Creating more gender equitable and inclusive cultures is high on the agenda for many organisations. However there is often a disconnect between existing staff development activities and efforts to create the desired cultures. More explicitly linking individual development to organisational change can make a big difference to the return on investment when developing staff. The ‘bifocal approach’ translates this ideal into reality through clear principles and program design.

What about the men?

What about the men? I have heard this question asked in so many different ways. Men sometimes ask it, complaining they are being unfairly treated, missing out on something that is being offered to women, for example the opportunity to be matched with a senior mentor or participate in a leadership development program. Women on leadership programs often ask ‘what about the men?’ ‘Men need this too’, they say. Or ‘men need this more than we do, they are our bosses and they are the ones who need to change, not us’. Practitioners and scholars who understand that men hold most of the power to create change, puzzle about it; how can we bring the men onboard?  Men who understand that they and other men must change ask it. Whether the question is being asked cynically, pragmatically, out of fear or resentment, or a desire for partnership, it is a question that needs to be answered. 

There are some exciting initiatives in this area that I want to draw your attention to. In Australia, Elizabeth Broderick, the Sex Discrimination Commissioner has been active in this arena. As Broderick noted in a recent public address ‘we cannot continue to ignore the sites of power’. In 2011 she personally invited and convened a group of Australia’s most prominent businessmen called Male Champions for Change (MCC).

There are several interesting features of this initiative. Firstly, there was a personal invitation – the Commissioner phoned each of these men. Secondly, the invited Male Champions cannot delegate this duty. If they are unable to attend a meeting they cannot send a substitute, and their organisation remains unrepresented. There is a focus on action, and verbal reports indicate that there is a high level of competitiveness between these men – failure in such a public way is not an option. The initiative has won international attention and 'male champions' are sought after as speakers. Places on the MCC group are sought after, with the Commissioner's office fielding calls from CEOs who would like to be involved. State based groups – now called CEOs for Change (and including women) have sprung into existence.

While there was a degree of cynicism that accompanied the launch of the Male Champions for Change initiative, I welcomed it for a number of reasons. It is important public recognition of the continuing failure of organisations to create more gender equitable workplaces. It re-positions gender change away from being women’s problem and therefore women’s work, and places responsibility and accountability for change with those who have positional power to create change.

Further details and several useful reports can be found on the Human Rights website.  I’ll refer to these reports and the ongoing activities of MCC in later blogs.

My interest in working with men as essential partners in the gender culture change process also led me to follow the Catalyst (a US based gender research and advocacy organisation) Blog trail, to MARC (Men Advocating Real Change) and from there to the (new to me) Consultancy Group White Men as Full Diversity Partners  where I downloaded Calling All White Men – Can Training Help Create Inclusive Workplaces? 

I am convinced that working with men - the dominant group in our institutions - is the key to change. In my next blog I’ll explore the role of men in creating more gender equitable organisations from a different perspective.