Diversity needs to be about men, too

May 28 2009 by Nic Paton Print This Article

Too often men are left to simmer with resentment or snigger disdainfully at the efforts of management teams to promote greater gender equality. But without engaging men and getting them involved in what is trying to be achieved, organisations will never reap the full benefits of having workplaces that are truly diverse.

New research by U.S non-profit consultancy Catalyst has made a strong case for management teams to do more to bring men into the conversation around diversity as being in a company's best interest.

It studied what it was that kept men from supporting gender initiatives, with the conclusion reached that many men felt greater diversity simply led to a "zero-sum" mentality, or the belief that gains for women necessarily meant losses for men.

Companies then inadvertently encouraged this line of thinking by instituting practices to increase competition between employees and therefore put the focus on the individual first above the organisation as a whole.

But what needed, Catalyst argued, was a shift away from a "win or lose" mentality around diversity to one where there was a recognition that everybody benefited from greater gender equality, and that men could just as easily act as advocates of change as women.

Men who were seen as champions of diversity teneded to have a strong sense of fairness, with men committed to the ideal of fairness generally having more personal concerns about issues of equality in general and more awareness of gender bias in the workplace, it concluded.

Along with the fear of losing status or of being seen as part of the problem, there was often a sense of apathy among men towards the issue, a sense that gender issues were not something that needed to concern men.

Organisations could take steps to help remove these barriers and engage men in initiatives to promote gender equality by appealing to men's sense of fairness, Catalyst argued.

Good examples of this in practice included providing men with women mentors, exposing men to male leaders who championed inclusion and inviting men into the discussion through male-only and male/female groups.

In addition, men often gain significant personal benefits such as better health, freedom to be themselves and the ability to share financial responsibilities with a spouse or partner when they worked in a place free of gender bias, it found.

"The preponderance of men in leadership means their efforts are necessary to advance change in the workplace," said Ilene H Lang, president and chief executive officer of Catalyst.

"Research continues to show that diversity well-managed yields more innovation and is tied to enhanced financial performance Ė factors good for all employees," she added.

Back in March a study on women in Canadian firms by Catalyst found that they were still woefully represented at senior level, while in April it argued that, with so many organisations still so dominated by men at the top, there was often a subconscious bias against women when it came to high-level talent management.