Engaging men for women’s empowerment
The support of influential men for gender equality, will both accelerate progress and achieve better outcomes for women. Greater interdependence and mutually supportive relations, are essential to disrupting gender norms and achieving meaningful change. However we must realise that even with the support of men for equality, there are deep seated social attitudes which operate to impede an equitable relationship with women.
A critical point discussed at the Philippines – Australia ASEAN Women’s Economic Empowerment Forum held recently, is the issue that a significant portion of women across societies have dropped out of the workforce in exchange for care work, with many experiencing difficulty reintegrating. Discussions during the Forum called for men and women to equally share in care work as an important step to genuinely attain gender equality in the workplace.
Stepping up alongside women
For the Male Champions of Change (MCC), an organization based in Australia, “Advocating for gender equality, relying on women alone to change the status quo is not effective enough. Therefore, men must step up beside women to help achieve a significant and sustainable increase in the representation of women in leadership.” This was the view that the MCC Chair and Non-Executive Director, Kevin McCann shared at the Forum.
MCC has been redefining the role of men in taking meaningful action to disrupt the status quo and help advance gender equality in the workplace. Their insight is simple, “to make real progress on gender equality, we need powerful, decent men to step up beside women to create a level playing field for women to shine.”
When MCC was established in 2010, they brought together CEOs of large multinational corporations in Australia, such as ANZ, Telstra, Deloitte, KPMG, and heads of Australian government agencies, to discuss issues that women faced in the workplace and what can be done to address these. MCC made sure that they worked within typically male dominated sectors such as in construction, tourism, and sports. Moreover, they also targeted their advocacy work towards shaping national discussion through media. CEOs of large companies are increasingly making women’s empowerment a business priority in their companies because they know it is good for business performance.
“We called on all leaders to set women in their leadership targets. We also committed to more robust standards of reporting progress in reaching our vision, which helped us know first where we stood, and how much work needed to be done,” McCann noted.
A significant target which MCC and its allies (Thirty Percent Club, Chief Executive Women and Australian Institute of Company Directors) have achieved, is that the ASX top fifty companies now have Boards of which thirty percent are women. Moreover, out of all of MCC’s members, 37 percent have achieved 40-60 percent of women’s participation in the leadership committee of their respective companies.
McCann also touched on the issue of appointing or promoting someone in the workplace based on merit. This is often used to conceal a variety of biases that prevent women’s progress at work.
“There is still a gap between the belief in- and the application of- a merit-based system and confronting this ‘merit trap’ can help businesses expand opportunities and achieve true meritocracy,” McCann noted.
Why invest in women?
Women have made great strides towards gender equality—for example, females are more educated than ever before—however, they remain underrepresented in the world of work, particularly in leadership roles.
This reality is also reflected when we look at data on women in the Philippines: despite ranking highly (seventh) in the World Economic Forum gender parity index, only 47 percent of Filipino women are in the workforce compared to 73 percent of men. Only 30 percent of women occupy high political positions, and only 30 percent of firms in the Philippines include women in top management. Among Board of Directors of publicly traded companies in the country, only 12 percent are females.
These statistics demonstrate that gender equality is more than a social issue – it is a critical economic challenge. In a 2016 study by McKinsey and Company, it was found that if the Philippines were to increase women’s workforce participation by one percentage point each year, by 2025, this would add $40 billion to the country’s gross domestic product, equivalent to a 9 percent increase.
The involvement of the private sector is critical to the achievement of women’s economic empowerment, as demonstrated by the initiatives of MCC.
There is much to be learned from MCC’s experience. MCC suggests four principles for organizations: 1) Step up beside women; 2) Treat women’s representation as a business priority; 3) Own your numbers and share lessons; and 4) Fix the system, not women.
“It takes both women and men to shape a more gender-equal world,” McCann emphasized, and this applies to our everyday actions wherever we are, whether at home or at the workplace.