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How can we encourage more men to be involved in DEI practices?

The D&I Clinic is a space for HR professionals to anonymously air their challenging D&I questions. Our guest expert Nadia Nagamootoo discusses men’s role in creating equity at work.

Q. How can we encourage more men to be involved in DEI practices?

A. This year’s International Women’s Day (IWD) theme of #EmbraceEquity is by far the most challenging one yet. Discussions will no doubt uncover both misunderstanding of what equity means and also a vast amount of disagreement on what it looks like.

The UK government’s rejection of the proposal to make menopause a protected characteristic and pilot menopause leave due to the risk of discriminating against men suffering long-term medical conditions is a perfect example.

HR needs to think about equity, not equality 

Why the workplace just isn’t working for all women

The impact of perceptions and stereotypes on women’s performance

Equality by definition is treating everyone the same; that’s easy and, when adhered to, is the best way to avoid getting into employee relations disputes.

Equity, though, is about recognising that due to people’s diversity characteristics and the embedded biases in our society, they have very different experiences.

These are often intangible and sometimes minute gestures that cumulatively reduce opportunities for success. Treating people differently based on invisible systemic biases is less appealing for leaders because it’s hard to know what action to take.

Last year’s LeanIn.org Women in the Workplace report highlighted women leaders are twice as likely as men leaders to spend time on DEI work. This is probably because women have lived experience of discrimination, so they are more likely to get involved in creating change.

Men may feel excluded from the DEI conversations, believing they don’t have legitimacy because of their inherent privileges. Other men might feel that this work isn’t needed and we’ve taken DEI a step too far.

It’s fair to say that we’re not going to achieve equity with predominantly women’s effort. So how do we get more men involved?

Educate: Events such as IWD, Black History Month and Pride Month are a great way to bring new and different conversations into an organisation. Encourage sharing of experiences, statistics of gender disparities, discuss history (the good, bad and ugly) and acknowledge the discomfort this learning brings.

Empathise: It’s not possible for men to truly experience what it is like to be a woman and all the daily inequities. But, by inviting men into the space and legitimising their presence, they will be more receptive and open to empathising with women. With empathy comes an immediate emotion-led desire to create change.

Engage: We don’t just want men’s voices around the table, we want allyship and action. This means supporting men to notice inequities and giving them the tools to call them out and challenge. They need to feel confident in how they communicate their allyship, safe that it will be received with positive intent, and reassured that their discomfort is part of the work.

This is by no means easy to achieve but taking an active approach to inviting men to the party and engaging them to dance is key to embracing equity.

Nadia Nagamootoo is an author, podcast host, chartered psychologist and founder and CEO of Avenir Consulting Services


The full article of the above first appeared in the March/April 2023 print issue. Subscribe today to have all our latest articles delivered right to your desk.