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Empower men to solve the gender pay gap

This is not a battle between men and women. It’s a battle about whether a minority of men should be allowed to treat women badly

Latest data shows the gender pay gap has widened at almost half of firms in the UK. In this context it may sound counter-intuitive to say men have had a rough time recently. But since the first #MeToo tweet in October 2017 they’ve been vilified as rapists, misogynists, sexists and a generally pretty nasty bunch.

Let’s be clear. Some people clearly deserve the criticism they’ve received. But many are just normal blokes who feel scared – and almost definitely annoyed that some of their brothers have been acting incredibly badly.

We need to remember the corporate world has been designed by men for men and it is certainly not your standard male employee or manager’s fault there were no women in the first place. It was enshrined in law until 1944. Up until then all women were prevented from working during peacetime when they married.

This has cast a long shadow and while much has changed many men feel under scrutiny owing to the actions of a minority. In fact, there’s often a palpable sense of threat among men. Rather than involving themselves in discussions about what’s gone on, many stay quiet and try to 'keep out of trouble'.

But ignoring the truth doesn’t help. It allows the issue to fester. It creates divides. And ironically it holds women back. This is not a battle between men and women. It’s a battle about whether a minority of men should be allowed to treat women badly in the workplace and abuse their power. We can’t allow a veil of silence to descend – especially when the system is already significantly skewed towards men.

If we just see this phenomenon as a binary male vs. female issue, the impact could be men ignoring and side-lining women who are already shown to be a minority in leadership. Worryingly, we’re already seeing this taking place. It’s become 'safer' to employ a man than a women. We’re going backwards.

The sooner we can openly talk about this – and empower men to do so – the quicker we can move past it, to everyone’s benefit. Let’s call out bad behaviour when needed, but also all pull together.

Achieving this can be a challenge, but it needn’t be complicated. It just requires a few simple actions. Obviously the first step is to provide strong procedures to ensure harassment can be reported and dealt with. But once this is in place – and let’s face it, it really should be in every organisation’s HR policies by now – what next?

The second thing is to get leadership to address the issue head on. Male or female, whoever the leader of an organisation, they need to reflect on how women and men may be feeling and instigate bridge-building where needed.

There also needs to be specific attention on male line managers. They need to understand the processes and policies in place but this shouldn’t change how they interact. Specifically men mustn’t feel scared of making mistakes in the way they work with female team members.

But perhaps the most important step businesses need to take is making the workplace more human. People shouldn’t have to worry how to behave in the office. It’s vital everyone can have open, honest and human conversations and bring all of themselves to work and not leave the fun and empathetic side of themselves at home.

This can be achieved through simple techniques. A great place to start is consciously thinking about 'how to be' at work, and not just on 'what to do'. At the start of meetings attendees can set ground rules about how everyone should interact. For example, explaining how they want the tone to be. Or what type of behaviour is needed. Or what each person might need to consider when contributing.

My colleague and co-founder of Shine for Women, Anna Baréz-Brown, often gives people a pretty direct piece of advice: if in doubt don’t do or say anything to a female colleague that you wouldn’t if she was your boss. It sounds simple. But then again all the best ideas are.

If we can create this renewed feeling of collaboration and openness then we can create businesses where women have the opportunity to thrive. And this isn’t just a matter of equality and diversity, it’s a matter of commercial sense.

If #MeToo and Time’s Up have taught us anything, it’s that we need to have more open and transparent conversations at work. We need to make the office more human. We need to break down barriers not build them up. We need to empower men just as much as women, and we need to do this quickly, cut through the corporate crap that frightens us and remember this cannot be a men vs. women issue.

Because men and women can energise one another by fuelling each other’s strengths to close the gender pay gap. We’re better together.

Caroline Whaley is the co-founder of Shine for Women