Gender Equality: Not Just a Women’s Issue

This January, speaking at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made a series of statements that fostered articles from media worldwide – and even a viral video. His bold statements? He’s a feminist, and men shouldn’t be afraid of that word. Instead, men and boys should be educated about the importance of gender equality, as their role in achieving such equality is key. For his part, Trudeau has appointed a cabinet with an equal number of women and men (a first for Canada) and announced the first Canadian woman on the country’s currency Emma Watson and Sheryl Sandberg have also undertaken feminist efforts that emphasize the role of men in achieving gender equality. Watson, a British actor and a UN Women Goodwill Ambassador, helped to launch the “HeforShe” initiative in September of 2014. HeforShe is designed to encourage men to stand up for gender equality. Sandberg, Facebook COO and author of Lean In, launched the #LeanInTogether campaign this March. The campaign stresses that change cannot occur from the actions of women alone. Men who aren’t world leaders, movie stars or celebrities may feel that their role in the journey toward gender equality is not always clear. But men in the office can be as influential as those on stage or on screen. Indeed, there are many ways for our male friends and colleagues to help as we strive for gender equality. Be a mentor. Mentorship is often lauded as key to success. Often, though, natural mentoring relationships develop between those of the same gender. Consider making an effort to share advice and experience with women in your workplace, even informally; both men and women may benefit from the varied skill sets and fresh perspectives the other brings to the table. Get a woman’s perspective. Studies have shown that diverse working groups are more adept at solving difficult problems while also being more creative and efficient. [See “Why Diversity Matters,” McKinsey & Company, January 2015.] If you find that your working group is homogenous, consider asking others to chime in – you may find new avenues to pursue and new ways to pursue them. Be mindful when assigning tasks. Be aware of any subconscious biases you might have when assigning work. For example, a particular woman’s conscientiousness and organizational skill may mean that she is frequently assigned organizational and administrative tasks, like printing and compiling documents or taking notes in a meeting. This may hold her back from fully participating or from undertaking higher-level substantive responsibilities. Consider shifting these responsibilities to different members of a team, perhaps on a rotating basis. Support and encourage the women around you. In Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, she references an HP study that found a woman will only apply for a job if she feels 100% qualified, whereas men tend to apply for jobs when they feel 60% qualified. With this tendency in mind, encourage your female colleagues to pursue opportunities for which you think they are ready – or provide those opportunities! At the same time, support your female colleagues by acknowledging when they make a good point, asking them to contribute and giving them the opportunity to undertake leadership tasks. Men have a critical role to play in attaining gender equality. However, men are often an untapped resource in gender initiatives. Emphasizing strategies like these, both women and men can succeed in overcoming gender inequality in the workplace. Michelle Hillenbrand is an associate in Debevoise’s New York office. Comments? Suggestions? We’d love to hear from you. Send us an email at women@debevoise.com. RELATED CONTENT