Do Men Want Equality in the Workplace?

Highlights of a European research conducted by JUMP and Axiom Consulting Partners*.

Three quarters (78%) of men believe they will benefit from more gender equality in the workplace. However, 1 man over 5 is actively involved in making this a reality. One third of those surveyed are against gender equality (some more actively than others) whilst half of them are generally positive but not actively engaged.

Equal rights may exist in Europe as a principle, but this is not yet translating into practice in the workplace. Gender equality at a professional level has been talked about for over 20 years but the voice and opinions of men are often neither sought nor heard. We rarely see them at events or following training on the issue. Yet, men have a critical role to play in promoting and enabling gender equality as they typically hold over 90% of the executive roles in large corporations.

To have more gender equality in the workplace means having more women in decision-making roles. This often raises the question of more equality in the share of domestic tasks at home. Traditionally, women have given up their careers to take care of their families. However, an increasing number of mothers want to pursue a career. In some cases, their husbands support their spouse’s choice by slowing down their own career. In these households, the traditional gender roles are reversed: men are the biggest caregiver and women and the main breadwinners.

Last year JUMP released a research into this topic: Pioneering Fathers: Behind Every Great Woman there is a Great Man. Now, as a follow up, we have asked the views of men more generally and posed the question: Do Men Want Equality at Work?

For and against

Those ‘for’ more equality are more likely to be approaching the end of their career, or have at least one daughter or have a partner who is also working.

Those ‘against’ are more likely to be in their 30s, or have no children (or only boys) or a partner who does not work or who earns significantly less than them.

In terms of the benefits to be gained by more gender equality in the workplace, employees and middle managers cite equal access to a better work-life balance, the breaking down of male stereotyping as well as being perceived as a more ‘modern’. The latter is also recognized as a benefit by executives and senior managers, although they place more emphasis on the benefit of higher productivity and better business results.

When asked about their concerns associated with more gender equality, 54% of the respondents express no concern about their own career progression but 70% are concerned on behalf of their male colleagues who feel threatened by women’s career advancement! And the idea of quotas or targets is certainly not welcomed.

If more than 75% of those who responded to the survey say that they do see the benefits for themselves of more gender equality, 30% declare themselves either directly opposed or reticent. Those ‘against’ fall into two main categories:

  • Employees or middle managers, in their 30s
  • Men who have no or little experience of working with women

In the first case, the explanation may be that the men are at an early stage in their career, still wanting to progress and therefore feel that women are competing against them. In the second case, this could be a reflection of the type of industry or sector, which may be heavily male-dominated.

Active supporters and bystanders

The higher the rank (and therefore the likely higher the age) the more likely men are to appreciate the benefits of gender equality and to be active as a mentor or in taking concrete actions to help women in their careers. Another contributing factor to appreciating and promoting more gender equality is linked to the experience of working with, or for women, which would appear to help break down any pre-conceived perceptions.

The survey detects levels of stereotyping and bias: 20% of the respondents believe that women are less ambitious than men are, and 13% do not feel that women have the required leadership capabilities. Men in the 50-60 age bracket in executive roles believe the issue is with the women themselves. This bias could be related to those men being part of a more traditional couple/family model where the woman’s place was at home.

Almost one in four respondents (mainly from the ‘against’ category) admits to having made sexist remarks at some point. If we are to eradicate this behaviour from the workplace, then the other men should not use silence as an excuse, even if the remark may appear light hearted. Companies need to be clear that sexist behaviour will not be tolerated in any shape or form.

Are women responsible?

The men who participated in the survey believe that the company they work for is inclusive towards women and that both genders are treated equally and fairly. In order to create even more inclusivity and equality they recommend specific initiatives such as work-life balance, and coaching and mentoring for men and women. However, they do not favour women’s networks or initiatives that are focused solely on women. Nor do they want specific gender-equality training or initiatives.

In the same vein, more than one third of the respondents feel that their male colleagues would be threatened by targets such us female quotas even though companies are increasingly putting these in place in order to achieve more gender balance at management levels. A possible explanation for this is that both culturally and traditionally, men have dominated management roles, and therefore many men do not have a conscious understanding of a ‘lack of equality’ simply because unconsciously for them a male-dominated environment is the norm.

Says, Isabelle Simonis, Minister for Women’s Rights and Equality, Belgium, “this study conducted by JUMP and Axiom C reinforces the perspective that equality is an issue for both men and women. We need to work together to challenge and deconstruct the ancient and patriarchal models of the past. A more equal society will provide the same opportunities for men and women within a work environment whilst at the same time encouraging greater sharing of responsibilities at home.

We are focused on establishing true equality and this includes more gender balance at work. But we also need to start earlier – from the moment that schooling begins and that career choices are being made. The earlier we can break down any past stereotyping, the more likely we are to succeed.”

How to make men allies of women in the workplace

Whilst it is important to give women the means to navigate and succeed within the organisational culture they experience at work, it is also essential to encourage men to understand how society is changing. The patriarchal norms of the past are slowly being eroded to create a more equal society. This is a profound change and it needs to be seen as an opportunity rather than a threat. Perhaps it is time for men to recognise that for centuries they have (unknowingly) benefited from what could be termed as an invisible quota in their favour.

For this reason, JUMP and Axiom have developed training modules that are focused specifically for men in the workplace. Our joint objective is for men to become the allies of women and to recognise each other’s talents so that a company’s success is based on meritocracy, inclusivity and performance.

Equality is not a women’s issue alone. It is men’s issue too. They need to be part of making it a reality.  

* Online survey was sent to the JUMP database (175000). Of the 1496 respondents from Europe, 96% were working, mainly all (90%) as employees. 30% self-selected as executives, 48% as employees or middle managers and 11% as junior managers. The survey results do not include ‘other’ categories that were too small to be statistically relevant.

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