Zero-sum mentality out, gender equality in

Published on 2 April 2024

“Our work continuously shows that men want gender equality and gender equality wants men. This is not a zero-sum game where some gain and some lose. We are working towards a goal in which everybody feels nurtured and live in a world that’s equitable.” – Chris Hook, Private Sector Engagement Lead at Equimundo.

At the current rate, it will take almost 300 years to achieve gender equality.[1] This slow progress underscores the need for male allies to address gender disparities in the private sector.

Gender equality benefits all members of society, including economies, stakeholders, and corporations. Companies with more gender-inclusive senior leadership, particularly women-owned businesses, rank higher on key Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) risk management indicators.[2] In male-dominated sectors, gender-diverse executive teams are 47 per cent more profitable, and those with gender-diverse boards outperform those during crises.[3] Yet, gender biases, cultural norms, and structural barriers limit women’s leadership opportunities and representation.

In the second session of the 2024 WEPs deep-dive series, speakers from VINCI Construction Grands Projets (VINCI) (a WEPs signatory), Equimundo, and Gender at Work discussed company strategies that tackle gender norms to inspire male allyship and accelerate gender equality.

Patriarchal masculinity and its impacts

Conventional gender norms limit men's roles as fathers and perpetuate gender imbalances in the workplace, like women's professional growth and work-life balance. Approximately 94 per cent of men experience masculine anxiety, i.e. the pressure men feel to conform to societal expectations at work due to patriarchal masculinity.[4] Patriarchal masculinity, the harmful behaviors and attitudes linked to patriarchal notions of masculinity like aggression, leads to negative outcomes for all employees.

“Our research [shows] that study after study, men are looking to divest from the patriarchy and move into spaces that are more nurturing, equitable and nonviolent,” Chris explained.

Raising awareness on the harms of gender norms

In the male-dominated construction industry, VINCI promotes diversity, equality and inclusion (DEI) practices to confront gender norms and biases in the workplace. One of its initiatives "Commit to Diversity" align with Principle 2, to treat all women and men fairly at work without discrimination. 

“Part of this work we created for the Awareness Day ‘Commit to Diversity’, [involves inviting] two renowned professors and specialists in [DEI]. We’ve worked with them to engage in diversity discussions with our team members. We start from where we are as a company, and we [investigate] [what] brought us to our current struggle around diversity and gender,” Claire Dioszegi, Design Project Manager at VINCI described.

Similar approaches by businesses are needed to challenge gender norms in the workplace. Programmes should engage male employees and frame male allyship as beneficial for everyone, promoting a workplace culture that treats everyone equally and fosters positive outcomes for everyone.

Redefining masculinity in corporate settings

Equimundo offers three programmes focused on reshaping masculinity, originally created for community, education, and healthcare settings, but later adapted to various workplace environments. Its Programme H engages men employees in discussions, workshops, and reflections to explore the role of gender and power dynamics. Another programme, Manhood 2.0, focuses on sexual and reproductive health to address mental and reproductive health issues. Programme P focuses on promoting mental health and well-being among men by addressing masculine anxiety and societal pressures through educational sessions, support groups, and awareness campaigns. 

Creating spaces of allyship requires acknowledging root causes of inequality and listening to affected individuals to inspire change. Programmes should engage men in discussions on gender and power dynamics, promoting awareness of challenges associated with traditional gender norms. By unpacking patriarchal masculinity and its impacts, companies can raise awareness among all employees, especially men, about gender equality.

Male leadership for gender equality

Company leaders can also promote gender equality, as per Principle 1: High-level corporate leadership, by redefining parenthood.

“Men in leadership positions can actively promote gender equality within their business by leading by example,” Ahmad Hegab, researcher at Gender at Work, said. 

By challenging standards of patriarchal masculinity related to fatherhood, male leaders can foster environments where all employees feel valued and not bound by gender norms. Embracing a culture that encourages open dialogue can empower all employees to advocate for their needs, creating a more positive work-life balance.

Workplace champions can inspire male allyship and broader societal change 

Individuals across all leadership levels can advocate for gender equality by becoming champions who create cultural shifts in the workplace. 

“We did a study on one person inside a company who knew about the WEPs. She took this to the leadership of the company. We are talking about a construction company in the Middle East where it’s even taboo for a woman to work,” Ahmad recounted. “This champion went to the male leader and said we need to do [these WEPs trainings] to make everyone feel that this workplace is fair and that they support women. He gave her the space to lead, and she did it.” 

VINCI also acknowledges the effectiveness of employing champions to advocate for gender equality by embracing this approach across all levels of the organization, appointing DEI Champions to disseminate good practices.

Recognizing and appointing champions within organizations can drive meaningful change and catalyze broader societal shifts towards gender equality. These efforts not only promote women's leadership. but also encourages active participation from everyone in collective action towards gender equality.

Measuring progress by male allies to track gender equality efforts

Assessing advancements driven by male allies to achieve gender equality and women's empowerment is essential for companies to monitor their impact, track progress, and maintain accountability, as emphasized in Principle 7: Measurement and reporting. 

Companies should measure the effectiveness of programmes, for example those led by male allies aimed at empowering women employees, through gender-specific metrics to assess the impact of male allyship on promoting gender equality. By analyzing data related to the implementation of these initiatives, companies can assess their effectiveness and identify areas for improvement. 

Measuring and reporting progress not only ensures accountability but also highlights the tangible contributions of male allies in driving meaningful change towards gender equality and women's empowerment in the workplace.


Discover how men can be allies for gender equality by watching the recording for this session here.