Beyond Gender

The trend towards engaging men on gender equality might have more benefits that first realised. Over the past two years we have been moving to a new paradigm around men 'owning the problems of gender inequality' as highlighted in a timely new Diversity Council Australia report titled Men Make a Difference: Engaging Men on Gender Equality.
The central premise from authors, Graeme Russell and Michael Flood, is that men are part of the problem and therefore need to be part of the solution to eliminate gender bias in the workplace. They have come up with 10 principles to effectively engage men on gender equality - an area in which they traditionally have shown less support for than women. These range from getting the foundations right (the organisational stuff) to encouraging men and women to challenge the status quo (the individual stuff).

As Catherine Fox in her recent piece in The Guardian writes, 'it’s not about simply about men turning up to White Ribbon Day or calling themselves feminists.'  She goes onto say that the effective efforts should avoid putting men on pedestals or hiding behind token efforts – often known as “gender-washing” because there’s more talk than action. And male advocacy is not a replacement for – but should sit alongside – programs that support women. 

To be clear, engaging men in solving the problem does not mean treating men and women equally all of the time. This focus on equality (inputs) as oppposed to equity (outputs) has in fact been fairly disasterous for women. Leading gender advocate Avivah Wittenberg Cox argues that men and women are different and should be treated differently. A Canadian who has lived most of her life in Europe, Avivah is CEO of 20-First –  a consultancy that works with companies that want to get equal numbers of men and women at their firms, particularly at the top. She has long argued that as long as men and women continue to be treated without differentiation women will never achieve top roles

While we might all realise that engaging men on gender issues will benefit women, it is often more questionable about how men will benefit. After all, more women in positions of power means fewer men in positions of power, right? Fortunately the argument is more nuanced than the raw numbers might suggest. The aforementioned DCA report shows that while men benefit from gender equality in their work experience they also benefit in the unmeasured intangibles such as relationshios, wellbeing, friends, communities and as parents.

This was highlighted to me last night at the Men's Health Awareness Ball, which Ruth and I attended as guests of THINK Childcare. The purpose of the ball is to encourage men to get regular health checks and to fundraise for BeyondBlue and Foundation 49 (because men represent 40% of the population).

Aside from some fairly hilarious cartoons and powerpoint slides on the 'problems' men face plus a very graphic look at erectile disfunction from speaker Prof. Michael Lowy, the evening highlighted sobering realities around men's mental and physical health. A repeating theme was how critical support, and in particular support from women, is to men of all ages and at all career stages. 

Keynote speaker, Allan Sparkes CV OAM VA, told how he had tried to take his own life as a serving police officer in NSW and also considered taking the lives of his wife and daughter. In a devastatingly frank disclosure about his journey with depression, he spoke eloquently of his wife, Deb, their children and the world sailing trip they embarked on as part of their recovery as a family.

t was a simple and well told story that resonated with everyone in the room. Why, because male or female, we all need to be supported and loved through our life journeys. The discordance appears to be that our workplaces do not always encourage us to bring our whole selves to work, to celebrate the quirky, the diverse and the plain downright odd. To celebrate the highs and commisterate with the lows in each others lives.

As we move towards a world where work, family and play are far more integrated, where boundaries are blurred and how we relate to, and with, each other is linked to organisational and personal achievement, we are going to need to shift our thinking and our systems. We will need to go well beyond gender to exploring  and adopting frameworks,/ world views/ belief systems that value and underpin our humanness and connectedness, rather than exploit our differences. This is a challenge we will need to collectively share.

Enjoy your weekend
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