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- Luisa de Paula and Sandra Ondraschek-Norris


Fear of attracting other men’s disapproval and apathy are the main barriers preventing men from actively supporting gender equality.

Interview with Sandra Ondraschek-Norris, Senior Director at Catalyst Europe

What do men think of gender equality in the workplace? In many European workplaces most of them do not think of it at all. Not because they are indifferent, but because they do not see gender equality as an issue of concern to their everyday life in the office.


“Men often don’t see gender equality as an issue” explains Sandra Ondraschek-Norris, Senior Director at Catalyst Europe.


Like women too, men often do not realize that their colleagues are being privileged or discriminated against depending on their sex and gender identity.


For instance, they don’t see that they are excluding women from conversation when they are perhaps using football metaphors or military jargon.


These kinds of “inequalities” are all the more subtle as they blend into everyday routine.


But here’s the good news, Ondraschek-Norris reassures: “Just a small rise in some men’s sense that working to improve gender diversity is only fair, more than triples the likelihood that they would actively support company efforts to promote and develop female talent. When men accept that the workplace is not a meritocracy and gender diversity is a matter of ‘fair play,’ many more will step up to support women in the workplace.”


According to Catalyst research, three barriers can undermine men’s support for gender initiatives and need to be addressed to motivate men to action:


1) Lack of concern resulting in apathy. Seventy-four percent of those interviewed admitted that they felt gender issues did not really concern them directly. This was obviously a key roadblock to their interest.


2) Fear. Seventy-four percent saw gender equality as a zero-sum game. They fear that women’s empowerment would result in a loss of status or privilege for men, or might end in reversed discrimination towards them. They are afraid of making mistakes and attracting other men’s disapproval. Some men even think that more women means fewer men, and that if they help women win advancement opportunities, these might be lost for them. This zero-sum thinking discourages a lot of men from getting involved or creates negative pushback.


3) Ignorance, whether perceived or real. Interestingly, more women than men think that gender stereotyping might act as a barrier to women’s advancement. Whereas 76% of women do see gender stereotyping as a problem, less than 50% of men are aware that this is the case.



Catalyst’s Engaging Men research  revealed several notions that need to be clarified before we can get men on board.


  • The current state of affairs isn’t men’s fault. The research also showed that men were wary of being blamed for gender disparities and/or being seen as part of the problem. To create a “safe” place for men to air their views on these issues, Catalyst launched Men Advocating Real Change, or MARC, an online community for men to post their thoughts, share views and experiences, and read blogs from experts about gender diversity in the workplace.


  • Everyone benefits from more equitable policies. When a workplace is free of gender bias, both men and women gain significant personal benefits, including better health, greater freedom to be themselves, and improved ability to share financial responsibilities with a spouse or partner.


  • Promoting more women won’t leave men at a disadvantage. Some men questioned for Catalyst’s Engaging Men research expressed concern that gains for women could only come at a loss for men. However, in the global race for talent, the organisations best able to attract male and female top talent will be at a considerable advantage.


It is clear that even if we could remove all obstacles holding back men that might not be enough to make them step up and take action. For this to happen, we also need to help them understand their own advantages in gender equality. Among these, economic growth is maybe the most tangible and alluring, but not certainly the only and most important one. Among the others: a more flexible and polyhedral approach to work, a healthier and happier work environment, and more time for themselves.


Both men and women need to develop a deeper critical awareness with respect to their daily experience in the workplace. Rarely are we given the chance to see the bigger picture and to gain a critical awareness of the situation we find ourselves in through our historical roots. Men, even less than women, have few or no opportunity to ponder over the fact that the world of work has been built over the centuries by men and for men. Only in relatively recent times have women gained access to this world that has not been tailored to them. Men and women equally are given very little training and encouragement to think through their respective positions and interaction models in the work economy. How could they possibly see that this is lopsided in a way that favours the ones to the disadvantage of the others and of the whole?


Only once we accept this simple historical truth will we finally be able to see that the workplace has not changed that much despite the many legal and formal devises put in place in the last fifty years or so.


Neither men nor women want to be seen as “uncommitted” or relegated to the “slow track” when they leave work on time due to family obligations or other personal issues. And with Gen Y (and Z) now valuing work-life balance over “playing the game,” companies will need to begin putting less emphasis on face time and long hours as a requirement for advancement.


We look forward to the day when men and women partner together to achieve balanced gender leadership globally.




Here are practical steps that men can take to support women’s advancement in the workplace.