Why Men Avoid Gender Parity Initiatives

Nov 27, 2017
As Featured In 
Organization Science

To Achieve Workplace Gender Parity, Men Must Get Involved

How can companies make meaningful strides toward gender equality in the workplace?

Research shows that an essential step in achieving any organizational change is to summon the involvement of the entire workforce, says Subra Tangirala, associate professor of management and organization at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business.

But that may prove complicated for issues of gender equality in the workplace. When it comes to efforts aimed at improving gender parity, male colleagues often are found to be reluctant to engage, research shows. Men, who typically constitute the majority in organizations and hold more positions of power and influence, often keep quietly to the sidelines on gender issues, as they do in few other workplace endeavors.

Tangirala and Smith School PhD graduate Elad N. Sherf, in recent research, explored why that is.

From four correlational and experimental studies, the researchers found that men frequently refrain from taking an active role in gender parity initiatives because they feel they lack the psychological standing to do so. In other words, they felt they didn’t have a legitimate claim to participate in conversations about the issue. “This explanation held even when other possible explanations, such as possible prejudicial attitude or sexism on the part of men, were taken into account,” the authors wrote.

But for gender parity initiatives to succeed, they need male participants. Without them, change initiatives often become marginalized, labeled as “women’s issues,” and fall short of achieving the clout required to resonate with internal stakeholders.

Research also has shown that men become more supportive of gender equality when they are included in conversations about the issues — even when those men had initially held negative and sexist views about women in the workplace.

Generally, men’s attitudes toward equality across genders has become more positive in recent years. Men who publicly support gender parity programs can effectively blunt resistance to such initiatives, essentially creating an “in-group” of equality advocates, the researchers say.

Companies can take steps toward increasing men’s participation in such initiatives, the researchers found. They recommend paying close attention to the way in which they invite men to participate, making sure to emphasize the legitimate role that male employees can play in helping the company reach a goal.

Read more: It Is Not My Place! Psychological Standing and Men’s Voice and Participation in Gender-Parity Initiatives is featured in Organization Science.

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. His research has been published in academic journals such as the Academy of Management Journal, Journal of Applied Psychology, Organizational Science, Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, and Personnel Psychology. Tangirala received his PhD in organizational behavior and human resources from Purdue University. Prior to his doctoral studies, he worked for several years as a human resources manager.

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Robert H. Smith School of Business
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