Engaging men as allies to advance gender equality

03/30/2022

Fiona Nott, Chief Executive Officer of The Women’s Foundation, on the barriers limiting men’s support for the progression of equal opportunities for women in the workplace and broader society



This year’s International Women’s Day campaign theme was #BreakTheBias. While this globally observed day aims to highlight the achievements of women and raise awareness of gender equality, it is important for individuals of all genders to understand the issues and work together as allies in changing organizational norms and structures that perpetuate gender gaps.  

We cannot talk about advancing gender equality without including men in the conversation. Men comprise the majority representatives of boardrooms, C-suites and senior roles across the city. Without the avid support of men, significant progress toward ending gender inequality is unlikely. 

Under this backdrop, The Women’s Foundation (TWF) published findings to a survey conducted with market research company Ipsos last year, which primarily examined men’s attitudes towards gender equality. The survey identified barriers limiting their support for actions to close the gender gap. 

Four limiting mindsets

According to our findings, the majority of respondents believe in the basic tenets of gender equality and in having equal opportunities at work. Many men recognize their key role in progressing gender equality and are taking steps to change the status quo. 42 percent of men believe gender equality won’t be achieved without men taking an active role, and 46 percent of men say they advocate and support equal opportunities for women. 

However, there remains a significant number of men not taking concrete action towards gender equality, with nearly one-third not having taken any actions in the past year to support this goal. Their reasons for inaction were categorized into four main barriers:  

  • Apathy – 52 percent of men are unaware of how gender equality benefits them and therefore do not feel compelled to take action. 
  • Relevance – 38 percent of men see gender equality as a “women’s issue” and don’t see a compelling reason for becoming involved or what they might gain from doing so. 
  • Zero-sum mentality – 24 percent of men believe gender equality puts men at a disadvantage and nearly half of men believe women benefit most from gender equality. 
  • Gender stereotypes – 42 percent of the men we surveyed believed that their family will suffer if gender equality is achieved. Entrenched gender stereotypes as well as societal expectations around gender roles may influence the belief among both men and women that women should be the primary caregivers and take up a greater share of household responsibilities. 

Shockingly, these mindsets were more prevalent among younger men (aged 18-30), which debunks a commonly held myth that the gender gap will close naturally with successive generations. We need to engage younger generations on the issue. 

This year’s International Women’s Day theme #BreakTheBias offered a timely reminder for what needs to be done – it’s time for us to debunk the myths holding us back from gender equality as well as to break gender roles and stereotypes such as women being seen as the primary caregiver. 

There are actions the business community can take today to drive change. These include awareness-raising to challenge apathy and misguided beliefs; adopting gender-neutral, inclusive work policies that destigmatize parental leave and caring responsibilities; engaging younger men and making an effort to tackle gender biases among all genders; and acknowledging the importance of conversations across genders and generations, and the need to engage everyone in these efforts. At home, this can mean equal sharing of household and caregiving responsibilities.     

The push for change

Overall, a holistic approach is required that addresses issues both at work and at home. This is why we launched our Male Allies Initiative four years ago to play a key role in TWF’s wider mission to advance women and girls. TWF’s Male Allies is a group of senior business leaders who are committed to advancing gender equality and are able to create real change in their spheres of influence.  

The initiative provides the knowledge and support to enable men to use their influence, build everyday actions and habits for inclusion, and to drive change following the principles of listen, learn and act. 

We actively integrate discussions around parenting skills and values into our Male Allies curriculum, including discussions around parenthood, exploring local research and how to bridge company policy and the reality of working men’s lives, in a city with some of the longest working hours in the world. Since 2018, they have spearheaded over 65 initiatives at their organizations and beyond.  


Change happens gradually, starting with ourselves, and then our family and friends, our team and organization, and eventually, society as a whole. Together, we can all break the bias – on International Women’s Day and beyond. 


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