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Why we need a Men’s Network on International Women’s Day 2019

Kirstie Stott, director of the Inspiring Leaders Network, writes for NHE to argue for greater involvement from men in leading the conversation around gender equality.

We need more male leaders! It’s true, I don't see enough of them currently leading the conversations around gender equality. As with flexible working, it’s often seen as a woman’s issue or agenda. I see lots of men call themselves allies to women, and whilst I think having allies is important, what we need is leaders and leadership from men on this important agenda.

Gender equality is not a woman’s issue, nor are any of the challenges that make it difficult for women to reach senior leadership positions such as flexible working. Those who know me know that I can sometimes get frustrated with the narrative that women are the reason for the inequalities at the top, that we need to ‘lean in more,’ ‘sit at the table,’ be more this and that and the other. I wonder why we often try and change the women instead of the culture, status quo, and too often homogenous ways of working that holds us back.

It was interesting to see the reaction to a recent survey I am working on around flexible working in the NHS. I asked specifically for men to complete this as results at that point suggested a 70/30 split (which I know is representative of the current NHS workforce).

What I saw was men getting involved and completing the survey and sharing it with their male colleagues, but I hadn’t seen that before my direct ask. Maybe it’s that men don't feel they are as invited to the debates as women are on these matters. Maybe women need to change the narrative around this? Maybe we need a Men’s Network to take forward gender equality?

Please don't be mistaken, I am not suggesting that women are incapable of doing this – far from it. But what I do believe is that we need a unitary approach to this, and I wonder if men can be put off ‘women’s networks’ or feel they don't have the right or are not welcome?

Do we ask men to lead these conversations? Sometimes maybe, but I would argue not enough.

Men are still very much dominant in the field of senior leadership. Whilst the NHS is making headway in this area, gender equality has not been reached. Looking out as a woman, I still see a great deal of my world dominated by men in positions of power, authority, and influence across all sectors and walks of life. If men are still in these positions of most influence, power or leadership (however you choose to define it), maybe we need to include them more in these conversations so that they can take ownership rather than alliance?

I’m curious what it would take for men to start to really own these conversations as they do the ones on other national priorities. To make it part of their leadership responsibilities and to see the benefits of gender equality for what it is, a way of serving the public more effectively, efficiently, and sustainably.

Here are a couple of things I think would be a good start:

  • Always invite men to any events around gender equality. Think about how the event is marketed and maybe be specific – men required! Maybe aim for 50/50?
  • Men, step up and come forward, utilise the different leadership styles you have to offer a different approach.
  • Be an equal, not just an ally in this. Make it happen.
  • Ask the questions, don't assume you know the answers. Stay curious.

I would love to see a Men’s Network established to advance gender equality. It would be a men’s network established like the most effective women’s networks that welcomes both men and women as equals in our society. Who knows, maybe then we could be equals in the battle as well as the win! 


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