Championing gender equality together : Engaging men as allies

by | Nov 11, 2023

(7 November, 2023 – The Brussels Binder, Potentia, Google Belgium)

Moderator: 

  • Robert Baker, Vice Chair at the ‘European Women on Boards’ and CEO of Potentia Talent Consulting

Speakers: 

  • Gail Rego, Social justice activist and podcaster
  • Marc Angel, Vice-President of the European Parliament
  • Aurélie Mulowa, Belgian Entreprenoires
  • Thierry Geerts, CEO Google Belgium

The aim of the event, organized by The Brussels Binder in collaboration with Potentia and Google Belgium, was to explore the critical need for engaging men as allies in the pursuit of gender equality. Throughout the event, the discussions delved into a range of important themes, including identifying the barriers to gender equality, strategies for persuading other men to become allies, the business case for promoting gender equity, and the pivotal role of legislation. The event started with opening remarks by Dr. Audrey-Flore Ngomsik, President of The Brussels Binder, followed by an enlightening presentation of the findings from The Brussels Binder’s survey on ‘Male Allyship.’ This was then followed by a compelling panel discussion, designed to probe both the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of engaging men as allies in the ongoing mission for gender equality.

Male Allyship Survey Findings – How Men Perceive their Engagement in Gender Equality ? 

The first part of the event was dedicated to presenting the results of the survey and the report titled ‘All for One: Engaging Men as Allies,’ conducted by The Brussels Binder. The primary objective of this project was to gain a comprehensive understanding of how men perceive their own engagement in the realm of gender equality, the benefits they can derive from it, and the challenges they face in becoming better allies to women. The Brussels Binder received 141 responses to the 22 survey questions. Among the 141 survey participants, over 42% fell within the age range of 26 to 35, and 41% were employed in the private sector. Rodica Avornic and Indre Krivaite, two of the primary authors of the reports, were present to provide valuable insights into the findings.

To sum up the key findings of the report, when respondents were asked to rate their own involvement in gender equality, the majority of men considered themselves above average, with 86% rating themselves at 6 out of 10 or higher. Their primary motivation for engaging in gender equality initiatives is driven by values, notably a strong sense of justice and fairness, as indicated by 74.5% of respondents. However, time constraints are a significant obstacle, with 36.9% of men finding it challenging to allocate time for allyship activities within their busy schedules, potentially limiting their active participation. Although 37% of respondents saw benefits for their workplace, more than half of the participants expressed uncertainty about whether their organization had improved as a result of their engagement in gender equality, highlighting a need for clearer measurement and communication of the impact of such initiatives. These are just a few key takeaways from the report. For more information, the full report is available online.

How to Engage Men as Allies in Gender Equality ? 

Four speakers were invited to share their diverse experiences: Gail Rego, a social justice activist and podcaster, Marc Angel, Vice-President of the European Parliament, Aurélie Mulowa, representing Belgian Entrepreneurs, and Thierry Geerts from Google Belgium. Several key ideas were discussed during the first round of conversations.

Gail Rego and Aurélie Mulowa both emphasized the importance of men listening to women as a crucial first step in becoming allies. Being an ally doesn’t mean speaking on behalf of women but rather creating space for women to assert themselves. A statement by Aurélie Mulowa was later echoed by Gail Rego: “I am tired of having to explain and fight. sometimes silence can be more impactful than speaking, as it allows for the amplification of other voices”. This idea sparked an interesting discussion about women-only meetings, organized by and for women, led by Aurélie Mulowa, to which men are not invited. Both she and Gail Rego emphasized the importance of having spaces dedicated to women, as most other spaces tend to be dominated by men. According to them, these spaces are essential for women’s empowerment and for addressing gender imbalances. However, Marc Angel had a different perspective, suggesting that there might be occasions where men should be included at these tables to foster understanding and collaboration.

All participants agreed that becoming an ally requires embracing discomfort, as it’s the price to pay for greater equality. Marc Angel expressed shock at the survey results indicating “lack of time” as a challenge for participation, as he believed that being an ally doesn’t demand time but rather a mindset. Conversely, Thierry Geerts argued that a mindset alone isn’t sufficient; one must go further to change behaviors. Ultimately, all panelists emphasized the centrality of education in addressing ‘how’ to engage men as allies. Without education on gender equality, harmful behaviors persist. Marc Angel, in particular, voiced concerns about “anti-gender movements”. 

Legal and Corporate Landscapes: Progress and Challenges in Gender Equality

For Marc Angel, Vice-President of the European Parliament, “we cannot win battles without allies, and we cannot win battles without legislation”. At the European level, it appears that progress is happening, but not quickly enough. The President of the FEM committee is a man, and many male representatives hold key positions on this matter. Some member states are resistant to the gender equality issue, leading to frequent roadblocks in the Council. Notable legislative achievements include the Pay Transparency Directive and a forthcoming new directive aimed at strengthening equality bodies. However, the Council often acts as a barrier.

Within businesses, it’s intriguing to note that greater gender equality leads to better results. This was evident in a recent Google survey conducted last year, concluding that integrating more diversity improves a company’s performance. Today, the results are still concerning, with only 9% of managers being women, even though results tend to be better with female leaders. Another idea raised by Thierry Geerts, CEO of Google, is the fear among men of experiencing “reverse discrimination” due to quotas, for example. According to Thierry Geerts, “Everyone is crying for talent but these companies don’t have the role models or diverse hiring teams”. According to him, “if you are working on hiring diversity but not on inclusion, you will fail”. 

Finally, all participants agreed that achieving gender equality comes at a cost, and thus, a budget is necessary. Increasing women’s salaries to achieve pay equity takes time and a significant financial investment. It is imperative to allocate resources promptly to work towards this goal.

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