Yet there are plenty of reasons why a man might have a prejudice against women including from fear of being shown up (by a woman who is better at something than him), or perhaps revenge for perceived damage inflicted by a woman, the mother, a schoolteacher or perhaps an early relationship.
Improving gender equality at work:
As young men emerge from puberty, they have a strong urge to express a raw masculinity which in today’s world of often absent positive role-models can lead to poor ego development.
Societal changes such as the celebration of women striving to ‘achieve it all’, being successful at work, bringing up children and maintaining a family home have left some men confused about their roles in life. From that confusion, the male ego weakness produces fear, envy and the need to compensate to prove himself worthy, in extremis with an exercising of physical domination.
Male dominion in society has led to ‘successful’ leaders being defined by dysfunctional masculine traits such as who can win at any cost and who can surround himself with the most amount of money.
The feminine attributes of creativity, nurturing, compassion and a sense of the wider consequences of actions have not been valued in the same way, which could be argued has even led to extreme instability from wars to pollution and environmental destruction.
Men have to take the lead in eliminating misogyny and that requires active participation by all. The board and executive team must show clear leadership and take responsibility for a culture that is totally intolerant of all sexism. However, many men, even if only subconsciously, prefer the status quo and so will avoid challenging a peer - the human need for belonging can be a very strong driver of behaviour.
For leaders, I suggest the following:
- Challenge yourselves to have the courage, curiosity, and humility to reflect on your role in suppressing or encouraging employee voices and notice when personal barriers hold you back from listening to employees of lesser status.
- Ask yourself: Who gets your full attention and who are you more prone to tune out, hurry along, or half-listen to while you multitask? Whom do you trust, and who has to work harder to prove a point to you? Who elicits sympathy, and who triggers frustration?
- Talk with employees to elicit their viewpoints. Examine the metrics from employee surveys to fully understand what is going on, and why.
- Challenge yourself to look inward and examine which of your own perspectives and behaviours make you susceptible to toxic leadership behaviours, even if unintentionally.
- Foster an environment of collective voice by building an empowering culture where employees—especially those from underrepresented or marginalised groups—can build meaningful networks inside the workplace.
- Create an environment where women are given agency and feel heard, and where men don’t feel pressure to conform to traditional ideals.
- Establish mechanisms for employees to share ideas, dissatisfactions, and concerns safely. Examples include online forums, anonymous grievance hotlines, and safe places for employee networking. Once you’ve created these mechanisms, don’t assume they are efficient or that everything is okay.
- Look deeply into organisational structures that normalise “ruthless competition” among employees and a “winner-takes-all” culture. Institute team-based rewards systems based on team performance and outcomes.
- Create and sustain policies such as paternity leave and flexible working arrangements that encourage work-life effectiveness among all employees regardless of gender. When used, these policies dispel beliefs that career advancement must come at the expense of personal and family life—one of the hallmarks of a combative culture.
- Set the tone by promoting organisational values centred on safety, respect, humanity, personal growth, and work-life flexibility rather than high ego, aggression, physical strength and stamina (e.g. the ability to work long hours).
Thom Dennis is CEO of Serenity in Leadership