Employers can play a role in countering backlash attitudes to gender equality by making the case for why it is good for employees and good for the organisation.

Sociologist, Dr Michael Flood, says much of the opposition to diversity programs is based on misunderstandings, such as the following common myths:

If women win, men lose.

“There is a misperception that it is a zero sum game – that any gains for women at work necessarily involve losses for men”, he says.

Men’s own wellbeing is limited by narrow ideas about how they are “supposed” to behave, argues Flood in the recently released Men Make A Difference report, co-authored by diversity and inclusion researcher Dr Graeme Russell for the Diversity Council of Australia.

Men often pay heavy costs – in the form of shallow relationships, poor health, and early death – for conformity with narrow definitions of masculinity, according to the report.

There is a level playing field.

“Some men may also be under the misapprehension that the current system is already fair and the initiatives are unnecessary and unfairly advantage women”, says Flood.

“The current system is not and has not been fair. It has disadvantaged women and initiatives, such as affirmative action, make the system fairer. They give women and men the same opportunities.”

The national gender pay gap is 15.3 percent, with women earning on average, $253.70 a week less than men, according to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency. This disadvantage starts as soon as they graduate: women earn less than men in 17 out of 19 fields of study and across nine out of 13 industries.

Flood says a neoliberalist ideology holds that women can make it on their own and achievement is a matter of individual skill and effort and that social interventions are unnecessary, if not intrusive.

“There is also a widespread perception that gender inequality is a thing of the past. Therefore, if women are doing less well at work, then it is simply down to their own choices or their own fault”, he says.

“Those widespread beliefs also constrain our efforts to build gender equality.”

Some jobs are now women only.

Flood says that it is against the law to refuse to hire men and he does not believe this is happening systematically.

“If this were going on systematically then we might expect to find the numbers of women in Australian corporate boardrooms increasing and, in fact, in the last decade, it has decreased. A mere 16.5 percent of Australian CEOs or heads of business are women.

There are exemptions under discrimination law to allow special and positive measures to improve equality.

Men are being discriminated against.

Certainly, there are men who are facing more competition for jobs in areas where women are making gains, especially where employers are actively trying to recruit and promote more women to even up the gender balance.

Around 12 percent of men believe women are treated better than men, compared with 3 percent of women who believe the same, according the University of Sydney research.

However, Flood says he thinks it is wrong to assume men in that situation will miss out in favour in women who are weaker candidates.

“It may well happen that women are promoted above men who are worthy candidates but, in general, that is not the case. There is a different kind of fear, which is that he will now be judged equally against female candidates who have the same skills on their CV as him.”

“For some men, when they are used to privilege, they are used to advantage, then equality looks like discrimination.”

Flood says there are hundreds of studies that show that CVs with female names are judged more harshly by recruiters than those with male names.

We hire and promote on merit.

Flood says this is a simplistic argument against diversity programs and can be countered by pointing out the ways merit can be subjective and biased.

“We need to talk about actual merit and perceived merit.”

It is a women’s issue.

Flood says that men are also disadvantaged by inequality. Shorter men, for instance, find it harder to progress.

“Male CEOs, on average, are four or five centimetres taller. That is not because tall people are more competent, it is because they are perceived to be more competent and more appropriate leaders. So implicit and unconscious stereotypes shape who gets promoted.”

The quality of every man’s life depends to a large extent on the quality of those relationships with the women in their lives. “Men gain when the women and girls around them have lives which are safe and fair”, says Flood.

This article was originally written for The Ethics Alliance. Find out more about this corporate membership program. Already a member? Log in to the membership portal for more content and tools here.