Last month, the Harvard Business Review published a piece about how lots of men are gender equality allies in private but remain silent on the topic in public. When I read the article, I was annoyed – not because I disagreed but because it I realised it was so true, so negatively impactful to business success and society as a whole and yet so obvious and, in my view, possible to change.
It's easy to be supportive in private. Ask any man about his mother, his wife or his daughter and few would not openly support gender equality as both a necessary and indisputable right and way of being. The same men are unlikely to express a view which categorises those with disabilities as second-class citizens, or those of a different sexual orientation as separate or to be excluded from society. Indeed, many may express anger at the possibility that these individuals, so important in many of their lives, might be treated unfairly, harassed, or assaulted.
And yet, these same men often demonstrate bias in the workplace and in public (consciously or otherwise) to women and minority groups. They interact within a non-diverse community, undervalue and undermine the opinions and competencies of those whom they deem different to them and ultimately lose out as a result.
I have a son and a daughter. I want my son to challenge the traditional male gender stereotype as much as I want my daughter to challenge why the positions of power, both in industry and in politics, are so often occupied by men.
Now, I know that I am privileged as a white, middle-aged, middle-class, straight, Irish man. After all I, and millions like me, have been the beneficiary of an explicit quota system designed by men and exclusively for men that has existed for hundreds of years. To privately profess to be a feminist, while publicly and silently benefiting from a society and a workplace that favours men, smacks of lip-service feminism.
And I want that to change – not just because it is the right thing to do, nor just because it is for the benefit of women in Ireland but also because it will benefit me personally and my family.
A growing number of men in Ireland today want this to change. They want to live in a more equitable and inclusive environment. They want to work for diverse and inclusive employers. They want their children to grow up in a successful, progressive and fair society.
They want more flexibility at work, more time with their loved ones, more dynamic and diverse teams to work in, more inclusive leaders to follow.
Men like me represent both the problem and the solution in that we make up the cohort of society which, inequitably in my view, has held the lion’s share of political & economic power and influence for decades and who has the power and influence today to change this and make a difference.
More men like me need to get involved and feel welcomed to do so as powerful allies for women and for minorities. More men need to be made aware of the benefits to them and to everyone around them for a more equitable and representative society.
It’s time to eradicate the myth that exists around inclusion & diversity – the idea that in helping Mary, Mark needs to give something up. It’s simply not true. Men benefit from a happier and more engaged workforce. Men benefit from a happier and therefore healthier life outside work and see the positive benefits it has on their families and society as a whole.
We, as men, need to stand up & speak out in favour of inclusion and equality for all. We have the right and the ability. It's time to show some willingness.