5 Practical Things Men Can Do For Gender Equality At Work

“Raising awareness” is fine, but if you want to be a part of bringing about real change, there’s a lot of work to be done.

5 Practical Things Men Can Do For Gender Equality At Work
[Photo: Flickr user Susan Sermoneta]

There is no shortage of advice for women who want a more level playing field at work:


We should learn to accept criticism, stop apologizing, change our tone of voice, learn how to negotiate, sit at the table, and “lean in,” yet still find that elusive work-life balance at the same time.

But we will never reach equality with only one gender putting forth all the effort.

In fact, studies have shown that the best people to promote both gender and racial diversity at work are . . . white men.

Programs like the recently announced UNWomen initiative #HeForShe campaign aim to raise awareness that women’s issues are men’s issues too, but once your awareness is raised, then what?

The dismal numbers of women in top positions at many companies (only 4.6% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women), the lack of women in Silicon Valley, and the persistent pay gap (women still earn 78 cents for every dollar men earn) can seem insurmountable. But there are small, yet impactful things that every man can do in the name of equality. Here are five ways to get started:


1. If You Have It, Take Parental Leave (And Encourage Other Men To Do So Too).

It’s pretty well known that the U.S. policy on paid parental leave is dismal. Out of 185 countries reviewed in a 2014 report by International Labor Organization, only two–the United States and Papua New Guinea–did not have public policies for paid maternity leave.

But parental leave isn’t just a women’s issue, it’s a working parent issue. More accurately, it’s an issue for everyone, because stressed-out, finically strained employees aren’t good for business.

Not only do too few companies consider extending paid leave to new fathers, when they do, men rarely take advantage of the entire leave. While a 2011 study of men at four large companies found that approximately 85% of new fathers take some time off after the birth of a child, the vast majority of them only took off a week or two. And a 2012 study of college professors found that only 12% of fathers took paid parental leave when it was offered, compared with 69% of mothers.

It’s not the norm for men to take off much more than a week or two when they have a child, even though more than 75% of the men in the 2012 survey said they would have liked to have spent more time with their new children.

Via the WSJ

But that doesn’t mean that working fathers can’t change the precedent. Working moms face the “Mommy Tax”; they are viewed as not as serious or committed to their jobs, or face assumptions that they will leave after they have a baby. Having men shoulder some of the burden can shift that balance.


In two-parent households, parenting should be a partnership. So, instead of pressuring women to figure out how to overcome workplace obstacles or navigate the biases that they’ll face when their family situation changes, why don’t we shift our perspective to ask the same from the other half of the partnership?

The more men speak up for their wishes to spend time with their families and share the burdens of new parenthood, the less sigma there will be for both men and women to take time off, and the less pressure and strain everyone will feel. And the more male managers who lead by example, the more both men and women will feel that parenthood at work isn’t a liability.

2. Share the Second Shift

Speaking of parenting, there can’t be gender equality in the office if when working parents get home, women do the lion’s share of the housework and childcare. And while we’ve made considerable strides since this data was recorded in the 1960s, we are still far from an even split.

On an average day, women will spend more than two hours and 10 minutes doing housework while men spend one hour and 17 minutes, . Meanwhile, 2011 data from ATUS and Pew Research Center showed that working fathers spend an average of 7.3 hours a week with their children, while working moms log an average of 13.5 hours a week.

Via USA Today

This extends beyond just working parents, though. Any couple living together shares household responsibilities, and there is no reason why those responsibilities should fall more women’s shoulders than men’s. The belief the women are inherently “better” at cooking and cleaning, or President Obama’s recent assertion men need to be “trained” by women in domestic matters isn’t only embarrassingly outdated, but it’s insulting to both genders.


Just as navigating new parenthood and work isn’t just a women’s issue, neither is work-life balance. Sometimes the man in the relationship needs to make dinner or pick up the kids so the women can work late, sometimes it’s the other way around.

And if you are a parent, teaching little boys the sorts of life skills that Obama jokingly mentions that adult men lack and modeling that behavior is a great way to ensure that when they are husbands, their wives don’t end up in the same disproportionate relationships women are in today.

Aside from more evenly splitting the work that happens after office hours, we need to change the way we talk about work-life balance–namely, that it’s a question we need to start asking men, and that men need to start talking about publicly.


For every female leader who is asked how she manages to find work life balance, let’s ask the same of male leaders: How do you manage to be both a father and a CEO?

3. Mentor (both men and women)

We’ve written extensively on the importance of mentorship for career success. But in most cases, mentorships don’t cross gender lines. It’s extremely important for young women to have role models and get advice from women who have navigated the similar career hurdles.

But with such a lack of women in top positions in almost every industry, especially in STEM fields, there is also a lack of mentorship opportunities for women starting out to learn from the people who have the jobs that we need them to someday fill.

In the most successful mentoring relationships, the mentor learns from the mentee as well, so it behooves men to take on mentees who have different experiences and backgrounds.

4. Pay Attention To Double Standards In Language

It turns out that women are guilty of this one in some cases, too. We use different words to describe women than we do to describe men. And those words often promote a double standard. Consider: found that not only did women receive far more critical feedback than men, the criticism that they received was almost always about their personalities, rather than they actual performance.


Not only that, but the same behavior in men was described differently when it was displayed by women: A man “needed to be more patient” while a woman was “abrasive” or “judgmental.”

Further, we often use words that qualify a woman’s accomplishments by her gender. For example, you likely would never call someone a “male venture capitalist” or a “dadtrepreneur,” yet few bat an eye at using qualifiers like female VC and momtrepreneur.

As long as we continue to have one set of language for men and another for women, or put women’s gender in front of their professions, we perpetuate the belief (unconscious or not) that women are or should be on playing by a different (and unequal) set of rules.


5. Don’t Participate In Panels Of A Bunch Of White Men

We have to lead the changes we want to see in our industries. If you are asked to speak on a panel of a bunch of white dudes, be the voice that speaks up for diversity. Ask to bring in women and women and minorities doing interesting work on the topic in question.

Everyone loves to tout their innovative thinking and disruptive businesses, but how innovative or disruptive can you really be when all of your perspective come from the same group of people?

These five things are just the start. We’d love to hear your ideas for how we can move toward a more equitable workplace. Leave a comment below, or during our Live Chat on Men’s Roles In Gender Equality on Wednesday December 3rd at 11 a.m. Eastern.

About the author

Kathleen Davis is Deputy Editor at Previously, she has worked as an editor at, and Popular Photography magazine.