Focusing on men to help women: Report

‘Men’s reluctance to shed the financial provider role is a key impediment to gender equality’

Focusing on men to help women: Report
Looking at men’s perspectives — how they are encouraged to behave and succeed at work — may benefit women, according to a report from Deloitte. Shutterstock

In trying to address the issue of gender equality, putting the focus on men may not strike people as an obvious solution.

But looking at men’s perspectives — how they are encouraged to behave and succeed at work — may also benefit women, according to a report from Deloitte.

That’s because men put a lot of pressure on themselves to succeed; they are afraid of failure and can be overly competitive; they can have difficulty building connections with others; and they look to leaders as models of behaviour, according to The Design of Everyday Men.

As a result, business leaders can change the game — and advance gender equality — with three calls to action: understanding that an organization’s expectations for success affect gender equality; self-assessing their own behaviours to understand that they signal what is valued; and tactically taking action to build a more gender-equal workplace.

“The time is now for business leaders to set the right example and encourage men to be active participants in a more equal and inclusive future. If they do, organizations will be more competitive, women will be more empowered, and men will be more fulfilled,” said the report, based on ethnographic research of 16 professional men along with insights from secondary sources.

A big challenge for women is they often shoulder a disproportionate number of outside-of-work duties, meaning men have traditionally had more time and mental freedom to focus on paid work rather than managing the household and providing care to others, said the report.

But as more women enter the workforce, men are expected to take on some of their outside-of-work responsibilities.

“Men’s reluctance to shed the financial provider role is a key impediment to gender equality… if men remain committed to being the primary financial provider, women end up disadvantaged since they must take on more caregiving and household roles, while men miss out on leading fuller lives outside of the workplace,” said the report.

When organizations “allocate status in the form of pay, promotions and authority, this means they play a key role in reinforcing the behaviours men engage in to earn the status they desire.”

One piece of the puzzle

People have approached gender equality by trying to fix people through policies, programs and training, said Eric Arthrell, leader of the future of men in the workplace at Deloitte in Toronto.

“That's an incredibly positive initiative that we should continue to do, for sure. But we really wanted to change the game. Our goal was not incremental change; our goal is wholesale step change.”

The problem is the always-on, always-available corporate culture that people think they need to succeed in an organization, he said.

“When it comes to business leaders, one of the first recommendations that we have is understand that the organization's expectations for success impact gender equality, and so, if your expectation for success is always-on, always-available, then you are going to reward people that are most likely to sacrifice their outside-of-work commitments.”

Traditionally, “the people that have the fewest outside-of-work commitments tend to be men because they focus on their financial provider role as the primary thing that they need to need to deliver on. And so, we would really encourage business leaders to question whether always-on, always-available is the most effective way to generate an inclusive, high-performing culture.”

Leaders should be conscious of their role as role models, help individuals grow and develop, share personal stories, put imperfections on display, check in with people, take vacation and parental leave, “audit the informal behaviours that lead to success,” and define the desired behaviours, said the report.

Men really look to their leaders and peers who have status, and then mirror those behaviours to gain their own status to be successful, said Arthrell.

“What that means is that it's not enough to simply have policies like flex time or parental leave — you actually have to have leaders within the organization that are leveraging those policies and engaging in those behaviours. Because when leaders engage in those behaviours, they signal to the rest of the organization — men and women — what behaviours are OK.”

Redefining the recipe

However, focusing on men to improve gender inequality can lead to “a bit of tension,” said Maya Roy, CEO of YWCA Canada in Toronto.

“On one hand, we know that men benefit from gender equity… but I think we also need to ensure that we centre women and trans people and non-binary people’s voices because they’re the ones impacted the most by the lack of gender and equity,” she said.

“It’s obviously important to understand what… heterosexual men are thinking about and how they can benefit from gender equity, but in order for all of us to move forward, we need to figure out workplaces that are healthy and responsive to family needs.”

The report’s recommendations around people taking more vacation and parental leave, for example, make sense, said Roy, as the benefits have been seen in places like Scandinavia or Quebec.

And while it’s great Deloitte is starting to have this conversation, the YWCA has been having it for almost 150 years, she said.

“Rather than us talking about who’s getting which piece of the pie, let’s just redefine the recipe for the pie,” said Roy. “Men are exhausted. Women are exhausted. We don’t know where to put the kids… I think it’s about: How do we redefine success and how do we redefine work-life balance?”

“With technology making us accessible 24-7, I would argue the pressure has actually intensified. I’m not too sure how parents do it.”

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