How should we engage men in the global quest for gender equality?


I recently attended an extremely thought-provoking evening of speeches, debate and networking hosted by One Loud Voice (1LV) and International Women’s Forum UK on the rationale for engaging men in the global quest to achieve gender equality.

A panel of three excellent speakers, chaired by renowned author on gender-balanced leadership, Alison Maitland, led the debate.

Simon Gallow, Development Director at UN Women UK, started off from a global perspective and he shared his insights about the internationally successful #HeforShe campaign and explained how each of us can play a role in furthering this debate.

Carol Rosati, OBE, co-founder and chair of the Board of One Loud Voice, shared her personal experience of moving from a very male dominated world to one about promoting women and she gave hints and tips on what organisations can do more to engage more men in this debate.

Chris Parke, CEO of Talking Talent told us about his very personal experience of what it was like taking on the role of a gender champion and how he suffered embarrassment and a lack of confidence amongst his male peers.

So, what does gender equality look like today and what can we do about it?

Simon Gallow shared some stark statistics with us:

  • We are still 108 years away from achieving gender equality (World Economic Forum)

  • The global gender pay gap is 23%

  • Only 5% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women

  • There are 2.24 men for every woman there are in films around the world.

With such massive underrepresentation of women still, we need to question what we can all do to take responsibility to change this. There are structural barriers that exist that mean women can’t reach their potential. And as Simon pointed out, men are not just part of the conversation, they are part of the solution. Gender equality for women is progress for all. 

UN Women UK is pioneering a campaign called #HeforShe (which now has over 2 million commitments) which is an invitation for men and people of all genders to stand in solidarity with women to create a bold, visible and united force for a gender equal world. You can make your commitment here:

What can we all do to start taking responsibility? 

The objectives of gender equality are global but the actions need to start at home. Here are some ideas about how we can each take a step towards a more inclusive world. Here are some example pledges:

  • I’m going to... take my children to school two mornings a week to ease the pressure on my wife, and make sure I leave the office at 4pm twice a week to collect my daughter from gym club.

  • I’m going to… encourage my sister to be more confident in STEM subjects.

  • I’m going to... encourage more girls to join the school rugby team I coach.

  • I’m going to... Make sure the ‘usual suspects’ don’t do all the talking in team meetings.

How can we engage the men in our organisations?

There were questions from the floor from representatives in organisations that are trying to make change happen, but they shared challenges in making it happen in practice.

Some ideas were shared about getting more men involved in the gender debate:

  • Just get people in the room and don’t be too prescriptive about the intention of any session

  • Have an open discussion

  • Share personal experiences

  • Explain that there isn’t just one solution.

As well as being led from the top of an organisation, it is also important to have male advocates at mid-manager level. Sometimes at this level individuals can be worried about taking a stand as they can be worried about how this might affect their careers. A lot of men feel like they might be ostracised if they stand up and shout about advancing women. 

If you are struggling to get engagement at the top level, Carol Rosati suggests that you can approach this conversation through both ‘head’ and ‘heart’.

From a purely financial point of view, you can explain that if you don’t reflect your [female] client base, it will affect your bottom line. If you have a lack of diversity there will be lack of innovation and this will affect bottom line. If you don’t celebrate a culture of diversity and don’t look after the women in your teams, then the cost of replacing good staff can be £50k-100k to replace.

If you still need help convincing the men at the top of your organisations, then you can try a more personal approach. Question whether they have a daughter, sister or niece and talk to them about the challenges they might be currently facing or will face in the future. The personal message is usually enough to make them sit up and listen.

How are we still so far away from achieving gender equality?

Despite the statistics Simon shared at the start, there was agreement that a lot of progress has been made and that we need to continue this.

As well as focusing on ‘vertical equality’ ie advancing women to more senior roles, we also need to focus on ‘horizontal equality’ and look at the value of women’s work across different sectors. For example in financial services, women’s roles are highly valued but there is still a big gap. In primary schools, for example, there are more women but this tends not to be valued as highly. 

What is it like being a man whose role is all about advancing women?

Chris Parke, CEO of Talking Talent gave a very passionate and empowering talk about his experience of being a man in a female world. He shared some of his early experiences of standing in front of rooms full of women and how intimidating it felt (compared to previous occasions in business when he had felt very confident). For the first time he said he experienced what it was like to feel like someone in the minority. His self-confidence went away and he felt he really needed to prove himself. He was worried he’d use the wrong language and he played things safe otherwise he thought he might be rejected.  

Chris talked about his ‘Inclusion Spectrum’ for leaders – a scale from passive to active inclusion. Leaders that are at the start of the spectrum of ‘passive inclusion’ might have a tendency to be polite and nice to all, say the right things but take little action and let people sink or swim. At the other end of the scale (active inclusion) leaders work hard to bring diverse opinions out, act as a role model for inclusive behaviours and make it ok for people to be themselves.  

Chris reminded us of Mahatma Gandhi’s quote “It is easy to stand in the crowd, but it takes courage to stand alone”.

Join One Loud Voice and help to amplify these messages

One Loud Voice (1LV) is a movement bringing together the many existing groups tackling gender inequality for women in the workplace in the UK. By amplifying the messages of these groups and networks, its ambition is to represent 1 million voices.

If you would like to add your voice to the debate, please follow them on Twitter or LinkedIn or sign up to their mailing list here:

Joy Burnford