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Why female-biased gender initiatives unlikely to succeed

Geraldine Gallacher

HR policy must address the needs of both men and women. Organisations must develop HR policy which recognises young men’s desire for greater work-life balance and more equal share of parenting if they are to achieve their objective of a more gender diverse workforce.

Article from Geraldine Gallacher, Managing Director, ECC and author of the report.

This is the key finding of new research from the Executive Coaching Consultancy, specialists in helping employers nurture and retain their female talent, which examined the career aspirations and attitudes of over one thousand young men and women and the potential impact of their future choices on gender diversity. The study “Gen Y Men and The City” finds that unless organisations start to understand and accommodate the changing aspirations of the new generation of men in the workplace within HR policy, gender initiatives are likely to be limited in their impact.

Young men and women want the same things from life and work
A desire for better work life balance and flexible working opportunities, and to share parenting responsibilities equitably with their partner. Although City firms are delivering what young men and women want when they start their careers they are failing to provide the type of career trajectory and support they expect in order to achieve work/life balance.

Many eschew traditional paths to senior roles
While 80 percent of men and 73 percent of women say they are satisfied with their current employer, and pay and development opportunities are in line the expectations they had on joining the business, a substantial number of men (42 percent) and women (52 percent) say they don’t want to progress to senior management, and can’t see themselves staying beyond another five years.

Like their female colleagues, interest in progressing to a senior position is waning early in the career of many men, because they cannot see that it is possible to have a senior role and a healthy work/home balance. Linked to this point, men say they want a structured career path that is based on their individual strengths rather than traditional paths to partnership which tend to be linear and prescribed and often demand more time away from family life than men are prepared to sacrifice.

Men want to share parenting responsibilities equitably with their partner
When fatherhood arrives men want to play a greater role in parenting, with 78 percent wanting to explore the idea of shared parental leave. A lack of enhanced paternity pay is seen by both sexes as the biggest barrier to men taking up Shared Parental Leave (36 percent), followed by concern that it would negatively impact the father’s career (25 percent).

Penalty-free flexibility for all
With or without a family to consider, this generation wants flexible working in order to balance work and commitments outside of work. Overall, some 88 percent of men and 82 percent of women think all employers should have flexible working in place, and over half of women (53 percent) and four in ten men (43 percent) saying they would change employer to do the same job with greater flexibility. There is a clear perception among women that flexible working carries a penalty on career progression and pay leading 57 percent to say they want more equality in career opportunities and clarity around promotion paths for flexible workers.

The implications of these findings for HR are clear, while female centric policies can make an important contribution to addressing gender diversity, they are only part of the solution. Gender parity in pay and career progression can only be achieved through policy that addresses the needs of both men and women.

A culture that encourages flex as a default way of working for all, irrespective of reason, with clear promotion paths for flex workers not only enables employees to have more control and balance in the way they work, but reduces the stigma attached to women and the resultant “motherhood penalty.”

Similarly, employers that provide enhanced paternity pay make Shared Parental leave a financially viable option for men giving them the option to share parenting with their partner and stop women having to choose between a career or parenthood.

It is understandable why gender diversity initiatives have focused on women to prevent them from exiting corporate life when they become parents. It is also clear that these initiatives alone have not and will not be able to bring about change fast enough. Astute employers are realising that the solution to the gender diversity problem needs to address the needs of both genders.

At the same time we are seeing an attitudinal shift in wider society as young men see how hard their partner has worked to advance professionally and do not want them to have to choose between motherhood and a career. Neither is this a financially viable option for many families faced with soaring property prices and a squeeze in living standards. Men have a critical role in shaping solutions that will lead to greater diversity and that will benefit not just women but themselves.”

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