Inviting Men to the Gender Diversity Discussion

Categories: Diversity & Inclusion, Global Mindset

Research by Diversity Council Australia found that 37% of young fathers seriously considered leaving their workplaces due to a lack of flexibility. Replacing a departing employee can cost as much as 75% of his or her annual salary. Both men and women are more likely to leave an organization that does not support a proactive, fair diversity strategy. (Workplace Gender Equality Agency 2013). Yet when you enter a meeting on gender diversity initiatives, the room is typically filled with women.

“Gender diversity or parity can never be really achieved if men are not involved in the discussion, debate, and action.”

— Michael Shen, Senior Global Account Manager

Three reasons why men do not engage

In a study by McKinsey, more than half of all surveyed men thought that having too many gender diversity initiatives for women was unfair to men. According to research by Catalyst, there are three main barriers that hinder men from engaging more actively in the gender diversity conversation:

1. Apathy – a lack of concern about the issues of gender inequality

2. Fear of loss – Equating gender equality to a zero-sum game means losing status or privilege, as well as fear of other men’s disapproval

3. Ignorance

Finding out which of these three barriers are preventing men in your organization from engaging is a necessary first step. Only then can appropriate actions be taken that will address their concerns (e.g. making the business case for gender diversity clearer, providing data to illustrate the inequalities, moving towards a win-win mindset).

“When we fail to recognize the importance of diversity and the related equality in our systems (promotion, salary and rewards, etc.), we all suffer. Having competent and motivated people around us helps us all – it pushes us to innovate and strive for higher performance and supplies us with a network of counterparts we can rely on. Having strong business relationships helps to move things along positively, and that includes having strong female counterparts and colleagues – if we support those who deserve our support, we are building a stronger network of contacts with mutually beneficial results.”

— Anthony Greco, Director of Learning Design & Delivery

Gender diversity benefits of men AND women

The benefits of gender diversity initiatives can be felt on different levels: as a person, as an employee in an organization, and as the citizen of a nation. The countries in the world with the highest gender equality have been shown also to score the highest on happiness (e.g. Norway, Denmark). Why is that?

The Norwegian researcher Øystein Gullvåg Holter was able to demonstrate that the benefits of gender equality stretch beyond women, but also positively affect men’s lives. He demonstrated that not only women reported a higher level or marital satisfaction and a higher level of health, but men did too. Similar studies found that the children of families in which household chores and child-rearing were shared equally showed higher rates of achievement, did better in school, were less likely to develop ADHD, and had lower rates of absenteeism (University of California, Riverside, 2003).

In terms of the personal benefits, a more flexible and inclusive environment allows men and women to be themselves and choose career paths that fit their lifestyles and preferences. In addition, there are proven benefits of gender diversity to organizations. McKinsey research has shown that gender-diverse organizations outperformed less diverse organizations by 15%. In addition to the economic advantage, research also showed that an inclusive culture that allowed more women to penetrate all levels of the organization led to lower attrition rates, higher productivity, and higher workforce engagement. Again, it seems that people are genuinely happier when men and women are perceived on par.

A male perspective of engaging in the gender diversity debate

We’ve asked our colleagues at Aperian Global to give advice, man to man, on how to start supporting a balanced gender approach.

Michael Greto, Managing Director of Learning Solutions, USA

Daddy, can I play rugby too?” my 7 year old daughter asked me recently, after seeing her older brother in his first rugby game. I replied, “Sure, sweetie. Why not?”. Research shows that effective “sponsors” in the workplace are critical to developing a woman’s career. We’ll see real change, however, when Dad, Grandpa, and other men in our daughters’ lives start “sponsoring” girls well before they enter the workforce.

Michael Shen, Senior Global Account Manager, China

Frankly, I don’t think men should “support” a balanced gender approach. If you ask men to support, it becomes their/our responsibility or obligation and they just do it for the sake of it. Instead, men should “co-own” or “co-drive” it as it is not just women’s responsibility to increase gender diversity with men “supporting” it. Achieving gender equality requires everybody’s efforts: I&D professionals (to educate men and women), men (to recognize and respect women’s strengths and contributions), and even women (to include men more in this discussion!)

Anthony Greco, Director of Learning Design & Delivery, USA

Question your own assumptions and those of others around you. Sometimes our personal or organizational biases are so deeply held that we forget to challenge assumptions – just because something was true at one point or in one specific situation doesn’t mean it is now or universally so. There are so many examples in research of the importance of diversity and inclusion – use them to make your point in the organization, and then find a way to incorporate it into the larger organization strategy to drive the idea home and make it a business imperative.

Torben Krogh, Senior Global Account Manager, Denmark

Have open-minded conversations about how to develop and support colleagues – women and/or men.

Ted Dale, co-Founder & Chief Creative Officer, USA

In my work experience, it’s often been the women I’ve worked with who have had the most to add, done the best work, and offered the best advice. Therefore there’s a lot in it for men to learn from the women they work with.

Michael Van Vleet, Webtools Administrator, USA

Spend more time listening.


The bulk of proven benefits for businesses, employees, and us humans in general should be enough evidence to persuade men, sons, and fathers to join the debate and push for gender diversity.

We invite you to learn more about our approach to Inclusion & Diversity.