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The main thing is to change the rules so that the rules don't assume a male norm - that women are compared against.

Why engage men in gender equality initiatives?


A better question would be - why not?


A lack of gender diversity affects everyone. Gender equality can contribute to positive workplace outcomes, which have a flow-on effect to the organisation as a whole. So, it is important for employees - and especially senior leaders - to actively champion workplace equality However, right now the majority of leaders are male. As such, men are often the ones with the power to help address the lack of gender diversity. And they often want to know how to help. 


Improving gender diversity and opportunities for women across all organisational levels is not just a "women’s issue”; it’s a business issue. Organisations that can leverage their diverse workforce see tangible benefits, such as better decision-making, new ideas, and increased innovation [1][2]. Framing gender diversity as a business issue can help with getting broader buy-in across the workplace, including from men with enough influence to effect change.  

All men have close bonds with women in their lives, whether that is their partner, daughter, sisters, mothers, or other family and friends. They want to see their loved ones progressing through organisations without gender-based barriers. The “Daughter water” initiative by the Workplace Gender Equality Agency highlighted research that found organisations with CEOs who had daughters presided over organisations with smaller gender pay gaps. Over 3,000 CEOs who had not conducted a gender pay gap analysis were sent a specially designed bottle of water to try to create a “light bulb” moment [3]. 


Research discusses the role of men in doing and undoing gender. "Doing" or performing gender supports gender inequality by creating gender differences, whereas undoing gender supports gender equality by reducing these differences [4]. One example of this happening is when men form exclusively male work networks, which essentially excludes women from the connections needed to advance in their careers [5]. Informal networking events, such as golf days or after-work drinks, are instances where men are more likely to socialize without the presence of women. Women may feel excluded from masculine events, or have difficulty finding childcare for networking events outside of regular business hours.

The Diversity Council Australia asks, “How can we drive change if we leave half the population out of the discussion?” [6]

Who are the men who support gender equality?

According to the Diversity Council Australia, men with the power to effect change often support gender diversity. However, it's common for men to be uncertain of what they can contribute, or even fear being poorly judged by their male peers. Metz [7] found that being a member of a gender equity group (i.e., a group that includes like-minded men) creates a safe environment for gender discussions. This helped men overcome their concerns about being poorly judged for championing gender diversity.  

Men's motivations for engaging with gender equality initiatives are rich and complex. Metz [7] examined influential men's motivations to join male coalitions for gender equity. Three categories of gender equity group participants were uncovered: supporters, bystanders, and resistors. The category to which an individual belonged was often determined by their personal experience (e.g. personal experience with discrimination), external position (e.g. they are a stakeholder), and their ulterior personal motives (e.g. they are looking to improve their group and their own personal status). The viability of a gender equity group depends on the mix of supporters, bystanders, and resistors; more resistors than supporters make it difficult for a group to survive. 

Bear in mind that not all men are interested in promoting gender equality. Some men may see gender equality as a women’s issue that is irrelevant to them [7]. Men can also sometimes hold biased attitudes that can affect their willingness to promote gender equality. 

It’s important when identifying male champions that you understand their motivation and ensure they’re not resistors (unless you can turn them around!). 

How can we get men to engage with gender equality?


The following 10 principles are from the 2017 Diversity Council Australia’s report “Men make a difference: Engaging men on gender equality, synopsis report” by Flood et al. [6]. 


  1. Get the foundation right – ensure gender equality initiatives involve women and men as active and equal partners 

  2. Engage a diversity of men – including men in different organisational roles and levels, and with a variety of demographic backgrounds (e.g. ages, cultural backgrounds, sexual orientations) 

  3. Get the messaging right – to appeal to men as well as women 

  4. Get the framing right – treat gender equality as a business issue, not a women’s issue. Make sure this is aligned with the organisation’s business strategy. 

  5. Go wide – make visible and target all key gender equality areas (i.e. paid work, power and decision making, financial security, personal safety, interpersonal work relationships, caring and community involvement) 

  6. Educate about how to lead change effectively – by resourcing initiatives, being visible and persistent, and “walking the talk” 

  7. Make the connection between work and home – by implementing initiatives that encourage gender equality in caregiving 

  8. Build individuals’ gender confidence and capability – by providing opportunities for both men and women to change their mindsets, assumptions and behaviours 

  9. Make the connection between work and communities – by framing gender inequality as a societal/community problem 

  10. Encourage men and women to challenge and change gender-biased organisational policies and practices

What can men do to help?

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is there a senior leader from your institution that could take on the role of a male champion (e.g., Male Champions of Change)?

    • If not, could it be you? 

  • Does your institution have its own Male Champions group? 


Start a group:

The Male Champions of Change invites senior leaders to make contact with them for collaboration on setting up groups of male champions and setting practical strategies. Click here for ways to take practical action.

Further reading

  • The 2017 Diversity Council Australia’s report “Men make a difference: Engaging men on gender equality" provides further details on 10 principles for engaging men, and provides case studies of organisations who have taken up the cause. The report synopsis is available here


  • The Male Champions of Gender Equity Change [7] explores men's reasons for participating in gender equity groups. Understanding their motivations and the type of supporter they are (or aren’t) is important for group viability.

  • The Male Champions of Change website includes videos on taking practical action that can help potential champions expand their knowledge. These can also be used in groups as ideas for practical ways to tackle gender equity. 

Suggested videos

See full reference list
Anchor 1
  1. Herring, C. (2009). Does diversity pay?: Race, gender, and the business case for diversity. American Sociological Review, 74, 208–224.  

  2. Shen, J., Chanda, A., D’Netto, B., & Monga, M. (2009). Managing diversity through human resource management: An international perspective and conceptual framework. The International Journal of Human Resource Management, 20, 235– 251. 

  3. Wilson, L. (2014). Workplace Gender Equality Agency to send “daughter water” to CEOs as part of pay equity campaign. Retrieved from 

  4. Kelan, E. K. (2018). Men doing and undoing gender at work: a review and research agenda. International Journal of Management Reviews, 20(2), 544-558. 

  5. Ely, R., Ibarra, H., & Kolb, D. M. (2011). Taking gender into account: Theory and design for women’s leadership development programs. The Academy of Management Learning and Education, 10, 474–493.  

  6. Flood, M., Russell, G., O’Leary, J. & Brown, C. (2017). Men make a difference: Engaging men on gender equality, synopsis report. Diversity Council Australia, Sydney, Australia. 

  7. Metz, I. (2016). Male Champions of Gender Equity Change. Melbourne Business School, The University of Melbourne. 

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