interviews
Gender issues from male perspective
By Blanka Jánosi & Luca Hajdú
Gender issues have become increasingly important in our daily lives and in the life of Acasus. With this in mind, we wanted to emphasise our commitment to gender equality and to mark International Women's Day so we are organising a "Women's Week", where we will also address these issues and share our colleagues' insights, experiences and tips on the subject.

Although the focus this week is on female colleagues, we firmly believe that this is not just a women's issue and that we all have to contribute to making a difference, so we are delighted to include the views of our male colleagues. 

We asked four male colleagues, Fenton Whelan (CEO), Jonny Barty, Mauro Cuno and Abdul Hamid Hatsaandh, to answer our questions on the issue. 

 

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Fenton Whelan

 

Let’s start with one of the most basic questions: Why do you think it is important to talk about gender equality issues? 

Mauro: In my opinion, talking about gender equality issues is important for identifying the main actions and/or interventions which will be of benefit to women. In fact, the only way these issues can be effectively addressed is through an open and honest dialogue about the prejudices against women, particularly in the workplace. It should be “open” to encourage the participation of both women and men. It should be “honest” to encourage both sides to learn positive actions that can be adopted (as a policy, personal attitudes) to address issues related to gender equality and unlearn practices that may be perceived as unfavorable to greater gender equality.

 

Jonny: Fundamentally, if we don’t do this we will fail our female colleagues and clients, and we will fail our own ideals by extension. We can only say that we are serious about equality by walking the talk. However, to do that we need to give people safe spaces to speak about their experiences, and to normalise discourse on this topic across the company.

 

Fenton: It is absurd that in many countries, decisions about maternal and child health are made almost exclusively by men. The international community talks a lot about gender, but concrete action is more limited. We need less talking, more doing.

 

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Jonny Barty

 

What do you think can be done to address gender stereotypes in the workplace? 

Mauro: Developing specific corporate policy on gender equality issues should be a priority. But, to positively reinforce the approved policy, I would suggest setting up a workable dialogue between female and male co-workers on gender equality issues. The dialogue should focus on the various ways in which gender stereotypes are manifested in the workplace and jointly take actions to tackle them.

 

Jonny: Where we see gender stereotypes and obstacles, we need to confront them. However, this isn’t always easy, so we need to make confronting them as easy as possible. We can do this by launching new processes, setting expectations, and developing cultures that help enable people to speak out in a safe way, alongside new guidelines and trainings to affirm our values. 

We also need to embed gender into our work. This will help to normalise discourse on gender, give us regular mechanisms with which to talk about it with clients and stakeholders, and ensure that we are delivering as much impact as possible for female citizens in the countries that we work.  

I think we can also be louder about the things we are doing well, e.g. on ensuring pay parity across the organisation, or in the recruitment work we do, which is critical but not currently well known. 

 

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Mauro Cuna

 

What do you think men can do to help women overcome the challenges of gender stereotyping?

Mauro: I propose three steps:

  1. Listening – it is important for women to feel that their concerns are not taken “lightly” by their male peers (colleagues, managers).
  2. Ask questions (do not remain silent) - to have better clarity on why certain issues are of concern to women.
  3. Self-reflection - engage in an examination of the role men can play in championing gender equality. The self-reflection process should include the identification of the resources available to them inside and outside the workplace to effectively contribute to advancing gender equality.

 

Jonny: First and foremost, we need to keep educating ourselves. It’s on us to make sure we understand the challenges, risks, and obstacles faced by our female colleagues, so that we can make sure that we are part of the solution. We work with strong, talented and inspiring women every day; so there is no excuse not to be engaged here.

We also need to embed best practices to make sure we actively overcome obstacles on a day-to-day basis in our work. The examples that Toni explained in our recent call on gender issues (e.g. planning meetings so that everyone has a clear opportunity to speak, splitting tasks with a gender lens, etc) are impactful things that we can do every day to help overcome such obstacles.

Lastly, we all need to model the behaviours, beliefs, and expectations we want to see in others. This is especially important for senior colleagues, but is something everyone should be doing every day (beyond gender, even). 

 

Fenton: When you are taking on challenging tasks in challenging situations, there will always be obstacles. We need a culture where everyone - male or female - feels comfortable to share what they are dealing with and think through the best way to deal with challenges.

We have had a few situations where senior government officials have behaved inappropriately towards our female colleagues. In these cases, it is important to have a no compromise, zero tolerance policy. Even if it costs us a project, we do not back down, and we hit back hard in every way we can. We need to set an example.

Role models are important. I look not only at how Toni shattered the glass ceiling in Peru, and has been an inspiration to thousands of others, but also at how so many of our colleagues create positive models in their day to day work, and feel inspired by them.

 

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Abdul Hamid Hatsaandh

 

What advice would you give to men who do not feel the need to address gender issues?

Mauro: Convincing someone to change a particular perspective is always difficult. In the debate about gender issues, there are good men with the wrong convictions and bad men with the right convictions. What is important to me is bringing a fresh perspective on gender issues. I think men need to look at gender issues as humanity issues. My understanding has been that “this is not a women problem, but a humanity problem”. If all men who do not feel the need to help address gender issues agree with this presupposition, they will also understand that addressing humanity problems have always required joint efforts, and thus gender issues should not be an exception to that. In summary, I would tell them that it takes more than women to achieve positive transformation on gender issues.

 

Abdul: The most important thing which can be done in the workplace is to let it be HIGHLIGHTED to all men that for evolutionary and intergenerational reasons , men, generally, have implicit biases towards women. Often, men don't realise they are biassed towards women. Yet, they tend to act upon their biases almost every day. For example, when men speak in a meeting, men would listen. But when women speak, men will still listen, but will suddenly put on their critical lens and suddenly become expert on finding holes in arguments. And it's precisely for the implicit nature of the gender biases that there should be policies and guidelines in place to safeguard a focus on the challenges facing women.

 

Jonny: Quite simply, my advice would be to look around and get informed. If not, I’d probably start looking for another job!

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