My clients often ask me how to engage men in gender diversity.  They have learned that to create gender balance you need to engage with both men and women.

They now know that creating gender balance requires change in the business, it’s processes, leaders and staff. They see that it’s not just women that need to change, it’s the business too. So clearly that requires men to be involved as much as women. Somehow though, it’s hard to engage men. They don’t come to events of women’s networks, seem to think there is no issue, or that it’s irrelevant or already solved. So why is it so hard and what can you learn from others on how to engage men in gender diversity?

Why is it so hard to engage men in Gender Diversity

The business benefits of gender diversity have been proven many times. So why does this question of how to engage men in gender diversity prove so hard to answer?

Simple, many men think there isn’t even an issue. They are unaware of the research, the numbers and haven’t read up on issues like bias, the glass ceiling and the motherhood penalty. They believe the problem is solved now that women have equal access to education and there are women at the top. They think for instance that gender balance is  just a matter of time, or that women just don’t want the top jobs.

Once men are more aware there is an issue, they believe it’s not about them. They think that surely this is a women’s issue and women need to solve it. They just don’t see the relevance of the issue to themselves, or more likely are too busy surviving in the organisation themselves to even have time to look into it. Then when they do see the issue, they are not sure what they can do about it. It is a complex, societal issue after all.

Getting involved with the issue is hard too. Re-thinking the role of men and women in society and becoming aware of your own biases as well as systemic biases can be quite confronting and bring up a range of emotions. It often requires a personal journey of learning about facts, than hearing personal stories and having conversations. It requires you let go of the ‘Everyone get’s promoted on merit’ myth.

Then if men do speak up about it, they stand out. It requires courage. And it’s easy to say the wrong thing. Nowadays you may in fact get vilified for saying the wrong thing.

It gets more complicated. At the moment it all succeeds you may lose power. In fact younger men often feel they have already lost power. They feel excluded from initiatives aimed at women and are left wondering why there is so much support for women, but nothing for them. They may struggle with negative male stereotypes applied to them, and aren’t sure what is expected of men in todays’ society.

That explains why men don’t engage, and it explains why you need to do some real effort to get more men engaged.

So what can you do to engage men in Gender Diversity

There are roughly 3 types of things you can do:

  1. Carrot and stick approach
  2. Take gender out of the equation
  3. Involve men in networks and initiatives

Let’s have a look at each one up close.

1.      Carrot and stick approach

Set business targets or objectives

Setting objectives can be very successful as it works well in a business setting. It doesn’t have to be a quota, it can just be an aspiration. You can choose to set an overall number of men and women for the business. However, to steer more actively it can work well to break it down, linking it to your problem areas.

You can for instance set objectives for:

  • gender pay gap
  • % of male/female graduates hired
  • % of men/women in senior leadership positions
  •  % of men/women on development programmes
  • Number of men/women on shortlists such as minimum one woman on the shortlist, or 50/50 shortlists.
  • Number of men/women interviewed, eg interview at least 1 woman. It can also be effective to add 1 ‘rogue interviewee’ to each list of interviewees; someone whose application was received but who wasn’t short listed.

Make managers accountable and offer rewards

Objectives could initially just be a topic at progress meetings, but could eventually be added to annual reviews, or even bonus and reward systems. It is wise to start with easily achievable objectives, such as +1 woman in each time per year, and over time also create variable targets per department. The tech or HR department may struggle more with balance than the marketing department.

Reward is key in non-monetary ways too. Making those that succeed visible and (publicly) thanking them can go a long way. HR has a role here, as do senior managers. It’s about asking why there were no women on the shortlist for a senior role, and asking what they did to address this. It’s about senior managers celebrating those that are getting it right, and calling out those that may not.

Of course this means you need to have your senior leaders on board. You can read more here on how to get senior leaders on board.

Make the benefits of gender balance visible

Collect numbers and quantitative information on the performance of more balanced teams, ideally for each department, so people can see how it works in their industry or their line of work. You really need to make the business case visible at a department or team level. Some team leaders are on board the moment they hear that mixed gender teams have better performance, others  are on board the moment they hear mixed gender teams are more innovative, others come around when they hear stories of clients asking for better balance. Share success stories and best practice case studies to celebrate those that are getting it right.

2.     Take women out of the equation

It can work really well to no longer talk about women or gender at all.

Change your language

Talk about gender balance, rather than women. Set an objective as ‘min x% of any one gender’. Your language is more inclusive, and it seems fairer to men that eg. the HR department also needs to look at recruiting more men to represent all staff equally.

Make it business as usual

Instead of talking about gender, talk about fair business processes and how you value a range of skills. In my previous blog I highlighted a great way to be balanced when recruiting tech staff.  That way gender balance becomes just ‘part of how we work here’, it becomes business as usual.

Making gender business as usual requires changing recruitment, promotion, development and working styles in such a way that they take into account male/female preferences and are no longer biased towards one style.

Examples include changing images and language of job adverts, redesigning jobs, reviewing selection criteria, skills assessments, (gender) blind interviews, waiting with receiving CV’s until there is a 50/50 shortlist or ensuring a min. of 3 people of each gender are interviewed . It can also mean changing polices, such as having a policy detailing that women on maternity leave are included in annual pay rises.

Here’s a client case study on how you can start the process of allowing for gender difference in your promotion processes.

Talk about wider diversity

As soon as you start talking about socio-economic background, generational differences, mental health, BAME and LGBT+ disability and so on it becomes about everyone feeling included and belonging, rather than just women. When you also include talking about diversity in personality traits, thoughts, working styles and interests, it is easier for people to relate to the topic as they can relate to the issues and recognise it’s about them too.

Link to strategic initiatives

It can often work well to link or embed diversity to wider strategic initiatives in the organisation such as a leadership development programme, cross cultural working, introducing new technology (that enables working from home and work life balance) or wellbeing. That way there is a clear link to the business, and it is no longer a standalone topic that people may or may not feel strongly about.

3.     Involve men in gender networks and initiatives

Involving men in your gender initiatives isn’t easy, but if you do, it can be very effective. It works for other men as they see this is also about them, and it works as events and initiatives are designed and communicated taking the male audience into account as much as the female.

Start by looking for senior male board members of your gender network. Invite male team or department leaders to your events in person. Just have a conversation of how important it is they join you. When more junior men see this topic is important to their boss they are more likely to join.

Some networks have been very effective by asking every female guest to bring a male guest. And of course re-consider the language you use as well. If you run a women’s network, with events for women, then you shouldn’t be surprised men don’t feel invited.

I know it’s not always easy to talk to men about gender diversity, whether they are senior managers or young graduates. So you can find some of my ideas in how to talk to men about gender diversity.

And men, often like some action, so here’s what men can do today.

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Author: Inge Woudstra

Would you like to know more or have a question? I am always happy to have a chat to discuss your needs. Why not drop me a line or pick up the phone? Call me at 01372 457 907 or Just contact me to discuss your requirements by e-mail.

I can help you recruit, retain and advance women, and typically work with organisations in tech and engineering.

Or just check out my book 'Be Gender Smart - The Key to Career Success for Women'

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