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A question for men on women's day

Tuesday 8 March is International Women's Day (IWD). The official website for 2022 invites readers to:

imagine a gender equal world. A world free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination. A world that is diverse, equitable, and inclusive. A world where difference is valued and celebrated. Together we can forge women's equality. Collectively we can all #BreakTheBias

Cue photo opportunity to strike the #BreakTheBias pose and direct you to our ongoing series of blogs on bias, all linked through If you're biased and you know it, clap your hands.

Three women with arms raised and crossed in break the bias pose.
L to R: Dinah, Hilary, and Kristen strike the pose.

And my question for men:

What effort are you going to make today, and tomorrow, and the day after to welcome and retain female talent in your workplace?

This question is inspired by Eva Helén's book Women in Tech - A Book for Guys. The premise of the book is that men must be part of the necessary correction to gender imbalance and inequality in the IT industry. The concept applies to any workplace.

Helén is a tech entrepreneur, a woman whose success has not always been acknowledged or assisted by the men around her. She interviewed men to understand why and how they responded to women at work. The result is a range of seven prototypes in a continuum from chauvinist Richard to advocate Mark.

Having described the prototypes, Helén offers suggestions for the actions men can take to move themselves along the continuum. These come from conversations with men in positions of power, and range from simply making the effort to learn through to taking increasingly robust leadership actions. The suggestions are broken into leadership, management, and culture actions. Here are some examples at the different levels.

  • For men just beginning to realise their potential to contribute to positive change, the suggestions include 'get to know a woman on your team' and 'educate yourself about gender inequality'. Entirely achievable and hardly threatening.

  • For men who are already operating as allies, the actions are more advanced. 'Push back at against HR departments that keep forwarding the same kind of resumes for open positions' and 'Be willing to lose business deals in order to set new standards of behaviour and to demonstrate your commitment to gender equality.' Such actions risk men's comfort, but create the environment for meaningful change.

  • For men who are advocates, the suggested actions demand more. They require men to challenge themselves and other men about beliefs and behaviours. One suggestion is 'Don't ignore men whom women have accused of harassment [...] Talk to him so he doesn't repeat the same behaviour.' A suggestion in the context of culture is 'Challenge the objectification of women.' That last point is sadly pertinent in the light of a so-called anti-mandate protestor in Wellington referring to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern as 'some girl in a skirt on a power trip'.

New Zealand continues to have good representation of women in senior roles across the public service, but that does not mean the job is done. As Eva Helén notes, 'creating a culture that welcomes and retains female talent is continuous work, not a one-time effort.'

So what are you going to do today, tomorrow, and the day after to continue that work?

Incidentally, on a calendar of international days, IWD is preceded by World Tennis Day on 7 March and followed by World Kidney Day on 10 March. Throughout the year, there are days named for asking stupid questions, reading Tolkien, malaria, coal miners, donkeys, and simplicity. Personal favourites: International Talk Like a Pirate Day, International Asteroid Day, and World Wide Knit in Public Day.

International Men's Day is 19 November. The theme for 2021 was 'Better relations between men and women'. My theme suggestion for 2022: 'Men demand equal or better pay for female co-workers'.


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