Three quarters of large businesses pay men more than women. At the time of writing, thousands of UK firms have just submitted new pay data to the government – and I don’t expect much will have changed. In this context it may sound counter intuitive to say men have had a rough time recently. But since the first #MeToo Tweet in October 2017, they’ve been vilified as rapists, misogynists, sexists and a generally pretty nasty bunch. In many small ways, this continues today. And if we don’t address it in the workplace, we’ll all suffer.
Let’s be clear. Some people clearly deserve the criticism they’ve received, but many are just normal blokes who feel scared – and almost definitely annoyed that some of their brothers have been acting incredibly badly. As a result, it can be tough for them to navigate the politics of gender equality in a workplace that has changed immeasurably in a relatively short amount of time.
If we just see this phenomenon as a binary male vs. female issue, the impact could be men ignoring and side-lining women who are already shown to be a minority in leadership. Worryingly, we’re already seeing this taking place. It’s become “safer” to employ a man than a women. We’re going backwards!
The sooner we can openly talk about this – and empower men to do so – the quicker we can move past it, to everyone’s benefit. Yes, let’s call out bad behaviour when needed, but unless we all pull together, we’re not going to solve anything. In fact, we’ll see the gender pay gap increase even further.
Achieving this can be a challenge, but it needn’t be complicated. It just requires a few simple actions that can help break the deadlock and allow everyone to progress. Obviously, the first step any organisation should take is to provide strong procedures to ensure harassment can be reported and dealt with. But once this is in place – and let’s face it, it really should be in every organisation’s HR policies by now – what next?
The second thing to do is get leadership to address the issue head on. Male or female, whoever the leaders of an organisation, they need to reflect on how women and men may be feeling, and instigate bridge-building where needed – for example, with unconscious bias training. When done well it can significantly improve awareness around the differences between men and women. This helps people interact more efficiently and to build genuine, mutual empathy.
There also needs to be attention on male line managers of women. If they feel scared, it just leads to women becoming even more side-lined. We need to support men to explain what they’re feeling in a constructive and respectful way rather than just reprimanding them for getting it wrong. It’s massively unhelpful. We’ve seen examples of guys losing their jobs for opening up. If we allow this to take hold, it’s the women who will also suffer.
But perhaps the most important step businesses need to take is making the workplace more human. It’s vital everyone can have open, honest and human conversations and bring all of themselves to work and not leave the fun and empathetic side of themselves at home.
This can be achieved through simple techniques. A great place to start is consciously thinking about “how to be” at work, and not just on “what to do.” It’s odd that we spend so little time on this and yet it’s a game-changer. At the start of meetings, attendees can set ground rules about how everyone should interact. What would make their time together most effective? What does everyone need to bring to be really productive?” For example, explaining how they want the tone to be. Or what type of behaviour is needed. Or what each person might need to consider when contributing. These are little things, but if done in a pragmatic and consistent way, they produce change at an organisational level and they will create an inclusive culture.
Finally, my brilliant colleague and co-founder of Shine for Women, Anna Baréz-Brown is often asked for direction by senior men and she delivers a pretty direct piece of advice – if in doubt: don’t do or say anything to a female colleague that you wouldn’t if she was your boss. It sounds almost over simplistic. But then again, all the best ideas are the simple ones. And it makes sense. It’s all about respect.
If we can create this renewed feeling of collaboration and openness, then we can create businesses where women have the opportunities to thrive. And this isn’t just a matter of equality and diversity, it’s a matter of commercial sense.
With more diversity in management, businesses are proven to be more innovative . Furthermore, companies with above-average diversity on their management teams also report revenue from innovation is nearly a fifth greater than those with below-average leadership diversity.
In conclusion, if #MeToo and Time’s Up have taught us anything, it’s that we need to have more open and transparent conversations at work. We need to make the office more human. We need to break down barriers, not build them up. We need to empower men just as much as women, and we need to do this quickly, cut through the corporate jargon that frightens us and remember this cannot be a man vs. woman issue.
Because men and women can energise one another by fuelling each other’s strengths to close the gender pay gap. And because we’re better together.
Interested in diversity in the workplace? We recommend the Diversity and Inclusion Conference 2019.