Gender Equality – men don’t always know how to help [Guest Post]
Before going into this, I feel it’s important to state from the outset that I recognise my privilege of being white, male, University educated. In fact, even though I acknowledge it, I almost certainly never will truly understand what this privilege I’ve been so lucky to have means. At best I can be acutely aware. When it comes to gender equality, by all weights and measures, what could I have to offer? But I think if I don’t speak up, I continue to be the problem.
I was recently at an industry conference consisting of two separate panel discussions, comprising 12 total panellists. As a number of industry figures and commentators noted and truly anybody in attendance was abruptly faced with: there was only one female panelist in the twelve. While the organisers said they had asked for greater diversity, and a range of excuses were given for why each male was “the right person for the engagement” or the right female speaker declined, I was left feeling that these excuses are just not good enough. The issue of course goes deeper than panels at conferences: the advertising industry is supposedly pushing hard for equality yet we still have a big gap in the number of women in senior positions and a yawning pay gap. Worse, underlying this, all too often gender seems to be continuously referenced as a precursor or qualifier to some of the most amazing minds in the industry.
This inequality is not confined to the ad industry – take your pick: finance, law (low numbers of women at partner level), even sommeliers (only 10% of the wine-workforce is female). There is statistic after statistic painting a deplorable picture. According to OECD data:
- Australian women are paid 17.3% less than their male counterparts.
- Of the 664 companies in the ASX 300+, only 21 have female CEOs (fewer than those named Peter, John or David).
- Only 9% of board directors are female (ASX 200 fares a little better here at 23% suggesting corporate Australia is slowly righting the issue, compared to SMEs).
- Sanitary products for women continue to be taxed as a luxury, while condoms are not.
- Half of all women feel uncomfortable walking alone at night.
- And at the extreme, a woman dies every single week at the hands of a current or former partner in an incident of domestic violence.
As a man, as a human even, I’m embarrassed by these statistics. With all the progress we’ve had into this 21st century world, I am honestly dumbfounded that this is still the case.
But also, I often don’t know what to do about it. I, like many men, feel helpless to understand how we can effect meaningful change. I’m not about to appoint a CEO, so how do I get more female CEOs? How can I change tax law or stop what goes on behind closed doors? How can I act on something I haven’t any experience of, yet seems to be so endemic?
As I think about gender diversity in the workplace more, I only come up with more open questions. Are too many industries (mine is almost certainly one of them) run by boys’ clubs? How do we break this up?
Many industries run on relationships where those relationships are built on lunches, dinners, trips to events, booze… Are these typically put together in favour of men and as such create a vicious circle of men supporting men? Without wishing to stop how relationships are built, how do we refocus this?
Do we need to have enforced quotas across boards, senior positions, panels, conferences and other? Or does that worsen the issue by making it a talking point?
I can’t understand why gender diversity continues to be something we have to debate without seeing change. We regularly hear the excuse around maternity leave and women needing to be the primary care giver, but I question, even after a break to build a family, why should that amazing gift to humanity be seen as a barrier to re-joining or excelling in the workplace? Moreover, why are women, outside of the obviousness of breastfeeding, seen as the main long-term caregivers? Why don’t more businesses offer flexible working arrangements for both parents? There is a wealth of data proving the value of flexibility driving effectiveness.
As I roll these questions around, I can’t help but keep returning to the same answer; a huge part of the problem is men. Not just in the work place as bosses and colleagues, but also as husbands – there are millions of highly capable women married to men who do not support their career in the way their wife supports them. Why do men look at other men who put themselves first as “ambitious” or “driven” and then regard women in the same position as “selfish” or “bossy”?
I am lucky enough to work for a (Swedish) business which offers an amazing six months paid paternity leave and with it I am excited that when the time comes, my wife and I will be able to go into parenthood on an equal footing. But not all see it as such. I was recently chatting to a friend and when this benefit was mentioned his response was “but you wouldn’t take it all would you? That would be career suicide!”. If that’s how men would view men in the situation, how can we ever progress with women’s place at the boardroom table? We need more men like Mark Zuckerberg who are willing to lead by example & normalise shared parenting responsibility.
Not all blockers on returning to work come directly from colleague and managers. Corporate Australia also often still lacks the flexible infrastructure to fulfil the balance of home and work commitments. It is obvious there are some tasks and roles where flexibility is difficult, but it is surely not insurmountable given the clear pay-off to all involved. It seems it is more a case of inability to accept and enact change to build the required infrastructure, and the lack of ongoing support.
I guess something which is within my control is the need, and with it the ability, to change the conversation – start by doing away with the sexist jokes and comments, and be brave enough to call out others for making such jokes and comments in my presence. It’s not much, but starting in pubs, sports clubs and offices, the “don’t be such a girl” (and far worse) need to be removed from daily chat. Grand gestures are one thing, including unconscious bias training, positive discrimination (if that’s what is needed), but that is not always possible – as in so many challenges it’s the day to day where the incremental gains can occur. And it is the day to day where individual men can start making a difference through our words and actions, no matter how small.
As men we definitely need to show our support and stand in solidarity with women in the workforce and to push ever harder. Being aware of the issue and keeping it front of mind in our speech and actions will create a foundation. Instead of thinking “the problem is so great that I can’t possibly help”, all men need to think “the problem is so great that I can’t not do something to help”. And that something can be taking personal accountability for our own words and actions, and to call others out on their words and actions.
For example, with regards to things like having more diverse representation on the panels mentioned at the beginning of this piece – it’s simple, if we’re approached to take part we can all ask who else will be on the panel and decline if it is not up to scratch, either putting forward a colleague or just pulling out completely. Let them know the reason you’re not taking part is because you don’t want to keep reinforcing such a narrow view of the industry. This doesn’t even have to be like-for-like seniority – a diverse perspective is the key outcome. We can also do our utmost to support in whatever way we can the great initiatives such Wyse Women and Peggy’s List (in the ad industry), Business Chicks, Dress for Success Sydney, White Ribbon and International Women’s Day – and the many more across each industry.
Even if we don’t really know how to solve the number of women being made CEO of ASX 300+ business, or even being invited to speak on ad industry panels, we can start by simply doing something. I would hate to come across as mansplaining the issue nor, as I said from the start along with many men, do I feel sure exactly what to do to address the issue. As a starter I know I can acknowledge that I am part of the problem but with it, am committed to being part of the solution. I hope more will join me.
P.S. Can somebody please also explain to me why sanitary products as taxed as a luxury but condoms aren’t?! If men were subject to the need for sanitary products, there would be uproar if taxed!
Sources for this post can be found here.
“Originally from the UK, Dan Robins has lived in Sydney for 4.5 years where he is Head of Programmatic and Data at music streaming service Spotify. Before this he held a number of roles at media agencies including most recently Head of Interactive at OMD in Sydney and roles at Carat in the UK. He is passionate about technology and data-driven marketing. Outside of work he is married to Kiki and loves travel, food, food-based travel and golf.”