As CEO of Diversity Council Australia (DCA), a passionate advocate of women in leadership, and of gender equity, it may come as a surprise to know that engaging and educating men are a large part of my life’s work.

This might seem counterintuitive, or even controversial. But it makes perfect sense when you stop to think about it.

If we want to achieve a gender equal world, we need to recognise that we can’t keep focusing on women alone – after all, in most cases, it wasn’t women who made the rules.
To be blunt, men can be part of the problem of gender inequity. How they think, behave, relate to women and to each other, all play an important part in keeping gender inequalities alive.

Men’s attitudes and behaviours support the sexist status quo, even unconsciously. So they have a vital role to play in breaking and reshaping it.

Many of them are already doing this; the Male Champions of Change initiative, which sees male CEOs step up beside women to lead on gender equality, has gained considerable momentum, both in Australia and overseas.
But so many more can join this effort. Yet more can be done. And there are business reasons – not to mention moral ones – to help this process along.

“If we want to achieve a gender equal world, we need to recognise that we can’t keep focusing on women alone.”

What’s in it for them?

DCA research consistently shows that coming along for the journey is good for men as well as women.

Our ‘Inclusion@Work Index’ revealed that even though Australian men are less supportive of their organisation taking action to create a more diverse and inclusive workplace, they benefited just as much as women from their organisation doing so.

We found that inclusion initiatives actually boost male employees’ job satisfaction, success and security as much as (and sometimes even more) than female employees.

Our ‘Engaging Men’ report outlined similar benefits. Men’s wellbeing improves when the constraints of narrow notions of masculinity are relaxed.

They benefit from active involvement as fathers in their children’s lives. Ultimately, with progress towards gender equality in workplaces, men enjoy greater productivity, creativity, and diversity because of the wider pools of talent
and fairer processes that are carved out.

The next steps to gender equality

Here are the three main principles and practices that successfully impact efforts to engage men on gender equality at work.

  1. Get the framing and messaging right. Make sure gender equality is positioned as a business issue that involves all genders, and not simply as a female problem in which all the initiatives focus on ‘fixing’ women.
  2. Provide opportunities for both men and women to engage in individual change; in their own mindsets, assumptions, and behaviours. Use educational programs to increase men’s recognition of the pervasive and harmful nature of sexism and gender inequalities. Reflection and discussion can be more effective than lecturing. An individual solution will increase men’s willingness to act as an ally.
  3. Communicate the benefits. Research shows that they are there. And it’s time we dispensed with the idea that gender inclusion programs only exist to benefit women at the expense of men. The data shows that’s simply not the case, and getting rid of the zero-sum myth will only increase the effectiveness of your efforts.