Men as Allies for Gender Equality, Diversity and Inclusion.
More than half of the global population is female but very few women have access to resources. The low percentage of women represented in leadership positions, both in the private and public sector, is an outdated emblem that remains largely synonymous with marginalization. However, this situation can be changed if companies take action to promote equality and gender diversity. Gender-aware leadership practices are key factors to achieve a balanced workforce, which includes men as active allies.
According to a recent focus group survey of 57 companies in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), nearly 50% of men believe that male employees should play an active role in the fight for gender equity. The question is what kind of role we are discussing.
Despite progress in the region, gender disparities persist. According to the study's findings, which can be found in the IDB Invest report "Equality Needs Everyone: The Role of Men in Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion," 72% of women say they "sometimes," "frequently," or "always" face career development issues. Only 28% of people say "never" or "don't know."
These gaps are numerous. Some are so-called traditional gaps, such as many companies' reluctance to hire women for jobs perceived to be traditionally male in industries such as construction or agribusiness. Others are related to the low proportion of women studying science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).
Other gaps are much more recent and are related to pandemics. The experiences of men and women have been very different, particularly during the COVID-19 lockdowns. For example, 96.7% of the 239 respondents believe that, when teleworking, women have more responsibilities at home, such as caring for children, the elderly, or sick relatives.
Only 3.3% of all respondents said that men and women have similar telework experiences. This is an extremely low figure, indicating that the perception of each gender's role is a major factor underlying the gap. This places a special responsibility on the male gender, as well as the specific actions that each employee can take on a daily basis at work.
The business case for closing the gender gap is well understood. Several studies have found that having more women in the workforce, particularly in top positions, correlates with better outcomes and a greater ability to attract and retain talented professionals. What has not been so clear, at least until now, is the business case for including men as allies in equity initiatives.
Eliminating discriminatory behaviours in the workplace allows men to have trusting and respectful relationships with women and other men, while also encouraging greater collaboration and reducing the tendency to form silos.
To eliminate such behaviours, men must participate actively in the business. Because men traditionally hold top management positions, many of the corporate efforts required (breaking down barriers, providing equal pay, including women-led companies in value chains and supplier or customer portfolios, etc.) would produce better results if men took an active role.
Recognising men's privilege and influence in the corporate world is critical, as evidenced by their leadership positions. Awareness of these benefits will enable them to take on new responsibilities and change the structures and systems that create inequality and exclusion through business labour equity initiatives.
Only then can men question their unconscious biases, empathise with their female colleagues' challenges, participate in mentoring programmes, and serve on equity committees, among other initiatives. They can understand and prevent the harms caused by discriminatory work cultures as equality allies, accelerate progress, and benefit from more equitable workplaces.
This necessitates mobilising to change leadership roles in both business and personal life. Gender equity is not just a women's issue.