5 ways men can contribute to the gender equality discussion

Having a diverse team can make for successful problem solving. A recent panel debate, hosted by Salesforce consultancy Bluewolf, discussed how best to encourage men to become active advocates of gender equality and include them in the discussion. Molly Raycraft reports

When Vera Loftis, MD at Bluewolf, heard her male boss wanted to initiate a client meeting by questioning why their clients had a lack of women in their teams, she was fearful of the reaction (but secretly pleased).

It’s situations like this and the consultancy’s focus on their own women’s innovators network, that have raised questions internally as to how men act as allies in the fight for gender equality, instead of residing on the periphery.

At the recent Salesforce World tour in London, Vera sat down with David Buttle, global marketing director, commercial at the Financial Times, Kanika Chaganty, chief data officer at Vitality, Claire Day, mechanical engineer at BP, and Michelle Calcutt, head of client experience at Aviva Investors, to discuss how men can play a more active role in the improvement of diversity in the workplace.

Here are five things to take away from the session:

1. Raising the issue can be awkward

Bringing the issue of gender diversity into the conversation is clearly an important step, as without doing so there’ll be no progress in your company. But sometimes it can be an awkward discussion to bring up – particularly when raising awareness of wrong-doing, as women can often rationalise the scenario and ignore it as an over-reaction.

But Michelle encouraged both men and women not to feel embarrassed to bring up the topic, as this is an issue with the culture you work in, not yourself. People don’t always know the best way to bring up the topic without causing offence, and the panel all agreed it’s best to broach the issue with sensitivity. The more conversations you have, the easier it will become to discuss.

2. Education comes in many forms

For some companies, moving toward an unbiased workplace will require a conscious shift in mindset - this won’t happen if people don’t have access to the education to do so. Individual coaching can be a good tool to manage sensitivity, but Claire says there’s only so much training you can do before it depends on factors in the wider culture. Kanika has seen the benefits of training in her company first-hand, with all new employees enrolled in a diversity and inclusion course. But she agrees tackling stereotypes takes a more tactical approach that goes beyond training.

Education goes beyond the four walls of your office. That means encouraging young girls into STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) roles - career fairs can be a good way to do this. It also doesn’t start just on an institutional level, but a personal one. There was a consensus that parenthood plays a massive part in children of both genders feeling they are equal and they could do things that were aimed at the opposite gender.

3. Measurement is good – as long as you do it right

Statistics are good for many reasons. They can alert you to inequalities within your company for one, but there’s no point in relying on numbers if you’re using the wrong ones. Realistically, some businesses will only plough effort into gender equality if there is a corporate benefit to be had from it. Numbers are a great opportunity to build a convincing business case for this. But as David says: “The teams at the top performing end of the company will be the most diverse.”

Now the law has made it compulsory for businesses to publish their gender pay gaps, companies have become more astute in paying attention to the data. For Kanika, analysis of the data uncovered a wide gap between women and men in the c-suite at her firm (something that has encouraged them to look at parental benefits), but she was surprised to find lower roles saw a bigger number of women being paid more than their male counterparts (which also required attention).

And the problems don’t just lie in salaries. You’re likely to find that women are concentrated in certain parts of the business, which is often divided by stereotypes.

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4. Girl power on its own is not the answer

It may seem obvious a team full of male employees doesn’t do a lot for representation. But how about a team full of women? It’s likely to be labelled as 'girl power' but in fact, this is just as disruptive as an all-male team. Vera knows first-hand how a scenario like this can pan out. In an attempt to support women in the workplace she employed an all-female team. But because they were all so similar they lacked a variety of perspectives and were unable to tackle problems in different ways. Ultimately this demonstrates banning men from the conversation is not the answer because diverse-thought to target a diverse audience is essential.

It’s also important to recognise diversity goes beyond the confines of talking about gender, and often other minority groups can sometimes be overshadowed by this discussion. Michelle drew on her own experience as someone who didn’t go to university but works in a graduate-obsessed industry. It can be good to have a team that originates from different walks of life and learning. But ultimately, as Claire points out, there is no secret recipe to the perfect team, it’s all about finding the right dynamics and sensing if they work.

5. The diversity drive should begin before an employee even joins the company

You’ll only attract a team that will champion equality if you offer a work environment that supports equality. Businesses need to recognise the value a diverse team adds and create a proposition that will achieve it. There’s more than a chance there are actions you could be taking you weren’t even aware scuppered your chances of securing diverse employees. David says language can be one of these factors. Some job adverts will use overly masculine language (such as analyse, lead and compete) that will sub-consciously deter women from feeling this is the job for them - blind recruitment drives where names are stripped from CVs before being looked at is another measure that can counteract any bias (unconscious or not).

Being more flexible about the nine-to-five routine is also something expected in the modern workplace. Kanika says it’s important businesses ensure motherhood doesn’t affect a woman’s opportunities to enhance her career - and agencies have recently become more attuned to that with more initiatives starting to appear on the market. Michelle’s company has also tackled the issue by offering equal parental leave, which allows men and women to take an equal paid amount of maternity or paternity leave.