Why is workplace gender equality still so difficult to achieve? Much of the answer may lie in an unexpected place: how traditional masculinity keeps men tied to the strenuous expectations of many organizational cultures.
Why do organizations still struggle with gender equality at senior levels? Largely, it may be because men still feel culturally constrained to relentlessly pursue status in the workplace—preventing them from sharing nonwork responsibilities with their partners in a way that would allow women to more easily advance.
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Deloitte’s new report The design of everyday men investigates men’s experiences with work, family, and masculinity to explore the impact of organizational and cultural expectations on their behavior both within and outside the workplace. Based on an intensive ethnographic study of 16 professional men in and around the Greater Toronto Area, the study concludes that business leaders have a significant opportunity to change organizational cultures to enable men to approach gender equality, not just as supporters, but as active participants.
Today’s “always on, always available” workplace culture is a key factor holding back gender equality at senior organizational levels, the study finds. Individuals often prioritize work over family, personal commitments, and well-being to rise to the top,1 and men may be more predisposed to making this tradeoff at the expense of their outside-of-work commitments. Women then wind up picking up the slack on household and other nonwork responsibilities, thereby disadvantaging themselves by becoming unable to adhere to the “always on, always available” expectation as easily.2
The study revealed four themes that keep professional men tied to traditional gender roles and hold them back from evolving, each with implications for business leaders:
Business leaders have both the power and the responsibility to lead change for everyone. Men are heavily influenced by role models in organizations and learn from them what behaviors lead to success. To help achieve gender equality, business leaders can set an example for all individuals to follow by pursuing three related actions.
First, leaders should recognize that the “always on, always available” expectation for success is a leading cause of gender inequality. Organizations that evolve away from an “always on, always available” culture may even improve business results beyond delivering diversity and inclusion benefits. Research has repeatedly shown that working more hours leads to poorer outcomes in ways ranging from poorer interpersonal communication and impaired judgment to increased insurance costs and higher employee turnover.3 Further, specifically for knowledge workers, scheduled and predictable time off improves business outcomes such as overall productivity and quality of output.4
Second, business leaders should reflect on their own behaviors to understand the expectations they are setting for what success looks like and how to achieve it. Reflections can include discussions with others that cover:
Third, business leaders and organizations can take action to start breaking down the barriers to change and building more gender equality. Actions for business leaders to consider include:
On a broader level, organizations can:
The time is now for business leaders to enable and encourage men to take an active part in creating a more equal and inclusive future. If they do, organizations will be more competitive, women will be more empowered, and men will be more fulfilled.
Download the full report, The design of everyday men, to learn more about how business leaders and organizations can lead change to help close the gender gap.