Better Together: Increasing Male Engagement in Gender Equality Efforts in Australia

Mar 2019

Given their predominance in leadership positions, it is critical to ensure that men have an equal stake in gender parity.

The missing link


Gender equality won’t be achieved without significant male engagement.

Corporate Australia remains far from reaching gender parity, so concerted action is still required to balance the scales. Given their predominance in leadership positions, men’s support is critical to achieving gender equality.

In the past year, the proportion of female CEOs in ASX 200 companies went up from 5% to 7%, bringing the total number to 14. That’s important progress. But every step toward equality requires significant effort, rallied by a small base. Most parity programmes are run by women, for women. Meanwhile, executive meetings are overwhelmingly male. The issue of gender parity must become gender equal itself if we are to effect change.

Research tells us that men show less support for gender equality initiatives than women. Why are they less engaged? Some men simply are just not interested in the issue or don’t want to advance gender equality. But those men are the minority. In fact, most men are engaged or want to be. Our research brings additional data to the discussion to propose actionable recommendations to increase the overall engagement of men and dispel myths.

There’s good reason to increase female representation across the workforce. Gender parity has been proven, across geographies and sectors, to positively affect business outcomes. Organisations with greater diversity have greater retention, higher levels of employee advocacy, overall better performance and faster growth—to name just a few of the documented benefits.

And corporate actions can make a difference. When gender equality is treated as a strategic priority, with top-down support and a data-driven approach to setting aspirations and developing programmes, the makeup of the boardroom and executive teams can change. Even in male-dominated industries such as mining, in which the workforce can be about 80% male, companies that commit to diversity are finding gender parity within their reach.

Previous research established which initiatives have the greatest influence on equality: Visible and committed leadership, more broadly available flexible working models, removing bias from people processes and normalising an inclusive culture are all key to meaningful progress. Across these actions, leadership drive and engagement are essential (see “Take action, and celebrate progress: Case study”). From the top down, support for gender equality must be openly committed to, communicated about and acted upon (see the Bain Report What stops women from reaching the top? Confronting the tough issues).

Given their majority in leadership, it is critical to ensure that men have an equal stake in gender parity.

Male engagement today


So, how engaged are men in gender equality efforts in Australia? Beyond counting attendance at gender equality meetings, measuring engagement is not easy. To benchmark their engagement, Bain asked men about their participation and role in activities that support or enable gender diversity.