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Male managers blocking diversity efforts, research shows

Kate Dodd tells HRNews about the CMI’s poll showing how male managers are resisting diversity initiatives

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  • Transcript

    Are male managers blocking gender equality efforts within their businesses? New research suggest that is happening in too many cases right across the UK. We’ll take a look at that.

    The FT reports on the poll of 1,149 managers conducted by the CMI which has found that two-thirds of male managers believe their organisation could successfully manage future challenges without gender-balanced leadership. In some cases there was active resistance to gender equality initiatives. This is in the news following the widespread condemnation of sexist remarks directed at Aviva chief executive Amanda Blanc at the company’s AGM last month. Commenting on what she experienced, Blanc said that in her opinion overtly sexist behaviour had increased since she took more senior roles in the FS sector despite efforts by campaigners to improve gender balance in the workplace. She said the more senior the role she has taken on, the more overt the unacceptable behaviour she experienced.

    People Management reports on the CMI’s research and quotes Ann Francke, the CMI’s chief executive. She says progress around improving gender diversity is too slow and that more needs to be done to engage with male managers. She said: “There has been too little effort devoted to communicating the enormous benefits that greater equity offers including for better business and organisational performance as all talent is better developed and deployed.”

    We agree with that and it’s a message we have been looking to get across to our clients. Kate Dodd is a diversity and inclusion specialist who is fronting that work and she joined me by video-link to discuss it. I started by asking if she was surprised by the CMI’s report:

    Kate Dodd: “I'm not surprised by it. I suppose I was a bit surprised by the sheer volume of men who apparently feel like this - it was higher than I thought it would be - but actually I almost think that headlines like this are almost part of the problem. I suppose the reason that men and, actually, some women, interestingly enough 13%, also said that they felt that there was too much time and effort spent on gender equality. Now, that was massively outweighed by, I think it was 47%, of women who felt there wasn't enough time spent on gender equality, but the fact that there are some women who feel the same does demonstrate, actually, that there is obviously some fatigue around this topic and that there is obviously a feeling within some workplaces of what's the point of it? So, it's not being done on meritocracy, it's unfair, it gives people an advantage and that, I think, is the problem really here. What we need to be trying to do is to tackle the reasons why people can't see that things like equality are good in the workplace, and why they feel threatened by them.”

    Joe Glavina: “So what’s your advice to HR, Kate?”

    Kate Dodd: “Well, I suppose I would say it's simple, but it's not actually at all simple. What we need to do is to inform and educate and I don't mean training. I don't think that you can train people into being supportive of others. I think what we need to do is to provide education and provide opportunities for people to get involved in things and to learn and to understand about them. I'm talking about things like workshops, for example, micro-learning these opportunities to understand the benefits because, I think, actually, there is a huge amount of male allies out there, huge numbers of people who will see that headline and feel a bit depressed and a bit fed up by it. There are also people who will feel, you know, that they're doing their best, that they are supportive of females and yet they feel sometimes that they get masked into this crowd of people who are not supportive. So, I think if my advice to HR would be to continue to support to push the agenda, but to really focus on the business benefits of this so that people understand when we're talking about gender equality, when we're talking about making sure that women have a seat at the table and that their voices are heard, it’s not being done for token reasons, rather it's being done because, of course, enhancing creativity, enhancing diversity of thought, enhancing the voices that are heard at that table will be really beneficial from a business perspective, not just in terms of decision making, but there is evidence to say that sometimes decisions will be less risky if they're taken by a more diverse group, but also just representing different voices, representing different types of consumers, different types of clients and customers. Having that ability to have those voices heard from a business benefit perspective, I think, is going to be the key to getting over this tokenism and to starting to help people to understand the business, the profit-related business benefits of equality.”

    Joe Glavina: “What do you make of the headline, Kate, that male managers are blocking gender balance efforts? It’s an emotive statement, isn’t it?”

    Kate Dodd: “I think the danger of a headline of this type is that it actually makes people more ingrained in their thought processes. People see this and say, right, well, yet again, it's men being blamed, particularly white men being blamed for these problems and that's not fair. It also has the tendency to do the exact opposite of what we want to do in relation to inclusion, which is to generalise, and to create groups, so that people feel that they aren't being seen as individual, and that they're being seen as part of a kind of a mass or a problem. Therefore, I think, what we should be doing when we see these types of stats is rather than saying, gosh, isn't this depressing and, of course, there are men who will be holding women back, and there will be women who are holding women back, and there'll be women who are holding men back and this happens, and that's part of life, but what we do with these types of headlines is we sometimes see that the problem gets worse because people feel defensive and they feel like, okay, well, I'm doing my best here and yet still I'm being kind of peppered with these types of headlines telling me that I should be doing more, I should be doing different differently and therefore what's the point? Why bother?”

    That research by the CMI is the result of a poll they carried out between 21st and 26th April involving 1,149 managers across the UK. It’s headline is ‘CMI research reveals chasm between male and female managers’ views on need for more gender-balanced leadership and opportunities’ and you can read about it on the CMI’s website. We’ve put a link to that in the transcript of this programme.


    - Link to CMI report

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