Are men still passing responsibility for gender-diversity initiatives to women?

More often than not, gender and other diversity initiatives, while promoting inclusivity, end up being exclusive by nature, observers say.

Gender diversity: some men feel 'it does not seem to be an issue that is relevant to their own careers'
Gender diversity: some men feel 'it does not seem to be an issue that is relevant to their own careers'

Many men in the industry, including those at the top, have already agreed gender diversity is important; they have been approving budgets for gender-diversity programmes and initiatives for a few years now. But when it comes to actually making the programmes successful by stressing their importance, putting them on agendas and suggesting improvements, some feel that men are not doing their share.

"All too often, men have not been playing enough of an active part in gender-diversity programmes," Bob Grove, chief operating officer at Edelman Asia-Pacific says. "Many men I speak to have shared that they struggle to connect with gender bias as it does not seem to be an issue that is relevant to their own careers."

More often than not, Grove says, gender and other diversity initiatives, while promoting inclusivity, end up being exclusive by nature.

"Groups set up to support and promote women in the workplace are often populated by women and very few men," Grove continues. "While these groups play a role in creating support networks or forcing company policy change, they don’t change the DNA of how an organisation behaves every day."

Grove believes that greater relevance is key to helping gender-diversity initiatives become more successful. "We need to create greater relevance by demonstrating, for example, how diversity enables better performance and creativity for all team members. As a result, everyone’s career trajectory improves, regardless of gender."

T Gangadhar, president of growth and strategy, Asia-Pacific, at Essence, has no doubt that there is a growing awareness about this topic among men in the industry. "Personally, I have seen several instances of men actively championing gender diversity initiatives, but we can definitely do a lot better," he says.

What's the problem here, guys?

Gangadhar believes there are two probable reasons why men are not doing their share of promoting gender-diversity initiatives. One could be the fear of coming across as patronising and inauthentic. The other is the more problematic one: when men continue to hold stereotypical views and show unconscious bias.

"It is critical to create a safe environment for calling out unacceptable boys-club behaviour," Gangadhar says. "Organisations must let rank and file challenge the leadership, should their actions not match their words."

Others have found that there has been steady change and progress over the years. "In general, I find most men to be supportive of programmes and initiatives for women," Patti Clark, chief talent officer at Havas Group, says. "Many [men] can relate as they are aware of the challenges women can face in the workplace and, for some, it’s become much more personal as they have women family members in the workplace or potentially entering it over time." She has also found growing curiosity from men about what goes on in women's programmes.

"I once had a guy crash a women-only social gathering. He thought he’d find out what’s going on in there – like there was some big secret society," Clark says. "I’ve also had men ask why there isn’t a special programme for them – to which I usually respond that when women are being promoted at the same rate as men, we’ll talk!"

A recent survey by international recruitment agency Hays found that men are less likely to recognise inequality in the workplace. Only 45% of women thought their employer was committed to achieving gender equality in the workplace, compared with 60% of men. Overall, 29% of respondents stated their employer wasn’t fully committed to achieving gender equality.

Making the case for shared responsibility

So if gender diversity is not currently being achieved or equally championed by women and men across the industry, what is or can be done about it?

"Diversity is not just a moral issue, it’s also a business issue," Grove points out. "Framing the issue on business success should encourage all potential and current leaders to get involved and drive change. As with any change initiative in a company, it will only work if the majority commit to the programme."

Clark feels fortunate to have had such a supportive chief executive at Havas who has made the continuing advancement of women a key business priority.

"We have designed and developed an innovative global programme called Femmes Forward, which has been rolled out around the world and has delivered great results in terms of women getting promoted across our network," Clark explains. "That said, we are also focused on helping men be great leaders and allies to women."

Clark thinks that all leaders need to be constantly looking at the make-up of their teams and ensuring that they have a mix of perspectives and that all feel included: "The reality is that teams are what succeed – but only if all the voices are leveraged and respected."

Sisca Margaretta, chief marketing officer at Experian Asia-Pacific, feels lucky in her career so far that there have been conscious efforts made to ensure inclusion programmes are run by teams comprising men and women, equally dedicated to the cause.

"I genuinely believe given my own experiences that, these days, there has been an awareness and effort for men and women to have shared ownership to support diversity and inclusion across organisations," Margaretta says. "The crucial component of any successful gender-diversity initiative is an honest and straightforward dialogue between employees regardless of their gender. Each employee has a role to play in ending bias and stereotypes in the workplace."

Going forward, some feel that the industry needs to be more careful about inherent biases and their resulting actions. "Unless we are all being extremely deliberate with our actions, it is easy to fall into the trap of similarity bias where hires, promotions and other decisions are made based on the perception of another employee being 'like us'," Sara Porritt, diversity and inclusion lead at OMD, states.

Gangadhar also believes that there needs to be continuous engagement across levels to raise awareness about unconscious bias.

"For example, at Essence, we have unconscious bias training for all employees," he says. "In addition, we have a development programme named Ascend, which provides a space for discussion of topics related to diversity, career progression and personal growth, as well as challenges faced in the workplace. This enables participants to find avenues to develop deeper and more meaningful collaborative relationships and more fulfilling careers."

Fed up after years of inaction

But others, after years of perseverance, have given up on trying to drive change within the system. "I now encourage everybody to drive change outside the system," Cindy Gallop, an international advertising consultant, says. "What I say all the time is: start your own industry. What I mean by that is start your own business. Because when you start your own business and you make that business work the way you want it to, you are starting the industry that all of us actually want to work in."

Gallop thinks the only way to ultimately drive macro change is to demonstrate things can be done differently through the female lens. "You need to show that you can succeed – and, by the way, you can make an absolute tonne of money doing that – and that’s the only thing that will then force the men in the industry to break up and consider that there could be a different way of doing things."

And while there have been multiple studies and surveys showing how diverse teams and companies perform better than biased organisations, Gallop believes those studies are completely irrelevant when it comes to making real change.

"For decades, people have been churning out studies showing how diversity drives better business," she continues. "In our industry, the men don’t care. Facts and figures don’t work; if they did, we’d be looking at a very different picture. You have to create an emotional connection that makes men want to change. I don’t sell diversity; I make people want to buy it. That’s the only way to get through to people because the facts and the figures aren’t working."

A version of this story first appeared on Campaign Asia-Pacific