Men, Masculinities and Organisations:

Business as Usual?

Professor Jeff Hearn, AcSS, Hanken School of Economics

Careers, organisations, leadership and management are far from gender-neutral. So, in promoting women’s careers, there is a key question: how should we approach this and what should we focus on: on women? Gender? Gender difference? Gender equality? Career structures? Career paths? Or even men? It is a commonplace in both career development in organisations and in research on careers, to focus either on careers without thinking much about gender or on women’s careers, through mentoring, training or management development of women, but what is less common is seeing men and men’s careers as gendered and as problematized.

In bringing men into gender focus, in thinking about men as gendered, there are two main questions: how to think about men in relation to women’s careers and gender equality? (men as ‘objects’); and what can men do to support women’s careers? (men as ‘subjects’). In short, men are just as gendered as women. This means naming men as men [Jalna Hanmer], but also recognising unities and differences amongst men [Jeff Hearn & David Collinson]. Also, men are not essentially one thing, and men can be seen as different kinds of collectivities not only as individuals! Moreover, in many organisations man/men/male is still a model for management, and a norm for what is the formal and official ways of doing things in organisations [Joan Acker, Patricia Yancey Martin]. It means changing leadership, with broad tendencies for men to use transactional leadership, based on formal position, rather than transformational leadership. In many versions of leadership ”core elements of masculinity” sustain uneven gender relations [Jackie Ford], even if some forms of  men’s leadership may appear less heroic, but still powerful. There is also the possibility of men’s non-oppressive, even profeminist, leadership.

So, what have men to do with women’s careers and gender equality in workplaces? There are many different ways of being men in workplaces: not one masculinity, but many masculinities. These concern relations between menand women, and also relations between men. Masculinities are not fixed, but shift over time and place. Workplaces are places where various masculinities are (re)produced, for example, as authoritarian, paternalistic, careerist, or informal masculinities/managers [Collinson & Hearn], as well as other positions, such as father-managers [Hearn & Charlotta Niemistö], and new trends, such as towards more caring masculinities at work.

Men and men’s careers affect women’s careers and their promotion in many ways.  Men can promote or impede women’s careers, can provide individual and collective support, and can initiate organisational interventions, and so on. Men can also have huge impacts on women’s careers, by simply doing nothing, as with so-called non-events [Liisa Husu], which may only be realized many years later. This can be done as managers, team leaders, colleagues, and also as friends, family, and partners. The impact can still be very important if men are not present and out of sight, even in all-women organisations or teams. This can involve both supporting women’s promotion in what might be called mainstream career paths, and working for changing the form of careers.

Men occupy very different positions in organisations, often with very different concerns about gender and gender equality: at the top, as privileged, in middle management, as team leaders, and in lower levels. So at each level, gender equality may or may not concern men for different reasons. In each position one can ask: why should they bother? Why should men become interested in, or avoid, gender equality? What should or could they do?

One obvious answer is the business case. There is now quite a lot of research on this. In their 2010 global survey of companies, McKinsey & Co found that those in the top quartile in terms of presence of women in executive committees had +47% average return on equity, and +55% average earnings before interest and tax. But there are many other reasons too: self-development potential of employees; seeing it as managers’ job to support all people including all women; the practice of ethical, fair, just leadership; talent development; democratic ways of working; promoting diversity. One in two Finnish men fully agree men benefit from more gender equality, and McKinsey & Co’s 2013 survey of 1,400 men managers worldwide survey found 74% agree or strongly agree that diverse leadership teams with significant numbers of women bring better company performance. There are clear variations in to what extent men are interested in gender equality that impact on women’s careers; put simply, one may contrast more egalitarian masculinities (which may be active, passive, ambivalent) and more inegalitarian masculinities [Marion Pajumets], with support for or antagonism against promoting women’s careers. There are also many reasons why men can become interested in gender issues and gender equality: stopping privilege, recognizing differences amongst men, or prioritizing the costs of masculinity.

Importantly, men’s relations to gender equality are not a new or a marginal issue. Finland has the longest government apparatus on men and gender equality, with the Sub-committee on Men’s Issues in Council for Equality between Women and Men, established in 1988, after a 1986 working group. The Nordic Council of Ministers established a Men and Gender Equality programme 1995-2000. And also the UN has been active in this area. In 1995 the UN Platform for Action recognised that women’s common concerns could be addressed only by working in partnership with men to the common goal of gender equality around world, followed up by the UN Assembly 2000 supporting men’s joint responsibility with women for gender equality. There has been EU activity since 1995, with the recent 2013 Study on the Role of Men in Gender Equality, published by the European Commission, with a wealth of information and recommendations.Men and gender equality is not an obscure or marginal issue, but one taken up at the highest international levels.

Finally, or almost so, there are some specific key issues that need to be put on the table. First, there is the question of men’s homosociality. It is an interesting paradox how one of the major ways for men to show heterosexuality is to prefer men’s company: “men are attracted to, stimulated by, and interested in other men”, “Men can and commonly do seek satisfaction for most of their needs from other men.” [Jean Lipman-Blumen]. This may involve not just power and information passing between men, but also an emotional charge between men, as in imitation, emulation and intimate admiration between men, even if individual men are dispensable when they do not fit. Homosociality relates closely to cultural cloning: reproducing more people of the same, whether by gender, ethnicity, or organisational culture [Philomena Essed & David Theo Goldberg]. These can be seen as forms of resistance, by distance or persistence [Collinson].

Changing men’s relations to women’s careers is not just about “helping” women and women’s careers, as if women’s careers need to be like men’s, and as if men are the norm, and women are the problem. It involves changing men, and how in many organisations men’s ways of working are unquestioned as the formal, official, proper, managerial ways of doing business. Changing men’s relations to women’s careers, means men coming out publicly for gender equality.



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