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Gender diversity has become a top agenda item for companies, and, it turns out, women have some allies they might not have expected: millennial men. (Antara Photo/Aloysius Jarot Nugroho)

Millennial Men Great Allies in Breaking ‘Glass Ceiling’

Gender diversity has become a top agenda item for companies and it turns out, women have some allies they might not have expected: millennial men. Boston Consulting Group’s research shows that the attitudes of young male employees regarding gender diversity are closely aligned with those of women.

Compared with older men, they are more likely to be part of a dual-income household, to contribute to childcare (and thus want childcare and paid parental leave programs), and – critically – to adapt their behavior in support of their female coworkers.

Those are the key findings of BCG’s analysis of survey data from more than 17,500 respondents at companies in 21 countries. Women represent an immense talent pool, yet they commonly encounter significant workplace challenges.

For women who have struggled with these difficulties, the results of the analysis should be heartening. And for leadership teams, the findings have clear implications. Gender diversity is not a women’s issue. Young male employees are highly attuned to the issue as well. These young men comprise a large component of the workforce, so companies can differentiate themselves by taking steps to create truly balanced teams.

By understanding young male employees’ perceptions of diversity, companies can get ahead of the issue, making themselves more attractive to recruits of both genders, increasing retention of female employees, and creating a truly balanced workforce.

Millennial Men Support Women’s Voices

Millennial men are in fact proving themselves to be the supporters of women’s voices in the workplace. During the research, when asked to identify the 10 highest-priority gender diversity initiatives their companies should implement next, men under 40 and all women ranked work-life balance measures, such as flexible work, as the top priority.

In contrast, older men ranked leadership transparency and commitment the highest. When we examined further, it appears that not only are younger men more aware of the obstacles overall, but they are also more aligned with women on the challenges women perceive as critical.

For instance, among men under 40, 26 percent cited retention as a major barrier for women, compared with 15 percent of men 40 and older. (Among women respondents of all ages, 36 percent cited retention as a barrier.)

Similarly, when asked about 39 various gender diversity initiatives or interventions, the research found that men under 40 were much closer to women in their ranking of the interventions overall than they were to older men.

Millennial men are willing to change their behaviors to make interventions succeed toward greater gender diversity. Men under 40 would take steps to support flexible work, such as changing the schedule for routine meetings, redistributing work across a team, and tracking performance on the basis of outcomes rather than hours worked.

Additionally, younger men are found to be more willing to hire candidates from non-traditional recruiting pools and to undergo bias education training in order to improve gender diversity.

How to Break the Glass Ceiling

There is a strong business case for companies to engage young men in helping to break the glass ceiling, build a stronger culture and improve their operational and financial performance. Company leaders can get started by considering the following key measures.

Get men involved in diversity programs. There is persuasive evidence that the most successful gender diversity programs are those that involve men’s participation. Companies can get men involved by appointing them to diversity programs, setting up sponsorship programs in which senior men advocate for high-potential women, and encouraging men to take advantage of flexible work programs. Those who hold senior positions and work under flexible terms should be celebrated as role models.

Make both men and women eligible for companies’ flexible work policies. According to the BCG research, millennials of both genders clearly want flexibility and that their companies are subject to increasing pressure to accommodate this need. Hence, options such as parental leave should be consistently available to employees of both genders. The same holds true of flexible work programs; they should not be identified – even informally – as programs that are for the mothers of young children.

Create a program or support network specifically for employees with children. Because working parents have particular needs, companies should consolidate resources for them and offer them opportunities to connect with one another.

Focus the business case for diversity on men aged 40 and older. The older men are the middle and senior managers who shape the day-to-day experience of women, and if they do not buy into the concept of gender diversity, it will not succeed.

Moreover, the causes behind women stepping off the career track are often not explicit discrimination, but rather an accumulation of daily hassles. To improve the situation, senior men need to understand the importance of retention and advancement and also that many of the organizations that claim to be gender neutral are nowhere close.

Gender Diversity an Asset for Companies

Once these measures are in place, companies can prominently highlight them in their recruiting strategies. The demand for gender diversity programs is already strong among younger generations, and it will grow even stronger over time. The forward-thinking companies that put these measures in place will begin to generate performance improvements immediately. In addition, they can double down on those gains by using their diversity programs to differentiate themselves, make themselves more attractive to recruits, and build up a strong pipeline of committed employees for the future.

Achieving gender diversity is both a challenge and an opportunity for organizations, and success requires everyone’s involvement. According to BCG’s analysis, young men are highly attuned to gender issues and aligned with women on the underlying root causes and relative effectiveness of specific company initiatives. Smart leaders will capitalize on this, giving their companies a recruiting advantage, creating more equitable workplaces and ultimately generating better company performance.

Mariam Jafaar is a partner and managing director of BCG Singapore and head of women at Boston Consulting Group.

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