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Working life is tough for men too – ‘Gender equality should cut both ways’ – Leimon

by: Averil Leimon, director of The White Water Group
  • 06/06/2017
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Working life is tough for men too – ‘Gender equality should cut both ways’ – Leimon
The modern business world is a rapidly evolving one with the traditional gender roles merging as workplace boundaries blur and eventually vanish. But where does this leave the established male role models?

Rapist footballers, high profile paedophiles, corrupt sporting officials, questionable bankers, bullying politicians – life is full of examples of men behaving badly.

So, what is going on and is something going wrong with men? Above all, where is the debate about what it means to be a man today?

Women are becoming increasingly vocal again about the value they bring to organisations, their changing roles, key strengths and the need for fairness.

For some men, this can be a threat to their masculine values and the way of doing things that they have held to all their lives – working hard, following stoically in the footsteps of fathers and grandfathers, despite a changing social landscape.

 

Positive equality

Gender equality threatens emasculation if classic male qualities are undervalued, and even ridiculed, especially if women are clearly competing for jobs.

It is in the best interest of both genders to respect and value the other’s characteristics. Otherwise all that is happening is a reversal of the polarity of prejudice.

The strengths we traditionally celebrate in men in business are bravery, focus, stoicism, ambition and determination. While these strengths are often rewarded with success, position and power, they come at a cost.

Working long hours destroys opportunities for intimacy and a replenishing hinterland. Continually climbing the ladder can leave relationships behind and cause Imposter Syndrome, stress and gradual, terminal dissatisfaction.

 

Evolving roles

Younger men are changing. Men are more engaged in childcare, housework and domestic decisions.

They want a more significant role in family life but this is still often ignored by their employers.

The restraints of the way many organisations currently function make it difficult for men as well as women to have full and satisfying lives, even when there is legislation to allow for it; parental leave, flexible working and remote working are all great if you can run the gamut of teasing and career-limiting disapproval that many experience.

The balance has shifted for Millenials and for those families where women have careers.

However, less change is visible at the most senior levels of the corporate world where a generation of ‘sleeping beauties’ exist – well educated, professional women who have given up their own careers to raise children and support ambitious, well paid men.

This group is becoming more outmoded but still has little conception of the lives of either the men or the women below them in the organisation.

 

Future generations

Now girls outperform boys at school. More girls will go to university and will graduate with better degrees.

Women are advancing into classically male domains, for example this year there will be more female than male doctors qualifying.

Men are not being encouraged to expand their own horizons despite the decline of traditionally male areas of employment such as manufacturing.

While movements like #thisgirlcan are long overdue, there is no equivalent for boys.

There are other issues too: past male supremacy has cost men dear in terms of extreme pressure and health risks. Suicide is now the biggest killer of men under 35 in Britain, taking more lives than car accidents, cancer or heart disease.

Its incidence in men has risen dramatically due predominantly to cultural change.

 

Visible answers

Gender equality should cut both ways – ensuring equal opportunities for men and women to have successful careers and satisfying professional lives.

Many men have never really felt they had a choice to do things differently because, to borrow a phrase from the women’s movement, “you can’t be what you can’t see”.

To make this new masculinity visible to men who want to change we need to address some important questions and celebrate the answers:

  • Where are the good male role models who can be an inspiration for change?
  • Where are the good fathers who raise respectful boys and confident girls?
  • Where are the good leaders who demonstrate their values through their behaviour?
  • Where are the modern male role models who embody the best aspects of masculinity?

 

Averil Leimon is a director at White water Group, an executive coaching consultancy based in London Bridge. 

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