What about the men?


14th March 2024

Read Time

5 mins

Do you think women’s equality has gone too far? If so, you’re part of a substantial minority. 48% of people agree that things have gone so far in promoting women’s equality and that men are being discriminated against.

Increasing numbers of people believe women are now ‘equal enough’ and that further advancement will disadvantage men. We’re seeing this conversation in many places – especially in the workplace.

As a woman working in recruitment with young adult sons, I see this as a multi-faceted situation. It’s certainly not as simple as ‘women are now in charge’; the facts speak for themselves. As of August 2023, there were only nine female CEOs in the FTSE 100, and, at the time of writing, women serve as heads of state in just 13 countries worldwide.

Yet, change is occurring. And as is often the case, this change feels uncomfortable for some, especially younger men.


Establishing a career is tough for everyone

Depending on your perspective, the shift towards a more equitable workplace may feel uneasy.  Organisations increasingly want to portray themselves as forward-thinking, inclusive and equitable. An easy way to do that is to bring female employees into client meetings, use female employees in PR photography and website images, and – dare we say it – proactively favour female candidates over males during recruitment. It’s something we also see played out with many other protected characteristics.

I believe this is overall positive. By bringing underrepresented groups into the picture, organisations can encourage greater representation in due course. And we know diversity and inclusion is good for business. Organisations with gender-balanced boards outperform those who do not. A similar story plays out for racial balance.

Yet, where does this leave those who aren’t in the spotlight?


Change is never easy

The proactive advancement of women in the workplace might feel like rubbing salt in the wound. Boys and men don’t have a charmed existence. Men are more likely to die by suicide, boys are less likely to succeed academically, and more likely to be sucked into organised crime. The legacy of unhelpful expectations on men – boys don’t cry, man up, sow your wild oats – leaves many young men feeling confused and alienated in a post-#MeToo world where the highest-grossing movie of last summer – Barbie, and its patriarch-bashing message – is pushed front and centre.

Pitched against this are influencers such as Tate and the Incel movement. Even for those who proudly state their feminist principles, life is challenging. Certainly more challenging than it was for their fathers and grandfathers.

Few people disagree with this. Kate Manne, philosopher and author of Down Girl, recognises the challenges with this shift in balance. She states that dismantling the bastions of privilege ‘may feel not only like a comedown but also an injustice to the [previously] privileged’.

And we’re seeing this sense of injustice being reflected politically, at odds with the stereotypical perception of woke Gen Z. The headlines tell us Generation Z is politically progressive. Yet, data says otherwise. Gen Z men are more likely to say they’re not feminists – 43% agree the label describes them vs 52% of Millennial men. Interestingly, the only generation who would describe themselves as less feminist than Gen Z men are Baby Boomer men.


Back to the workplace

I believe the problem is not that we need to stop giving chances to those who’ve been systematically disadvantaged. However, I recognise that clumsily handled positive discrimination is bad for everyone.

So, what can we do about it?

Employers everywhere need to stop and think. How can we ensure everyone feels heard? What can we do to make sure all employees recognise the benefits that come with this creaking, arduous shift? Yes, men must demonstrate allyship at all levels. But women should act as allies for men, too.

The Game of Life doesn’t have podiums for first and second place. Choose to support each other, and everyone can win.