We Need to Empower Men if we Want to Solve the Gender Pay Gap

Caroline Whaley, Co-founder of Shine for Women, explains why it’s vital men are as empowered as much as women if we’re to see the gender pay gap closed.


In May this year, BBC manager Karen Martin turned down a role as Deputy Editor at the BBC newsroom after learning a male counterpart had been awarded the same job for £12,000 more a year. For a company of the BBC’s stature to be so short-sighted in this day and age is shocking, but sadly they’re not alone.

Three-quarters of large businesses still pay men more than women and the latest data, released in April, shows the gender pay gap has widened at almost half of firms in the UK in the past year. In this context, it may sound counter-intuitive to say men have had a rough time recently but since the first #MeToo Tweet in October 2017, men have been widely vilified as misogynists, sexists and a generally pretty nasty bunch. If we don’t address this in the workplace, we’ll all suffer.

Let’s be clear. Some people clearly deserve the criticism they’ve received. However, many are just good guys trying to do good jobs and be good people and are deeply annoyed and embarrassed that some of their peers have been acting inappropriately. And yet the good guys are the ones who are suffering as it becomes increasingly difficult to navigate the politics of gender equality in the workplace. For them, the rules seem to be perpetually changing.

The corporate world was, of course, designed by men for men. It’s certainly not your standard male employee or manager’s fault, but rather than criticise them, we now need men to involve themselves in discussions about what’s gone on and not stay quiet in order to “keep out of trouble”. Ignoring the truth doesn’t help—it simply allows the issue to fester and create even greater divides between men and women.

If we just see this phenomenon as a binary male vs. female issue, the impact will be men ignoring and side-lining women who are already shown to be a minority in leadership. Worryingly, we’re already seeing this taking place. It’s become “safer” to employ a man than a woman. We’re going backwards!

The sooner we can openly talk about this – and empower men to do so – the quicker we can move past it, to everyone’s benefit. Achieving this can be a challenge, but it needn’t be complicated. Obviously, the first step any organisation should take is to provide strong procedures to ensure harassment can be reported and dealt with. But let’s face it, if it’s not already in every organisation’s HR policies by now, we’re in deeper than we thought. So assuming we’re past this step, what next?

The next thing to do is get leadership to address the issue head-on. Male or female, whoever the leader of an organisation, they have to understand how women and men may be feeling, and instigate bridge-building where needed. For example, when done well, unconscious bias training can significantly improve awareness around the differences between men and women. This helps people interact more efficiently and to build genuine, mutual empathy.

There also needs to be specific attention on male line managers of women. Men of course must be mindful and respectful in their interactions with women, but the last thing we want is for them to feel scared, as this can lead to women becoming even further side-lined. This is as important for management as it is for employees. We cannot have a situation where men are reprimanded for talking openly about how they feel. We’ve seen examples of men losing their jobs for opening up and if we allow this to take hold, it’s clearly the women who will suffer as a result.

But perhaps the most important step businesses need to take is making the workplace more human. It’s vital everyone can have open, honest and human conversations and bring all of themselves to work without leaving the fun and empathetic side of themselves at home. And when I say human, I don’t mean fluffy. I mean honest and real.

This can be achieved through simple techniques. A great place to start is consciously thinking about “how to be” at work, and not just on “what to do.” At the start of meetings, attendees can set ground rules about how everyone should interact. What would make their time together most effective? What does everyone need to bring to be their “best selves?” For example, explaining how they want the tone to be. Or what type of behaviour is needed. Or what each person might need to consider when contributing. These are little things, but if done consistently, they produce change at an organisational level and they will create an inclusive culture.

If we can create this renewed feeling of collaboration and openness, then we can create businesses where women have the opportunities to thrive. And this isn’t just a matter of equality and diversity, it’s a matter of commercial sense.

With more diversity in management, businesses are proven to be more innovative[1]. Furthermore, companies with above-average diversity on their management teams also report revenue from innovation is nearly a fifth greater than those with below-average leadership diversity.

We need to empower men just as much as women, and we need to do this quickly, cut through the corporate tape that frightens us and remember this cannot be a man vs. woman issue. Because men and women can energise one another by fuelling each other’s strengths to close the gender pay gap.


About Caroline Whaley and Shine for Women

Caroline Whaley is the co-founder of Shine for Women, a human, refreshingly straight-talking and confidently optimistic career coaching organisation. She previously held senior global marketing positions at Nike and the Nike Foundation. Her clients now include ITV, Channel 4, EasyJet and WPP. Over 6,000 women from 75 nationalities have gone through the Shine for Women programme. Now in its fifth year, the business is on track to hit million-pound revenue in 2019.


[1] BCG, innovation and diversity study

Leave A Reply