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How do we solve the gender gap?

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

Comments and questions
10

It is refreshing (and I must admit surprising) to see a man tackle this issue head-on, and instead of dismissing it out of hand, actually front up and say "what can we do". Your article is very welcome Lance and I hope to see more of this kind of writing in the NBR and other mainstream publications.

As the father of three daughters ranging in age from 18 through to 24 I can assure you they think your views are out of date and you are fighting a battle they see as irrelevant.

They meet the world head on, do not have the hang ups or see the barriers you ascribe to in this article. They are strong and in control of their own destiny.

The group you should be worried about are the young men coming through who have been socialised into believing natural male behaviour is inherently bad. A group that defer to strong young women in ways you would not believe and a group that suffers from a real identity crisis.

Poor thing. You have no son to carry on your name. All the wealth you amass in your lifetime will go to some lucky blokes when they marry your daughters.

Ask them three questions, and explore the answers:
1: Have you ever worried about your safety? (when, how often, who?)
2: What things have you done to be safe when there are men around? (list them, then contrast what men do to be safe)
3: How many times have you been sexually harassed or worse by men?

The new generation are, as always, better than the old, but reading that tweet-stream should give you serious pause. We have a long way to go.

"equally unsurprisingly the USA is 23rd on the WEF index"

Please explain your "unsurprise". Your prejudices should be put on the table.

"Beyond safety, women are at a considerable disadvantage in society, education and work."

Evidence or mere blind assertion?

I lived in the USA for 5 years, and visiting beyond the tourist or business areas is sobering. We can forget sometimes just how good we have it here in NZ.
While their society has wonderful elements it also has terrifying lack of support for people who are not privileged through wealth, and the statistics are simply horrifying for black Americans. There are a host of books and reports on a wide range of US issues, and I tend to stay up to date.

The second statement is self-evident, but again backed up by any number of works, including the referenced one from World Economic Forum.

Your first reply doesn't answer my question. It either begs the question by assuming women are selectively poor in the US or just entirely side-steps it.

Your second reply is nonsense. First, it is certainly not self-evident in NZ. Second, the referenced work reportedly discounts all measures in which women do better than men and therefore cannot be used to support any overall conclusion or comparison. Even if it did not there are a multitude of subtle factors which only arbitrary value judgements can assign relative weights to. Women live longer, achieve better education results, have more friends and support, spend more time with their children, have less suicides, suffer less violent crime, traffic accidents, heart problems etc.

Yes, men are stronger and so in a violent confrontation women are disadvantaged - but so are many men. Yes, some men are a threat to women but many men are a huge support to women. Women are far more vocal than men so the squeaky wheel gets the most attention. Those who use their sex to advantage keep quiet. Those who suffer disadvantage don't. The advantages are silently retained, the disadvantages loudly reduced.

Thanks Lance! Great to hear this from a man for a change - the bit that really resonated with me is this:
"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."
The prejudice I experience is often inflicted by lovely, intelligent men who mean well, but are clearly more comfortable mentoring other men and placing them in positions of authority than in working with women. We women see people being given preferential treatment on the basis of gender, and there's nothing we can do about it because to speak out is to put your head on the block. The Boys Club lives on...

Start your own business. But in my experience women bosses can be much worse to female staff than men.

Thanks Lance for thoughtful and thought provoking piece.
Alan Wilkinson, go get an education. You are in need of one!