Last updated October 25, 2018 at 1:11 pm
The time for talking about gender equity is over.
Delivering positive change that puts an end to sexual harassment and gender inequality for good is going to require conscious and deliberate action by women and men, over and over again.
There are many great programs that are trying to address gender inequality in STEMM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics & Medicine). Despite these, deep inequality persists.
Of course women must and will fight for change, but what can men do to support them?
We suggest some simple guidelines.
1. Recognise male privilege
You reached your current status and pay-grade through grit, determination, talent and hard work, right? This may be true, but there is no denying that the mere fact of being male is a big advantage. The stats speak for themselves.
Women are also far less likely to be tapped for promotion than men. While roughly equal numbers of men and women start out studying science at university just 20% of senior professors are women.
Women’s voices are less often heard in the public sphere, where gender bias in reporting is real but seldom acknowledged.
Women are more likely than men to have caring responsibilities that divide their energies, attentions and ambitions – and that can derail a career.
They are also much more likely to have been subjected to sexual violence.
Women are just as good at science as men. And they can speak and write about it just as well. It is not ability that is holding women back, it’s the system that is rigged to favour men, and if you truly care about gender equity, you must cast this filter over every interaction, every day.
2. Challenge male privilege
Hands up if you’ve ever heard a demeaning comment about women, or seen a woman singled out because of their gender. No? How about ‘it’s probably easier for you if you resign and come back as a casual employee (after having your child)’; ‘don’t complain too loudly, you’ll sound shrill’; ‘just sit there and look pretty’; ‘we think it would be better if you don’t appear on our program (because you’re pregnant)’.
These are all genuine comments made to us, and people we know. This kind of comment and behaviour is so prevalent we’d be surprised if there’s any woman who has not experienced it.
The easiest and quickest way to improve the environment for women at work is for those with power to challenge this casual everyday sexism.
Men need to call men out when they interrupt or talk over women or take credit for their ideas; when they make a sexist remark or joke; when they assign women the role of tea-fetcher, or ask them to bring a plate.
Call men out when they comment on women’s appearance; when they assume that a woman’s role as a parent or carer impacts negatively on their ability to do their job; or when they tell women to be more feminine.
3. Understand the obstacles women face
If you are a scientist or engineer apply the same rigour to your opinions on gender equity as you would in your area of expertise. Look for the evidence – both of equality of inherent ability, and the evidence of privilege.
Women are held back by outdated and disproven theories about their aptitude and preference for leadership and STEMM subjects.
For a thorough debunking of many of the pervasive myths about gender differences read Inferior by Angela Saini, who uses a vast body of research to show there is absolutely no gender-based difference in abilities, whether they are fine motor skills, vocabulary, or cognition. While the book highlights the ignorance of commentary such as James Damore’s Google Manifesto, in which he declared that women were inherently less suited for complex IT roles than men, it doesn’t make such commentary any less divisive and hurtful.
4. Develop a comprehensive approach
Recognising and challenging male privilege is an important foundation to build a genuinely gender-blind workplace – but it is just the start. Cultural change to support gender equity requires sophisticated and multi-layered approaches and programs. These include mentorship and sponsorship (KPMG’s Bird-Walton program is a great example).
Leaders of organisations need to make public commitments to achieving equity, and to publicly call out or fix inequity when they see it (take a leaf out of the book of ANSTO’s Male Champion of Change CEO, Adi Paterson).
Look for awards, fellowships and other opportunities and nominate or encourage female colleagues to apply.
Take the panel pledge to encourage others to begin making change.
Organisations should also work to develop a deep understanding of the overt and covert ways in which women on their workforce experience discrimination – such as the approach required by participants in the Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE) program.
5. Change the system
Just by becoming involved in change supports the success of gender parity initiatives. Women are not treated fairly in the workplace, and it is the workplace, not women, that must change. We can all be the agents of that change.
We can all insist on tolerant and inclusive workplace culture.
Set targets for gender equity.
BHP has pledged to have equal numbers of men and women by 2025 and is making good progress towards this goal.
The Australian National University has committed to 50/50 early career research support grants for women and men.
GE globally has committed to 20,000 women in STEM roles by 2020 and 50/50 representation for all entry-level programs.
Take the initiative to make other change towards a fairer workplace.
Fifteen Australian universities including QUT, Monash, Canberra, RMIT and Curtin appear on the Workplace Gender Equality Agency’s Employer of Choice list this year, for their work in leadership, closing gender pay gaps, flexible working arrangements, gender equality targets and their track-record on targeting harassment and discrimination.
And understand that what is good for women in the workplace, is good for business.
Economic benefits of gender equity are well proven, both in individual organisations and in countries as a whole. There are significant health, well-being and happiness benefits for men. UNESCO and the United Nations have named gender equity as a central sustainable development goal because of the multiple societal benefits, ranging from reduced violence to enhanced educational outcomes and economic strength.
Gender equity is good – for everybody. It’s not only the right thing to do, it’s also the smart thing to strive for. To achieve it we need real male champions of change. This is not somebody else’s problem – this is our challenge, and your challenge. Let’s make it our shared victory, too.