Why Men’s Perspectives Should Be Included in Your DEIB Programming
Recently, we began noticing a trend in certain customer data, specifically lower engagement scores from White males regarding Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB) programming. Although men — particularly White men — aren’t a historically marginalized group, this data points to the problems that can result when a DEIB strategy is launched within an organization without a clear “why” that's understood by all groups who are critical to its success.
One of us (Heather) noticed something similar while spotlighting men’s issues in a psychology course she was teaching during part-time work as an adjunct faculty member. There, a conversation about DEIB topics failed to elicit much participation from male students until the discussion was expanded to include men’s issues. One male student who eventually spoke up said he hadn’t done so previously because, being a man, he felt “the constant expectation to earn my place or make a contribution.” Since the prior topics weren’t specifically about men’s issues, he didn’t want to interject himself into the conversation, thereby “making it about me.”
With this in mind, we decided to write about the necessity of creating a space for men’s issues in DEIB programming, thus ensuring that everyone feels they have a place in the discourse. As we noted, for many companies men make up the largest segment of the workforce population. While they aren’t marginalized or underrepresented to the same extent as other groups, their experiences are important and their unique challenges should be highlighted to increase their overall DEIB engagement.
Workforce Challenges for Men
Developed in 1989 by then-UCLA School of Law professor Kimberlé Crenshaw, the concept of intersectionality describes the ways in which systems of inequality based on gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, class, and other forms of discrimination “intersect” to create unique dynamics and effects. Analyzing men’s issues within such a framework can do more than simply increase male engagement; it can also help everyone better understand the systems of inequality that are leading to discrimination.
Although men continue to occupy the vast majority of private and public sector positions of authority throughout the world, the majority of men do not serve in these roles or exercise this degree of power. In fact, recent data shows that, in areas such as education and mortality, men are experiencing increasingly negative outcomes. Since the mid-1980s in the United States, women have earned more bachelor’s degrees than men — and the gap has widened in recent years, particularly during the pandemic, with U.S. colleges now enrolling six women for every four men. Even before the pandemic, approximately 20% of men between their early 20s and early 60s, or roughly 20 million men, had left the labor force. That is three times the percentage in 1960, and worse than the depths of the recent Great Recession in the late 2000s. According to the Milken Institute Review’s “The Male Non-Working Class” survey, the U.S. had one of the lowest proportions of its 25- to 64-year-old men working or seeking work among all 38 highly industrialized countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries in 2018 (participation rates for women have also declined, with only 57% of working-age women in the workforce — the lowest that rate has been since 1988).
Beyond excessive rates of illness and death impairing or preventing their participation in the workplace, working-age men also have high rates of disability, with about 20% of men ages 25 to 54 saying they are disabled. One recent study in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that “deaths of despair” — deaths related to drug and alcohol use or suicide — rose for the entire United States between 1990 and 2017, with the deaths of White and Black men most responsible for that increase (in 2020, per CDC data, men were nearly 4 times more likely than women to die from suicide). Another recent study of 1,602 men in Professional Psychology: Research and Practice found that men who need psychological services for a specific problem are less likely to seek them to the extent that they have negative attitudes about seeking psychological help and experience self-stigma regarding their need for such services. Even body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), a mental health condition involving obsessive focus on a perceived flaw in appearance that is often associated with women, has prevalence rates nearly as high among men — and men may be underdiagnosed either due to the stigma associated with seeking psychological services for conditions like this or because of a lack of social awareness, as exemplified by the fact that many companies now market “body positivity” towards women while far fewer have targeted men.
The negative effects associated with these life outcomes impact not only the men suffering because of them but also the people with whom they live and work. There are ways to incorporate this understanding into organizational DEIB efforts.
Including Men in the Conversation
Based on our own work, we have a number of recommendations for including men in DEIB efforts. As a general rule, it's important to emphasize that DEIB is intended to make the workplace better for all, not just provide targeted support for traditionally marginalized groups — a critical point for organizations that lack diversity and need to gain buy-in and allyship among the entire population. Additionally, even while making space for men, DEIB programming must still hold space for those who experience more adversity. Other recommendations include:
- Be clear about the expectations for your DEIB program, and communicate them at the beginning of training and during the onboarding period for new hires. Ensure that your good intentions don’t backfire. This means bearing in mind that DEIB programming must not risk being inadvertently exclusive of other groups by trying to be inclusive of historically marginalized groups, which is counterproductive to what a DEIB effort is trying to accomplish. Employees newly involved in DEIB efforts will benefit from a thorough understanding of the expectations and goals of this programming, which, in turn, reinforces its importance.
- Give grace. Address the creation of safe spaces for all, so that no one involved in DEIB efforts feels as if they are “walking on eggshells.” This can be done by providing resources for further education, such as self-service through the learning management system or the intranet, or by directing them to a dedicated person who can facilitate further discussion. Remember, the most valuable DEIB learning comes from someone who is experiencing the problems being discussed, so a script on how to respectfully share this information can help create a culture where people feel comfortable asking others to explain more.
- Train allies to be allies. Communicating best practices for allies can occur in one of two ways:
- Employee resource Groups (ERGs): If the organization has an ERG program in place, using it to train allies could drive accountability and commitment. The list of people who sign up can then be shared with the whole group, enabling outreach and further learning. An ERG offers a good opportunity to practice the use of non-binary pronouns and other inclusivity exercises, such as scripts intended to drive dialogue.
- Individualized ally training: This should include dos and don’ts, instruction on how to respectfully ask questions, and ways to manage feelings of disagreement or other emotional reactions.
Remember, training alone won’t create desirable behavior changes if the organization's culture doesn’t allow for the expression of best practices learned in training. Ensure these types of behaviors are encouraged and celebrated in order to reinforce this culture in the organization.
Listening Can Accelerate DEIB Progress for All
A thoughtful listening strategy and action plan can prove to be the difference between reversing a DEIB deficit or letting DEIB issues overwhelm the company culture. Finding ways to listen to and include groups like men is just one component of a much longer and more comprehensive journey. Perceptyx can help you develop and track the right metrics to understand how DEIB fits into your employee experience so you can drive continuous improvements over time. Schedule a meeting with a member of our team today to learn more.