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Advancing Change: Men and Women Working Together to Break Barriers

stock_meetingImprove men’s lives at work? That may seem a counter-intuitive approach to achieving gender parity, especially given the persistent statistics around barriers to women’s advancement. Yet a number of new studies suggest that only when the internal, psychological barriers and external, systemic biases that characterize the “old boy’s network” give way, freeing men as well as women from the gender stereotypes that influence career advancement, will the workplace truly evolve in the direction of equality.

Engaging men in order to transform the culture of work impacts not only how we live our professional lives, but the choices we make at home as well. Workplace equality gives rise to greater freedom for families to arrange their income-earning activities to their best advantage. As a recent report by the Families and Work Institute put it, “Only when men and women are on much more equal footing in the workplace both in terms of pay and career advancement opportunities will families truly have choices in how they manage bread-winning and caregiving roles.”

Broaden the Conversation

Historic trends suggest that now is the time to broaden the conversation, because changes in the home are driving changes in the workplace. Although conversations about work-life fit are often initiated by female employees, recent studies suggest that men feel a similar—perhaps greater—tension around the same issues. Data from the Families and Work Institute’s nationally representative studies demonstrate that fathers spend an average of 3 hours per workday with children, up from 1.8 in 1977. In the same period, the time men say they spend on household chores has doubled. Not surprisingly, given the increase in domestic responsibility, data shows that 54% of men would like to work fewer hours per week.

The Families and Work Institute recently published a report about “the new male mystique,” taking its point of departure from Betty Freidan’s “feminine mystique” of the early 1960s. The new male mystique is a subtle network of stereotypes and internalized beliefs that create tension for men as they struggle to reconcile career and family. The authors see men in dual-income families spending longer hours at work, even as they are more engaged in childcare and domestic labor than ever before. Kerstin Aumann, Senior Research Associate at the Families and Work Institute, notes that work-family conflict among men has increased, with 35% reporting such conflict in 1977, compared with 60% in 2008. During the same period, the level of work-family conflict reported by women stayed the same. And 76% of fathers report not having enough time with their children.

Increase Awareness

So how do we involve men in the movement for workplace flexibility and gender parity? One obstacle, described by a male speaker at a recent Forté event focusing on this issue, is awareness. “Men suffer from obliviousness,” he said. “In principle, they are for the agenda, but unless someone smacks them in the forehead, they don’t notice.” Another speaker noted, “The system is invisible to those in it. When senior leaders do reach in and try to change the system, their outstretched hand needs to be met.”

Building alliances between emerging women business leaders and male senior managers may be part of the equation as well. The Financial Post recently stated, “Why are women still facing an uphill battle? The answer lies in the expression ‘It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.’ …Without active sponsorship from senior executives, most of whom are male, women—indeed any candidates representing nontraditional characteristics—are missing the exposure, experience and, most of all, advocacy they need to secure executive positions.” They recommend sponsorship a form of advocacy that goes beyond mere mentorship, calling on men in executive positions to cultivate and champion emerging women business leaders with the express intent of seeing more women at the top.

Re-Define Success

The Families and Work Institute recommends changing the assumption that men must work long hours to be good employees and instead focus on results, not time, as a measure of productivity. In tandem, it’s important to address the issue of demanding jobs by reducing unnecessary work and improving how teams work together. These shifts can be tricky, and require a sustained dialogue that engages senior leadership with business analysis and clear goals and strategies. “Bringing men into the dialogue is absolutely key,” says Ellen Galinsky, President of the Families and Work Institute and an author of the report. “It is important to evaluate flexibility policies to determine the extent that they meet men’s needs and makes changes accordingly. All too often companies think that their policies and programs are gender-neutral or that they appeal to men because they have a photograph of a man on the brochure.” In reality, conversations about flexibility are typically led (and attended) primarily by women. As a new generation of workers of both genders want—and even expect—to work flexibly, those conversations should visibly broaden to include everyone.

As always, experts also recommend having clear goals, a concrete plan of action and predefined metrics for measuring success in approaching senior management about issues of workplace flexibility and parity. Recent studies from the Families and Work Institute, Catalyst, and others can help you build the business case. Forging networks that include women and men at all levels can broaden the conversation and provide greater leverage. And avoiding zero-sum thinking, in favor of the recognition that gains for women benefit all employees in the workplace, provides that extra impetus to overcome lingering barriers to diversity and equality.

One Response to “Advancing Change: Men and Women Working Together to Break Barriers”

  1. Emma Watson

    What is the percentage of jobs where men and women work together?

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