Do social attitudes toward gender equality indicate male backlash?

The World Economic Forum estimates that at the current rate of progress, economic gender equality will be achieved in 170 years. The 50/50 by 2030 Foundation – established in 2017 by the Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis (IGPA) at the University of Canberra – want to see gender equality sooner. They want to see it by 2030.

Despite years of effort to remove entrenched organisational, cultural and social barriers to gender equality in Australia, we have not yet hit the mark. To understand why, researchers Evans, Haussegger, Halupka and Rowe from the 50/50 Foundation, wanted to explore what Australians really think and believe about the rights, roles, and responsibilities of men and women.

What they identified was a significant knowledge gap. In their research paper, From Girls to Men: social attitudes to gender equality issues in Australia, they sought to address this gap and shed light on Australian attitudes to gender equality.

The report highlighted 8 core narratives on gender equality in Australia. Unsurprisingly, the majority of participants (88%) agreed that gender inequality is still an issue. Moreover, participants had three common labels for understanding sexism: Judgment – e.g. “negatively judging someone’s abilities based on gender”, Discrimination – e.g. “prejudicial treatment based on gender”, and Differential treatment – e.g. “being treated differently because of being female”.

Additionally, there were three core “views” in the Australian gender equality debate: Traditional – encompassing traditional stereotypes of women’s role at work and at home; Moderate – characterised by egalitarian beliefs of gender equality, with rising concerns for ‘political correctness’; and Progressive – encompassing beliefs that more concentrated action is needed to combat gender equality issues at work and in society.

What was surprising, was the finding that men – particularly millennials – feel actively excluded from conversations about and efforts to improve gender equality. Our summary focuses on this narrative and in particular, its implications therein.

Aim

To investigate the social attitudes towards gender equality in Australia. In particular, it explored:

  • The attitudinal difference of boys, girls, men and women to equality and empowerment by generational cohorts as well as location (e.g. city/rural)
  • The relationship between online activity (social media browsing, game playing and recreational browsing) and attitudes to gender equality.
Methodology

The research involved a national survey of 2,122 Australians by Market Research company Ipsos in March 2018, using a combination of open-ended and multiple-choice questions. Participants were sourced from online panels and social media advertising.

Findings

A key narrative in this report, was that “men have been forgotten in the struggle for gender equality” (For a detailed overview of the eight core narratives of gender equality in Australia, refer to the full report here)

This narrative was drawn from evidence in the following key findings, highlighting differences in attitudes regarding gender equality and sexism across genders and generations:

  • Nearly half of all male respondents (42%) agreed or strongly agreed that “gender equality strategies in the workplace do not take men into account”
  • Millennial males were significantly more likely (48%) to agree or strongly agree that “Men and boys are increasingly excluded from measures to improve gender equality”
  • Men were significantly more likely (54%) than women (40%) to agree that “political correctness means I cannot say openly what I think about gender equality”
  • Millennial males were most likely to agree or strongly agree (43%) that that “political correctness gives women an advantage in the workplace”

These findings were interpreted by the researchers to suggest:

  • Men appear to believe that gender equality measures don’t take them into account
  • Political correctness appears to be perceived by men to unfairly advantage women in the workplace
  • Men, particularly millennial men, appear to view themselves as outsiders, actively excluded from what is now one of the key conversations in many workplaces
Implications

These results suggest that gender equality is still often erroneously thought of as a women’s issue. If measures to improve gender equality are perceived to be focusing solely on women, then there is a real risk that men may start to feel left out and potentially, disadvantaged. In turn – we are at risk of these attitudes driving backlash against such interventions.

We have already witnessed examples of backlash, both overseas – when former Google engineer James Damore filed a class action lawsuit arguing the company discriminate against white male conservatives and more recently in Australia – when the Australian Federal Police received an immediate wave of social media backlash for announcing a women-only recruitment round.

These results beg the question – if men are feeling left behind in the quest for gender equality, what can we do about it? More importantly, how can we more meaningfully engage men – particularly millennials in the conversation? As a cohort of emerging future male leaders in the workplace, we should consider the significant role they need to play in shaping our future and helping us achieve a national consensus on gender equality.

To address these negative attitudes, this may require us looking into our workplaces and asking: Are men feeling excluded? If so, why? What role should men play as agents of change for gender equality? How can we better engage men in the gender equality conversation? How do we ensure we have adopted an inclusive approach to change that addresses the needs and concerns of women and men?

Ensuring best practice methods for developing an inclusive approach to change that encompasses both men and women are adopted, may be a path forward to addressing these attitudes, and continuing to progress toward a gender equal workplace and society.

References

Evans E., Haussegger V., Halupka M., and Rowe, P. (2018). From Girls to Men: Social Attitudes to Gender Equality in Australia. 50|50 by 2030 Foundation, University of Canberra.


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