I always have mixed emotions when it comes to International Men's Day. We've all heard the joke - "isn't every day international men's day?"
When I started working on diversity and inclusion and gender equality initiatives about 10 years ago, my intention was to make the workplace a fairer place for women; to increase their representation at senior levels; to make sure that their manager (usually male) actually listened to them and made an effort to appreciate their different lived experience; to remove those long-standing obstacles and barriers for women derived from our deeply gendered upbringing.
I fell in to the trap of thinking that gender equality was only about women. And although things are changing (albeit quite slowly), that is still how most of society think about it too. If you go to any gender equality related event or gathering, the attendees are likely to be 75% women (or more). Where are the men?
Because they are likely to identify with a gender too; usually the male gender (and of course, I recognise there are more genders than just the binary ones, but let's stick with the men for now). And research for some time now has been showing how gender equality benefits that male gender. But one would argue that a lot of those benefits have been delivered by the efforts of women and others from traditionally under-represented groups. Very few men have been involved in making those changes happen.
I am not going to restate all those benefits in detail - they range from enabling men to actually be better at their jobs, support their aspirations for leadership, help their physical and mental health, through to how it has given them more flexibility and choice with their careers and their lives. To share one example, in the work we do at Men for Inclusion, we have heard stories from many men about how working from home during Covid enabled them to build bonds with their children born during lockdown that they had not built with their children born before lockdown. They were really re-evaluating how they wanted their balance their career and life aspirations.
My key point is that we have to find ways of involving men in building gender balanced and inclusive workplaces and communities. Because, in the main, we have tried doing it without them and we are no longer moving quickly enough. For example, a lot of organisation's gender pay gaps will not be closed until the middle of the next century and for some, it will never close. If anyone thinks this "gender equality thing" is done, they need to look again. Despite all the work, you just have to look at the scandals hitting many large corporate organisations in the last 12 months.
Off the back of these issues, people have been asking what should companies do, what should government do, what should regulators do? But, as men, I think we have to ask ourselves, what should we do? These things are happening to our wives, girlfriends, mothers, daughters - we need step in and take a stand. We have to start getting involved.
But we also have to do it in a way that listens to the concerns of men too. Because we know there are some men that are struggling and if we don't step in to help them too, they will turn to alternatives that we really don't like - I think you can guess what (and who) I mean by those alternatives. We cannot succeed in creating the right world for women and girls, if it means creating a world where men and boys cannot succeed. Gender equality has to be (and has been proven to be) win-win for men, women and all other genders.
In the words or Richard Reeves, founder of "Of Men and Boys, we can do 2 things at once - we can promote women and girls and men and boys at the same time.
So back to my mixed emotions. I started this work to benefit women, but now I realise that if we get it right, it benefits men too. And some women may be thinking "hang on a sec, we've been doing all this work and now men are muscling in and trying to make it all about them again". And I really do understand this perspective. However, I am also a realist and I like to get things done (I genuinely think I am quite good at delivery in a corporate setting) and if we want a gender equal workplace, we need men to be part of that.
So men, I urge you to step up and do your fair share of the work. And here's a few ideas on how:
Make sure you share your social time equally with all of the people in your team, not just the ones that look like you
Take time to get to know all of the people in your team and listen to their personal lived experiences
Look around at your team and if it is not diverse nor inclusive, start coming up with action plans to change that
Keep learning and be visible in your support - read more books on the subject, but also start attending gender equality and other diversity and inclusion networks and events
Challenge others when you see non-inclusive behaviours happen and let others know that they can call you out when you make a mistake.