How do we solve the gender gap?

Lance Wiggs

The #YesAllWoman Twitter stream is the latest voice about the serious issue of the gender gap. There is a lot of coverage elsewhere, but for my part I want to try to summarise what the #YesAllWomen Twitter stream is saying, then ask ourselves, as men what our right response should be.

Three Themes

I'm going to pick just three themes from the Tweet stream, accepting that this is an insufficient summary.

Women are not safe

Women do not feel safe because many of them are not safe in many situations, and almost all take precautions to maintain their safety. Behind the surface are a torrent of stories from women who have been subjected to everything — including child abuse, ultra violence, rape, theft, threats, stalking, shaming and so on and on.

This lack of safety is due to the behaviour of a significant percentage of males, many of whom seem to have little or no understanding of their effect on others, and a few (but enough) of whom have seriously malicious intent.

Women are not treated as equals in society

Beyond safety, women are at a considerable disadvantage in society, education and work. This varies a lot by city, country, school and employer, but it's generally a lot worse than it appears to be from the male perspective.

This disadvantage is due to the institutionalised discrimination from arrangements set up and maintained by men. It's sometimes difficult for men to see how the rules are bad when the rules were made by and for men.

Men are complicit 

While some males may see that these issues are all caused by a minority of other men, all men are still part of the society that tolerates prejudice, violence and worse towards women. That society degrades crime against women, tolerates men who grope, harass or stalk and accepts that male values and behaviour will drive career success. The discrimination makes it far easier for men to succeed than women.

Men, like white people in colonial countries, have a privileged situation in society due to a history of domination and subjugation. It's difficult for them to even see the advantages that have, at home, work or in society, as they see it all through their own lens. However women, who have to moderate their behaviour to be safe, who live in fear, and who have glass ceilings at work know all too well.

The positive themes

It's hard to see much positivity in all this, but again let's pick three.

Some societies are better than others

Some countries, and within some countries, some cities, schools, industries and employers have vastly better female outcomes. As we'd expect the Scandinavian countries are ahead and New Zealand not far behind, and equally unsurprisingly the USA is 23rd on the WEF index.

But even the best country, Iceland, has a WEF gender gap score of 0.87, with 7th placed New Zealand on 0.77 and the USA with 0.7. Now the Global Gender Gap report scores are not meant to be used in this way,* but a crude way to think about it is that women still have a 13-23% disadvantage, even in the most equal countries.

But the index only measures outputs, which are correlated but not necessarily dealing with the issues above. Even in highly-ranked New Zealand we have large percentages of women who live in fear, and sections of society who do not understand the gender-inequality. Our previously much-loved Air New Zealand, for example, seems intent on destroying goodwill with a misogynist swimsuit safety video, and I won't refer to certain news items, but we have our share of male-to-female crimes too.

Improving poverty, education and inequality will improve behaviour

Improving education, social welfare, inequality, wealth and the multi-cultural mindset will also help improve gender equality. I can't prove it, but as the World Economic Forum report states:

" The correlation between competitiveness, income and development and gender gaps is evident"

Unfortunately this also means that fixing the issue is not simple — in fact it's ridiculously difficult to improve societies across all those metrics. And that's for societies intent on improving - arguably some Western societies are intent on walking backwards.

Talking about it is the start of the cure.

This is not the first time that any of us have heard these stories, the ones about how women are treated in our society. I was lucky to have Rape Crisis, an organisation that started in 1977,  speak to my all-boys class when I was very young. They educated us on how it was, and challenged us on how to behave with women. I was also lucky at university to have patient female friends, and there and countless times afterwards I have heard many stories of child abuse, rape, violence, stalking, misogyny and it has never stopped. Today with social media the streams of fear are never far away, and the #yesallwomen is sadly just the latest.

The stories are good, as understanding what's going on is the critical first step for men, as it's only when we know that we can begin to moderate our own and others behaviour. Our societies must teach and we all must learn that being an adult means understanding what is ok, and what is not ok, and maintaining control at all times.

What can we do?

It's overwhelming, the scale of what needs to be done, and I hazard that it's multi-generational. But here are three ideas for how we men can each help.

Set the standard

We can monitor and continuously improve our own behaviour to make sure that we are setting the standard. This is a constant joinery, and it means striving to not just be a good person, but to be a defender of other people's values and not imposing our own.

As well as the obvious large things, it's also the little things. For example let's remove gender-infused words from our vocabulary - words that have no power for men when we say them, but can hit women hard.

Let's help women by providing them with their own space and with security if required. If someone asks for help - we offer assistance to the best of our abilities, while if someone is beyond asking, then we seek the police or other authorities, stump for a cab or otherwise safely solve the issue.  We try also to promote women voices in public forums, especially if we, like me, are louder voices to begin with.

Do not accept poor behaviour from other men

The standard we walk past is the one you accept - so we call out men who are behaving badly.

This firstly means not accepting poor behaviour from our male friends, and it may mean some serious conversations or even choosing to spend less or no time with a friend.

It also means we call out people at work and in other relatively safe mild social situations - a gentle nudge in the form of a joke might work, and that can get a bit less subtle if required.

It also means, and this is the hard bit, calling out strangers. We might get smashed in the face, as I once did after making a bad joke to a Perth predator eying up young girls. We might feel we are calling the police for the wrong reasons or that we are annoying your neighbours if we yell "shall I call the cops?" at an arguing couple where the guy is just behaving a little too aggressively. But it's a worse feeling when we don't intervene, and we start to wonder what happened to the woman - did she become yet another victim?

Change our organisations 

We can't do it all at once, but we can influence change in each of the organisations that we are part of. Seek to help change our school, work, society and country.

Let's ask to see the Equality Policy and put one in place if it doesn't exist. Let's challenge existing behaviours, and bring people in to help us learn. Let's fight for better representation of women at all levels of our companies, from the board and shareholders down, and vote with our feet if the culture is unchangeable.

It's a long war this, but we are making serious progress. Entire industries are being transformed, countries are being tracked and improving and yet the stories remain. At stake is a significantly better society, not just for the other 50%, but for all of us.

 

*The Gender Gap report looks at gender gaps in various categories, marking out of 1, with 1 deemed as parity. It then averages or otherwise adds up these sub-categories. However in categories where women have an advantage over men, such as in New Zealand where there are far more women than men at university, the category scores truncate at 1, the equality benchmark so the only way a country could exceed the maximum of 1 is if women equalled or out-scored men in every single metric. 

Lance Wiggs is an independent consultant providing management, strategy, growth and valuation consulting to industrial, media and internet based businesses. He blogs at Lancewiggs.com

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