Why are the majority of DEI workshops and webinars attended by women? Why are men reluctant to join the executive teams in their gender equality networks? Why are men less likely to volunteer to share their experiences of parenting and flexible working on their workplace intranet?

Engaging men in gender equality work, and sometimes DEI more generally, is an issue that many a diversity lead has faced. I experienced it too, while I was the Head of DEI Delivery at the Treasury. It’s this experience, in addition to my own personal experiences around fatherhood, mental health and working with men through my organisation MusicFootballFatherhood, that has helped me to think differently about why some men are reluctant to engage in conversations around gender equality and how we as DEI practitioners, speakers and facilitators can change our approach to engaging men in these conversations.

Are men resistant to change?

Allow me to be completely honest with you and say that I’ve found that a small portion of men (and people overall) are resistant to change. They have found it difficult to adapt to, or proactively resisted, the new world and don’t want to understand their privilege, how they can be better allies or how they can benefit from gender equality. They have lived within a system that they have perceived to have served them for so long and they are not interested in changing that, being uncomfortable and having progressive conversations. But, it’s important to emphasise that this is a small portion of people and not reflective at all of men across our society.

The overwhelmingly large majority of men want to do more. They want to engage and they want to take part in the DEI conversation. Yes, some are disillusioned with feeling like they are always spoken to as part of the problem. Some don’t understand the language. Some want to engage but don’t feel that DEI is for them. But all are fundamentally positive people who want to learn, grow and do their part in building a better world for the families, culture, communities and wider society.

This is where I think it’s up to us, DEI practitioners, speakers and changemakers to think about how best to engage this majority.

Why gender equality is beneficial to women….and men

There is often the narrative that gender equality means that men lose. But it’s quite the opposite. Gender equality is good for all of us.

A recent World Health Organisation study showed that countries with greater gender equality have better outcomes for men in areas such as life expectancy, mental health, cardiovascular diseases and violent abuse. The traditional (and outdated) ideas of masculinity, that are at the root of gender inequality, lead to men participating in risk-taking behaviours, misusing alcohol and can have devastating effects on men’s mental and physical health.

Breaking down those outdating ideas of masculinity and improving gender equality means families can design their caring responsibilities in a way that suits them and dads can be more active fathers in the home. It means that men can step outside of the box that many of us are stuck in. It means we can have better friendships, better relationships and a fuller life. Gender equality means we can be more vulnerable and seek help and support for the challenges we face.

For me, it’s how we communicate and frame this message that is pivotal to how we start to engage men.

Call them in, not out

The approach I have seen from many organisations is one which centres around calling men out and focusing on how they can be better allies. Don’t get me wrong, there is most definitely a space for this and I think this approach should continue. Men hold huge privilege and most definitely need to do better in many ways. Men need to be better allies, we need to be accountable, we need to take responsibility for the actions of the men around us, we need to address misogynistic behaviours and we need to learn more.

However, I have found that alongside this approach, there is another way to have the conversation. And this starts with calling men in, not out. It’s an approach that focuses on the issues that affect men around gender equality. I know this can sounds counter-intuitive, as men hold so much privilege, but hear me out.

Psychology Today looked at the behaviours behind the term toxic masculinity. They defined toxic masculinity as not showing a range of emotions, not seeking help and support for struggles, pressure to be the main breadwinner, pressure to win by any means. These behaviours are damaging and contribute to the poor mental health and suicide outcomes for men, physical abuse against men and women and the motherhood penalty.

My approach is to centre men in this conversation and discuss the issues that affect them. Issues such as body image, work/life balance, financial worries, pressure to be the breadwinner but also an active father, difficulty maintaining close friendships and the inability to be open about their mental health challenges.

My approach is talk about the fact that men are also the victims of toxic masculinity and how many men have been taught to be stoic, not seek help and community and not to talk openly about their emotions. I bring colleagues together to talk about how we can break out of societal expectations and truly be ourselves, for the benefit of everyone

For many men in your organisation, this will be the first time that they have experienced a session where their needs are centred. It brings men in, shows them that they are listened too. After which, we are in a much better place to have a deep, honest and practical conversation about allyship A conversation around how we can all be allies to men to encourage them to practise positive masculinity and how men can use their privilege and be allies to women in the home, in our communities and in the workplace.

I have worked with many organisations who would typically get around 10% of their session attendees being male, but during my sessions they average around 50% attendance from men. My sessions ‘What it means to be a man in 2022’ and ‘Equal allies: how men and women can better support each other’ have been successful in engaging men in gender equality conversations and contributing to a more inclusive culture for everyone.

How I can help you to engage men in conversations around gender equality

My work is all about presenting new ideas, creating inclusive environments for open conversations and being a catalyst for culture change. I love to challenge internalised beliefs and highlight how we are all capable and responsible for change. I specialise in supporting dads in the workplace, redefining masculinity, allyship, dad’s and men’s mental health, gender equality, inclusive relationships and creating family friendly workplaces and communities.

I frequently work with HR leads, staff parenting networks, gender networks, D&I teams and leadership teams through workshops and keynotes. I pride myself on providing an excellent service and tailoring my work to provide unique solutions to help address your objectives.

All my sessions are emotive, raw, and powerful. They are grounded in personal stories while incorporating the latest research, data and best practise. I use slido, Q&A and panel discussions to ensure my sessions are interactive and immersive. This is all packaged up in a friendly, personable and relaxed approach with a nice sprinkle of humour.

To help support you to see the culture change you desire, my sessions are supported with carefully crafted communications materials to set the tone for the events and encourage participation before the event. And post-event, I provide toolkits to support team-level conversations using content and outputs from the workshop to facilitate further conversations and embed culture change.

I am all about helping you to achieve your objectives, whether that be launching your parenting network, supporting your colleagues mental health and wellbeing, engaging more men in your DEI and gender equality work, building an inclusive culture with allyship at the core or helping senior leaders to foster more inclusive relationships.

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