Gender debate is a male issue, too!
As frustration builds over the limited impact of gender equality initiatives, Geraldine Gallacher looks at the link between the slow pace of reform and a need to reframe the debate to include male as well as female aspirations.
Fatigue with gender diversity initiatives is rife. I see frustration in the eyes of clients, passionate about diversity but fed up with the limited impact initiatives are having on women’s pay and career progression.
Meanwhile a male backlash is mounting against initiatives that seemingly single women out for preferential treatment at work. I believe the two issues are connected.
Progress toward diversity is moving at a glacial pace because the debate has failed to engage men. I’ve attended countless employee forums to discuss parity at work, where the men present remain silent.
It’s not that they don’t have anything to say on the issue but that they think it isn’t their place to comment because they haven’t experienced what women go through at work. The absence of their views impedes the success of diversity programmes because men don’t feel they have a stake in making change happen.
It’s understandable why gender diversity discussions have focused on the experience of women when the number exiting corporate life at motherhood is so high, but I believe the debate needs to be reframed in light of wider social and economic factors shaping what young men want from their careers, life outside work and parenthood.
As pensionable age rises, young men anticipate working well into old age and need to live and work in a way that is sustainable over a longer period of time than previous generations. Faced with soaring property prices and falling living standards, most young families depend on two incomes, which requires both parents to manage work and family responsibilities.
These factors are contributing to a convergence of what young men and women want from their careers and life; a desire for better work life balance, the option to work flexibly and to share parenting responsibilities equitably with their partner.
Astute employers are realising that traditional ways of working don’t serve the needs of today’s society well. I’m encouraged to see these employers offering penalty-free flex for all, enhanced paternity pay and senior managers that model the balance between home, life and family that employees want for themselves.
Reframed, the gender diversity debate is more relevant than ever to modern society, but this time round it must include the career aspirations of young men as well as women.
Geraldine Gallacher is founding partner of the Executive Coaching Consultancy
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