What Men Really Think About Gender In The Workplace


Man at work


Romy Newman and Christy Johnson
Romy Newman and Christy Johnson
April 21, 2024 at 1:19AM UTC

It's become very clear that American companies have increased their focus on attracting and retaining talented women in the past few years in order to improve gender diversity. Companies have done everything from setting diversity targets and improving maternity leave benefits to launching bias training and flying nannies with new mothers. Many leadership experts, such as Harvard Business School Professor of Leadership John Kotter, have been on the record about the importance of this change needing to be driven from the top down. Yet evidence from over 10,000 employer reviews by women suggests that while the top down approach is necessary – it may not be sufficient to build a path to a truly gender diverse workplace.

Nearly half of women on Fairygodboss, an online career community for women, say that women are not treated equally at their workplace. Even at the most highly rated companies, women often report that experiences can vary greatly depending upon the department. One-third of women on Fairygodboss say that their workplace experience “depends on their manager.” In other words, whether women face gender discrimination at work is generally not driven by corporate mandates or a CEO’s proclamations, but in day-to-day interactions through the chain of command. That’s why understanding the male perspective is so important: In corporate America managers are still disproportionately men.

If a woman’s workplace experience is dependent on her manager, how can companies begin to make improvements? In other words, how can they change culture quickly -- especially among male managers? That was the question that Artemis Connection, a consultancy that focuses on aligning strategy and team, and Fairygodboss tried to answer by honing in on the behavior and attitudes of men in the workplace.

This summer, we surveyed over 300 U.S. full-time working men. Our survey was not random, nor was it intended to be. We simply wanted a cross-section of perspectives on how men felt about women’s workplace inclusion. And while the sample was not representative of all working U.S. men—three-fourths of participants have incomes of $100,000 or more, almost half work in the technology, Internet, or telecom sectors, and over half in management, finance, or technology roles—we did end up gathering a wide range of opinions on women at work.

Here are some of the most revealing insights men shared about women at work:

• “It’s a problem, just not where I work.” While a full one-third of men think women are treated unfairly in the workplace in general, just 10 percent of respondents agree that women are treated unfairly in their workplace. In other words, the men we spoke to don’t believe that gender bias happens in their own backyard.

• “Diversity is a culture issue. There is no gender wage gap.” When asked what challenges women most faced at work, men pointed toward an overall feeling of inclusion as the single biggest issue (by over 50 percent of respondents). Work-life balance, childcare, and mentorship came in a close second, but other more fundamental issues, such as compensation, promotion, harassment, and even flexible work options, were named much less frequently. Less than 25 percent of men, for example, named compensation as a big challenge faced by women at work, and similarly, less than 17 percent men viewed harassment as a challenge. Compare this to what women tend to say about the gender wage gap and sexual harassment, and you begin to see a real schism in what women and men say about workplace issues.

• “I want to help, but it’s kind of awkward.” When asked, men say they are eager to help women. Almost half say they have advocated for equality, inclusion, and diversity publicly, and over half have done it privately. A full one-fifth, however, admitted that they have not yet acted as an ally.

What should companies do in light of these insights?

1) The first step - Get the facts: We recommend every company perform a brief survey about gender diversity in their workplace, and gather side-by-side responses from men and women. Laying bare the facts about how men and women perceive gender diversity issues in their own workplace differently would be the first step to helping everyone recognize how deep the perception gap can be.

2) Have honest conversations: Employees should be encouraged to have open and candid discussions about how gender bias impacts their workday. If men hear from female colleagues about the barriers they face at work, they may feel more compassionate and more motivated to help eliminate them.

3) Hold managers accountable: A commitment from the top to build a diverse, inclusive workplace is not enough—managers have to be held accountable. Rewarding managers for creating an environment where diverse talent can thrive is important.

4) Train managers: How managers manage truly matters. Research out of Stanford highlights that when people are assigned to better bosses, they are less likely to leave the firm. The first year as a manager is key for developing skills and habits. Often, managers are judged solely on financial performance; yet structured training and clear expectations for leadership quotient should be an essential element of every company.

5) Try, learn, iterate and share results: Finally, at an organization level, companies should continue to experiment with different approaches, or at least dialogues, to pinpoint their firms’ unique gender-related strengths and challenges.

Not all of the above strategies will work for everyone, but experimenting with them will help you find the right activities for your team and culture. Actively including men in these efforts, is vital—without it, women’s workplace progress will continue to stall. And the more companies are willing to share their results with each other, the faster and smarter we can all forge a path to more gender inclusive workplaces everywhere.

Written in conjunction with Christy Johnson, CEO Artemis Connection, a strategy and design firm that is reinventing consulting and providing meaningful work for women. Christy was an engagement manager at McKinsey & Co, was a VP at several corporations and was an award winning high school math and economics teacher. Christy holds an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business and a MA in Education from the Stanford School of Education.


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