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International Women’s Day: How can we #balanceforbetter?

Insight

04 March 2019

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By Alison Maitland, Director of Research and Product

 

Few people would argue with the slogan #Balanceforbetter, the focus of International Women’s Day (IWD) 2019. It’s a mantra to drive a better working world.

 

But, there’s a small but significant voice in the UK that thinks we don’t need to keep doing this IWD thing anymore. In a comprehensive Ipsos Mori Poll commissioned for IWD in 2018 25% of people in the UK agreed with the statement, “When it comes to giving women equal rights, things have gone far enough.”

 

Are you shocked?

 

Perhaps these are not short-sighted individuals, just naively unaware of the current situation.

 

In the same survey, when asked when, at current rate of progress, was “equal pay likely in the UK”, the average was predicted to be 2035. In fact, Ipsos Mori explain that parity on pay is not estimated to be reached until 2117 – that’s an 82-year underestimate by people on how fast progress will be.

 

The Ipsos Mori survey is global and doesn’t define what it means by “equal pay” – but when people were answering the question they may have been considering both the legal requirement laid out in the Equality Act 2010 and the more recent requirements on Gender Pay Gap reporting1. (which are two very different things). Either way, the interesting point the survey makes is the stark difference between reality and people’s perceptions of the pace of change in equality. Add to that some 40% of people in the UK believe equality will be achieved in their lifetime, this hides a significant misperception of the current rate of improvement in equality for women.

 

This data made me stop in my tracks. I wondered if we are fishing in the wrong pond, focussing solely on women and girls? Don’t get me wrong, I am not joining the chorus of people saying we have gone far enough. Far from it. There is much still to do. But maybe we need to add to the solutions we propose on equality, inclusion and diversity. Should we look at a second gender category and focus on men and boys too2?

 

For the first time ever, the American Psychological Society (APA), which governs research and practicing psychologists, released guidelines last year to help psychologists work with men and boys (guidelines for women and girls have been in place for more than a decade).

 

At first blush, this might seem unnecessary. For decades, psychology focused on men (particularly white men), to the exclusion of all others. And men still dominate professionally and politically: the Mori poll quoted earlier found that just 3% of the world’s largest companies had a female CEO (even though people, when asked, estimated that the number of female CEOs was 19%, again highlighting people’s disparity).

 

But the APA believes something is amiss for men as well. In the United States men commit 90% of homicides and represent 77% of homicide victims. They’re the demographic group most at risk of being victimized by violent crime. They are 3.5 times more likely than women to die by suicide, and their life expectancy is 4.9 years shorter than women’s. Boys are far more likely to be diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder than girls, and they face harsher punishments in school—especially boys of colour.

 

These guidelines draw on more than 40 years of research showing “that traditional masculinity is psychologically harmful and that socializing boys to suppress their emotions causes damage that echoes both inwardly and outwardly.”

 

So this IWD, make sure you continue to #balanceforbetter, to make sure it doesn’t take 82 years to get to pay equality for women. And, following the intent of the new APA guidelines, get the message out to men—that they’re adaptable, emotional and capable of engaging fully outside of rigid norms. As the APA claims, “If psychologists can focus on supporting men in breaking free of masculinity rules that don’t help them, the effects could spread beyond just mental health for men…if we can change men…we can change the world.”

 

1 Estimates of how long the gender pay gap will take to close are between 20 and something like 60 years.

2We recognise the non-binary nature of gender

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