Men want to be involved!

Men want to be involved: Why male managers are committed to equality

By Gabriele Schambach and Julia Nentwich
October 27, 2020


We are pleased that “Handelszeitung” as our project partner has published this article in an abridged version in the print edition on October 22, 2020.

For a long time, it was taken for granted that equality is a women's issue and that therefore, men are not interested. Our project "Leaders for Equality: Leaders take advantage of opportunities" at the University of St. Gallen has found that many men are, in fact, quite motivated to commit themselves to equality.

Indeed, equality is usually perceived as a women's issue - and in many companies, it is also communicated in this way. Men seem to have nothing to do with it and are neither addressed nor included in discussions on the subject. However, the commitment of male managers is essential for the success of gender equality efforts in the company. The question is: Why should they get involved?
Our discussions with male managers and our nationwide online survey clearly show why men are motivated and what exactly motivates them:

Management task and business case
The so-called business case is seen by the almost 1,200 Swiss managers we surveyed, as the main motivation for commitment to equality.

The shortage of skilled workers and demographic change play a driving role in this context: Due to a high average age in Swiss companies and especially among the - predominantly male - managers, a large number of expected retirements are pending in the next few years. In order to continue to have enough specialists and managers in the future, many of the managers we interviewed believe that it is necessary to hire more (young) women and to promote them professionally. Gender-oriented recruiting and structured internal personnel development facilitate access to larger talent pools in order to avoid leaving highly qualified women in the market to competitors (see also Krell/Sieben 2011).

One of the areas in which more women in the workplace prove the business case argument is in the work climate. The work environment improves by an increase in the number of woman in the team: Women bring social coherency to the team, so-called “soft skills”, which otherwise are lacking in purely male teams. More women in the workplace increases performance and thus brings economic added value to the company. Because women bring different perspectives and skills to the team, the teams arrive at more innovative and creative solutions and are more balanced with better decision-making (see also Krell/Sieben 2011). 

Company regulations and guidelines such as KPIs also motivate men. However, the male participants in our online survey see this as only a minor motivator. Remarkably, a significantly higher percentage of female managers who were asked in the online survey about their perception of their colleagues and superiors believe that their male colleagues are motivated by regulations and guidelines. Given these differences in the perception of male and female managers, it is a good idea to find out how these different assessments are justified, e.g. through measures such as in-house slide-log events for managers.
The advantage of understanding equality as a corporate and management task is that the topic is viewed in a primarily business context. Committed men do not primarily act as individuals, but as managers who deal with specialist  and corporate tasks. This can give them legitimacy for their actions and protect them from being devalued by other men, for example.

"Our company works 100% and not only 50%. Our staff are human beings, and only half of us, are men. Full participation means that at the management level in a company, women belong to it just as much as I do as a man". This manager suggests that fairness and the pursuit of justice are important motives for managers. Among the men surveyed, fairness is even one of the most frequently cited reasons for the commitment to equality and equity According to the male managers we interviewed, this aspect results from personal observations and from experiencing situations in which women are treated unequally or are even discriminated against. They see these moments as deeply unfair and unjust - which motivates them to work for change.

Personal aspects
In the 10 group discussions we organized with high-level male personnel, a rigid concept of management as dominant masculinity, was criticized:  

"I do not want to be limited to a male role model in my person. It is mega-difficult if only that is expected of you". This statement by a male manager makes it clear that a commitment to equality is motivated by one's own experience of the disadvantages of traditional and stereotypical gender roles that can lead to inequality and discrimination not to mention a restricted conception of the person. These disadvantages relate above all to the role of the sole financial provider or breadwinner in the household. This role can sometimes be an impossible one including a leadership culture of always being available with permanent presence and accessibility, unlimited flexibility as well as high performance and hardness etc. On the one hand, the associated physical and mental stress of this outdated and restricted gender role can lead to health problems and on the other hand, to an unbalanced private and family life. In this idealistic and unattainable “superman” role active fatherhood, is made impossible for men. And even if a traditional gender arrangement is freely chosen and advocated, it can still lead to alienation from (spouse or) partner and children and eventually to a break-up of relationships (see Schambach 2013). 

A further form of concern for men becomes apparent when male managers fear or experience that their daughters and/or granddaughters have difficulties in having a career due to social and company-internal discrimination: “I sometimes ask myself: In what kind of world should my daughter grow up? Should she give up on the idea of having realistic professional opportunities? Does she have to imitate male behavior in order to be able to move, freely in the corporate world?” 

Men also discuss the advantages and personal benefits they receive from gender equality: "Men also only want to work 60 or 80% - they want to spend more family time, quality time". Male managers benefit from equal opportunities activities in the same way as women. Because of flexible forms of work and career models including the possibility of working part-time and parental leave, for example, new scope and possibilities for a more open corporate culture which enables sustainable work-life integration and active fatherhood, can be envisioned.

Male managers create framework conditions
The results of our research clearly show that men want to commit themselves to equality! They are motivated and they see themselves as responsible for shaping the way to achieve this. As one male executive emphasizes: "WE have to create the framework conditions so that equality can work". 
In this process, they do not want to act as "brakemen", but rather as "role models" in order to work together with women on "how we can do this together", says one male manager.

These motivational reasons, which were also confirmed in our online survey of over 1,200 Swiss managers, can bring new momentum to equality initiatives in companies. Our results clearly show that male managers need to be involved - in strategic alignment, as well as in internal communication and application for equality initiatives and measures. In our opinion, these are very decisive first steps to be able to count more women in management positions in the future.

If you perceive further motivating factors for men in management positions in your everyday work or company, we would like very much to hear from you: tell us about.

Krell, Gertraude/ Sieben, Barbara (2011): Diversity Management: Chancengleichheit für alle und auch als Wettbewerbsvorteil. In: Krell, Gertraude/Ortlieb, Renate/Sieben, Barbara (Hrsg.) (2011): Chancengleichheit durch Personalpolitik, 6. Aufl., Wiesbaden, 155-174.

Schambach, Gabriele (2013): Ein Teil der Lösung - Überlegungen zum Einbezug von Männern zur Erhöhung des Frauenanteils in Führungspositionen. In: Jansen, Mechtild M./ Röming, Angelika/ Rohde, Marianne (Hrsg.): Männer - Frauen - Zukunft. Ein Genderhandbuch, München, 209-226.