Men Doing and Undoing Gender at Work

Elisabeth K. Kelan, Professor of Leadership at Cranfield School of Management at the London School of Economics recently published an article entitled “Men Doing and Undoing Gender at Work: A Review and Research Agenda,” in the International Journal of Management Reviews. She reviewed data from a comprehensive array of studies on the ways in which men are either reinforcing barriers or working to cultivate gender equality in the workplace.

The data shows that, in many cases, men are not even aware that they may be hindering progress and privileging the masculine through their behaviors.

Male privilege includes the social, economic, and political advantages or rights that are made available to men solely on the basis of their gender. While you may not be aware of it, if you are a man, you have benefitted from it. You’re less likely to be interrupted when you speak, for instance; you’re not expected to smile for strangers. You can have a drink by yourself in a bar without being bothered. You get paid more for your work.

Benefitting from male privilege doesn’t make you a bad person, but it is time to recognize that you do receive an advantage. We hope it’s also about now that you ask yourself what you can do to work for greater equality for everyone else.

We often hear that, while male managers and leaders profess a commitment to gender equality, their subordinates don’t always see that commitment in action. Dr. Kelan’s research may be instructive here, and connects up with the huge costs of unconscious bias: One may consciously think that one is committed to equity in the workplace, but may be unconsciously undermining that commitment through one’s actions.

Kelan identifies four broad categories of behaviors where men may be either “doing gender,” that is, reinforcing a masculine hierarchy, or “undoing gender,” which is working to create greater inclusion and gender equity.

What’s the upshot of all this?

Men have a tremendous opportunity to help reshape the workplace culture in order to create more gender equity and greater inclusion. I would suggest, too, that thinking through these behaviors and making some modifications might help build greater inclusion not just of women, but of People of Color and other communities within the workplace.

When everyone feels Welcomed, Valued, Respected, and HeardSM , they can get more work done. And that’s good for you, your team, and every organization.