Natasha Davies is the Policy and Research Lead at Chwarae Teg

With evidence mounting that equality can boost business performance and the economy as a whole, it’s clear that this is not just a women’s issue.

The most recent forecast predicted that bridging the gender pay gap could add an extra £150 billion to UK GDP by 2025.  At a time of uncertainty over the financial implications of Brexit, and when local services are feeling the pinch, we frankly can’t afford to ignore this substantial figure.  Aside from the financial sum, increased equality boosts productivity, utilises untapped talent, helps to plug the skills gap, and fosters innovation.

While nowadays, gender equality is broadly viewed as positive or desirable in the mainstream; with duties like gender pay gap reporting and the Hampton-Alexander review pushing businesses to appoint more women to their boards; there is still a lot further to go.  It’s clear that gender equality isn’t going to be achieved on its own, and more needs to be proactively done to accelerate the pace of change. This means we need more advocates for gender equality in senior positions, and men have an important role to play.

With men still dominating in leadership roles – in business, and in politics – they act as gatekeepers and have a crucial influence on workplace culture.  Therefore, it’s critical that we understand men’s perceptions of gender equality, that men are engaged in conversations about equality, and they recognise the wider benefits. To start this conversation, Chwarae Teg conducted a piece of research for our Agile Nation 2, which is part-funded by European Social Fund through Welsh Government.  The research looked at how men in key sectors in Wales view gender equality, and how they experience gender dynamics in the workplace.

Our report found that stereotypes are still prevalent.  Ideas about ‘male’ and ‘female’ characteristics were expressed both positively and negatively.  While little difference was shown between the view of men and women’s capabilities or ambition overall, some of the most striking stereotypes were demonstrated when it came to women with children.  Only 71% of male respondents agreed that women with children are as ambitious as women who do not have children, compared to 85% of female respondents. This shows the view of women as carers first and earners second still exists.

This also came across in discussions around flexible working practices; only 65% of men said they see flexible working as beneficial, and when asked if they would apply for parental leave themselves, nearly 40% of men said no.  Despite the fact that this initiative is not targeted at women, it was widely perceived that way, highlighting how stereotypical views aren’t only affecting women, but are preventing men from benefitting from modern and flexible working practices.  Considerable and concerted effort is needed to dispel these myths around flexible work and caring; and equality can only be achieved if men and women take on a more equal share.

Nearly a third of male respondents believe that gender equality has already been achieved, over twice that of women surveyed, and men are more likely to see fair and equal treatment of women in the workplace.  While sexism was still viewed to be an issue in most workplaces, only around a quarter of men viewed it to be a problem in their own. Our male respondents viewed a lack of women in certain roles as being due to individual choice, rather than structural barriers – this was often a contrast to the views expressed by women in these industries and demonstrates how many men are not aware of the extent to which inequality continues to affect women in work.

Most striking, perhaps, was men’s lack of awareness about the benefits of gender equality – to themselves, to their workplaces, and to wider society.  A substantial 72% of men felt that their company as a whole would benefit from less focus on gender equality, with 24% saying that men themselves would benefit from less focus.  However, 62% of women also agreed that their company as a whole would benefit from less focus on gender equality, reinforcing the view that gender equality is a ‘women’s issue’ and is a cause that only benefits women.  But we know that this is not the case.

In some ways, these results paint a complicated picture.  We can see that men recognise that inequality exists and more needs to be done to address it, but they don’t relate it to their own workplaces or experiences.  Clearly, more needs to be done to demonstrate and promote the positive impact of equality to both men and women, so there is widespread understanding of the benefits to them as individuals, their workplaces, and to our wider economy and society.  This is a challenge that we all need to take on.

We hope that this report can shine a light on men’s views, and provoke a wider conversation about how we can encourage gender equality to be seen as an issue for everyone.  To achieve gender equality, we need a universal approach that is embedded in our workplace cultures; it is absolutely crucial that men are part of this.

All articles published on Click on Wales are subject to IWA’s disclaimer.

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