Bringing Men to the Gender Inequality Table

Sep 19, 2017
Management
As Featured In 
Organization Science

Why Men Stay on the Sidelines for Gender Parity

As gender inequality in the workplace continues, organizations are launching gender parity programs to combat the pervasive problem. But diversity officers and leaders are facing a roadblock: Men, who often constitute the majority in organizations and hold more positions of power and influence, just aren’t interested in initiatives aimed at creating gender parity.

While it’s easy to write that disinterest off as a prejudicial attitude or sexism, research by Subra Tangirala, associate professor of management and organization at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business, indicates otherwise. In a paper recently published in Organization Science, Tangirala and co-author Elad N. Sherf (New York University) uncovered a different reason for why men stay on the sidelines when it comes to dealing with gender disparity: They don’t think it’s their place to engage with such issues.

So if more companies are spearheading gender parity programs at the organizational level, but male employees don’t feel like it’s a topic they should speak on or be involved with, how will change ever be effected?

It’s a conundrum for the ages, and it’s one that Tangirala is working to figure out. He outlines one possible solution in the Harvard Business Review: adjusting how gender parity programs are presented.

Tangirala’s research suggests that adjusting how gender parity programs are communicated and framed could affect men’s willingness to participate. In one study, providing additional information that reinforced the importance of both men’s and women’s participation in gender parity programs — for example, a CEO’s message outlining just that — resulted in men reporting a greater psychological standing on the issue. In other words, they felt more legitimacy to take part in initiatives that tackle gender disparity.

The bottom line? Without explicit communication that emphasizes why both men and women must be involved in the battle against gender inequality in the workplace, enacting widespread organizational change will be more challenging than it already is. 

Read more: How to Get Men Involved with Gender Parity Initiatives is featured in the Harvard Business Review.

About the Author(s)

Subra Tangirala is Dean's Professor of Management. He teaches the leadership course in the MBA program. In his research, he explores reasons why employees often remain silent despite having information, concerns, or suggestions to share, and what organizations can do to facilitate candid exchange of ideas at the workplace.

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Robert H. Smith School of Business
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