Masculinity in the Workplace 2022: the power of vulnerability

Posted on Thursday 08 December 2022 | IAB UK

Find out what we took away from this annual event, which marks International Men's Day and aims to engage men in conversations about gender and how better to dismantle gender systems.

Masculinity in the Workplace is an event founded and run by Roxanne Hobbs, founder of The Hobbs Consultancy and Daniele Fiandaca, founder of Token Man. This year the focus was how men can stay relevant in the workplace, which was picked by the organisation after assessing the different pressures men are facing at work. These include talking about their mental health, adopting new leadership styles and the chance to spend more time with their children. Throughout the afternoon we heard perspectives from different experts on ways men can stay relevant in the workplace.

Change the system

Laura Bates, author, keynote speaker and founder of the Everyday Sexism Project, hosted a session on how men can stay relevant by changing the system. She explored how the gender equity discussion can be misconstrued, stating that achieving gender equity does not look like elevating women to men’s detriment, but standing up to the prejudices both men and women face.

The Everyday Sexism Project provides both men and women with the space to discuss gender-based discrimination, with a significant number of men sharing instances of sexism, including facing ridicule for asking for extended leave to care for a newborn child. It also enables men to gain an understanding of the issues affecting women, from challenges facing young girls, to women missing out on promotions due to being labelled a ‘maternity risk’.

As Bates explained, gender equity makes business sense, with an 80% improvement in business performance achieved when levels of D&I are high from a 2012 study by Deloitte. However, it’s integral that organisations don’t pay lip service to gender equity issues but are making systemic change, an issue illuminated by the gender pay gap bot - a social media account sharing organisations gender pay gaps in response to their International Women’s Day posts.

The inclusive leadership gap

Next we moved to the top three takeaways of this year’s Masculinity in the Workplace survey. The survey results revealed an ongoing inclusive leadership gap, with more needed to be done to engage men and to foster a culture of allyship.

When asked how inclusive their culture is in the workplace, 50% of respondents said that they are at the start of their journey or the culture is exclusionary. In a deep dive on vulnerability, 41% of respondents believe it is dangerous to show vulnerability in the workplace. Traditional masculine leadership skills were revealed to still be dominant and, while inclusive skills are being recognised, they are not yet embedded in the work cultures.

Challenging narrow perceptions of masculinity

Next up at the event we heard from Christopher Veal, host of The Vulnerable Man podcast and speaker and author of The Whole Man. He explored why we need to show grace to men that want to engage in the gender equity conversation, the impact of cancel culture and a common theme of the event: why the definitions of masculinity need to evolve.

Addressing the narrow confines of masculinity portrayed in the media, Veal said that this conveys a dangerous message that men and boys should suppress their emotions. To challenge this, society must collectively work to evolve what we define as masculine characteristics, including teaching young boys how to experience emotions beyond anger and to create spaces where men can be a part of the conversation.

In relation to cancel culture, Veal said that while people are responsible for their actions, it is important to recognise that people change and we interact with the person that is here now. He added that if a person is showing up with good intentions, they should be supported.

Lean into the conversation

We then moved to an insightful session featuring perspectives from different generations on how men can stay relevant in the workplace. The panel included Steve Hobbs, Founder and Coach, Nana Bempah, Founder and CEO of POCC, and Jack Parsons, CEO at Youth Group.

Parsons’ advice to men was to be the role model that you needed for a young person, helping young men to have more ‘work awareness’ through mentoring and positive male role models. He further emphasised how it’s not men that aren’t welcome in gender equity conversations, but outdated ideas of masculinity.

Bempah urged the audience to reflect on the traditional roles of masculinity and observe how they serve society. As well as urging leaders to create work environments people don’t want to exit, she encouraged men to be vulnerable and to share power.

Hobbs said that men struggling with changing expectations should work on understanding themselves and the contribution they want to make in the world. He advised men to lean into conversation and agreed with Parsons’ comment on the importance of male role models.

Stay relevant by being wrong

To close, James O'Brien, award-winning LBC radio presenter and author, spoke to the audience about how men can stay relevant by sometimes being wrong. O'Brien began the session by saying he was here “more as a case study than an expert” and explained a period of his life when he could never be wrong, and what had caused this behaviour.

When exploring the topic of toxic masculinity, James noted that these behaviours are learned and no one is ‘born poisoned’. Yet these characteristics can be rewarded within society, from states of

hypervigilance to self-defence - but at what cost is this to the people around you - from the workplace to loved ones. He emphasised that it’s the systems and society that need to change to ensure these characteristics don’t verge into toxic as a means of survival.

Find out more about Masculinity in the Workplace here.

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