years of being a blogger about Diversity and Inclusion in Spanish, I would like to begin posting also in English. Talking about gender from a masculine perspective seems to me a good start for a first post.
As a known ritual, each March 8th, International Women’s Day, we share analysis and opinions regarding the situation of women in business: latest figures of their presence in executive positions, new forecasts of their raising buying power, and renewed concerns for the persisting salary gap. We invest much less time on men and their role in gender equality despite the fact that without them we won’t see much progress in the coming years whatever the data we gather. Men inclusion is the real challenge ahead because, honestly, we have already tried all: women’s development programs, mentoring, targeted recruiting efforts to attract female talent and of course, women’s networks of every possible type, internal, by industry, local, international … We have tried them all and with little success.
Initiatives for gender equality have been traditionally a female field, something that have nothing to do with men. A good analysis of their fears and barriers for engagement can be find in one of latest Catalyst reports: Engaging Men in Gender Initiatives. From a practical perspective I think it takes mostly 3 things: money, flexibility and diversity. At least this is the approach I have held in a recent round table in Paris, where I’m based. This event was part of a one day conference organized by ORSE (Observatory for Corporate Responsibility) and MEDEF (a known French business network).
Money. Yes, money is clearly needed. We invest significant amounts of it in programs for women: in their networks, their mentors, their development, but we hardly allocate any funds to raise the level of awareness of the male population in our workplaces. Research shows crearly that meritocracy is far from being the real name of the game in business. A couple of articles which help to understand this are The Motherhood Penalty and Leader or Louder?. Despite all these findings, how much we invest to share them with men?
Flexibility. I am increasingly convinced that the cultural transformation needed within companies in terms of “inclusion” won’t be achieved unless we better implement flexibility programs. We need men using telework, flexible time or even part time options. This is critical because at the core of women’s barriers for advacement there is the perception that they won’t deliver, that they will always have part of their hearts and minds at home. But… this is also what many men will want in the future, as the analysis of values in new generations show. We need to reframe how we work to better balance our lives. Part of it is the increasing interest on paternity within the work-life programs.
Diversity. Many women feel uncomfortable if we frame the gender initiatives within wider diversity strategies. And they are right when they say that they are not “diversity”, meaning by that a minority. At the end they are simply half of the population. However, my personal point of view is that we’d better be practical here. Isolated “gender” initiatives might be misperceived, might sound as suggesting something is wrong with men, while “diversity and inclusion” is a message that potentially resonates with every man.
To promote a general change of focus in gender programs, several international publications are already available. For instance, the UNESCO document: Role of Men and Boys in Promoting Gender Equality. Also a report in French from ORSE: Promouvoir la parentalité which includes references to 3 types of fathers in the workplace: breadwinners, acrobats and equality-driven. Finally, the British Working Better: Fathers, family and work-contemporary perspectives. The French and British reports show a significant shift in the conception of masculinity, supported by Sociological Research, particularly in the area of parenting. Young men don’t want to give up being active fathers. They suffer an increasing conflict between their desired role as fathers and the reality and cultural practice within their companies. What this all suggest is that perhaps in the future we should go beyond celebrating the International Women’s Day in the workplace and instead focusing our efforts on promoting Days of Women and Men for Gender Equality.