Creating more gender equitable and inclusive cultures is high on the agenda for many organisations. However there is often a disconnect between existing staff development activities and efforts to create the desired cultures. More explicitly linking individual development to organisational change can make a big difference to the return on investment when developing staff. The ‘bifocal approach’ translates this ideal into reality through clear principles and program design.

Men and women as partners for change

In a recent blog I posed the question ‘what about the men?’ and pointed readers towards a few exciting initiatives and resources in this area.

The question ‘what about the men?’ can be asked from a number of perspectives, some more helpful than others. Equally our engagement efforts with men can be approached in a number of ways. On this occasion I want to make the distinction between what I see as two fundamentally different positions, and highlight exciting new work I am doing with a male colleague in this area.

Firstly, women can invite senior men to champion gender change. To be women's allies. We can and should do this. Indeed this approach is embodied by the Male Champions for Change (MCC) initiative. Senior and powerful men at the top of their game are being asked to take gender equity seriously in their own organisations, to collectively work for change in the Australian context, and to be public advocates and role models. The MCC initiative has published several very useful documents and is making a major contribution to the public discourse on the position of women. Recent initiatives such as the pledge taken by MCC members to turn down invitations to speak on all male panels are welcome and focus the spotlight on the missing women. This is to be applauded.

However, for me there is something missing in this approach, something I became aware of when undertaking my own research examining men and women as gender champions. These men are being asked to be allies to women, to help make organisations better places for women. Adopting this approach and doing it with vigor will lead to some changes in structures and cultures that have to date resulted in inequitable outcomes for women. But it does leave masculinity and the power and status of men unquestioned. It also leaves the still heroic construction of leadership and the greediness of organisations unexamined – two major stumbling blocks for women, which I would suggest are also problematic for (some) men.

A different, perhaps more difficult and potentially more rewarding approach is to ask men to be co-journeyers with women. True partnership with women will have implications for the public and private sphere, requiring examination of gender roles in both contexts. This approach is more akin to the work of White Men as Full Diversity Partners (WMFDP) a US based group. In this approach men are being asked to partner with women and with people of color in their workplaces to bring about change. Men are examining their own biases, practices and stereotypes, considering how they might be contributing themselves to gender and race inequality. This closer examination of themselves as white men uncovers some of the costs of current workplace practices. It also highlights costs men are experiencing, often in the private domain of relationships, family and community.

In this partnership approach men are no longer being invited to make organisations better places for women or people of colour. The invitation rather is to work in partnership to create more humane workplaces for all, workplaces where all can thrive, without undermining the private sphere of community and family.

This is a big ask, but equally an exciting journey. In a future blog I’ll write about the work Tim Muirhead and I are doing in developing ‘Partners for Change’.