DCA’s Debate finds ‘engaging men’ is not the game changer for gender equality

Media releases
Topics Inclusion Gender

The Diversity Council Australia and National Australia Bank Annual Diversity Debate held in Sydney last night found ‘engaging men’ is not the game changer for gender equality, with the audience voting in favour of the negative team by 69% to 31%. 

A record crowd of over 400 CEOs, HR directors and managers watched a high profile panel debate if ‘engaging men’ is the game changer for gender equality. While both sides agreed that men need to play a role in addressing gender inequality, the negative team successfully argued that it is only part of the solution – and that more focus should be on elevating women as well as challenging and changing biased systems and cultures.

A survey of the audience found that 84% said gender equality is a priority for their organisation and yet only 59% of men in their organisations are supportive of efforts to achieve it. Moreover, 51% said their organisation had an initiative designed to engage men (e.g. male champions of change) but only 26.5% were sure the initiative is achieving its objectives.

For the sixth year in a row, the debate was emceed by Tony Jones, respected journalist and host of ABC TV's Q&A. The debate panel included:

For the Affirmative team, arguing that ‘engaging men’ IS the game changer for gender equality: 

  • Kate Jenkins, Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Australian Human Rights Commission
  • Pip Marlow, Managing Director, Microsoft Australia   
  • Stephen Barrow, Executive General Manager, Culture and Capability, National Australia Bank

For the Negative team, arguing that ‘engaging men’ IS NOT the game changer for gender equality:

  • Dr Michael Flood, Associate Professor, University of Wollongong
  • Benjamin Law, TV screenwriter, journalist and newspaper columnist
  • Clementine Ford, freelance writer, broadcaster and public speaker

DCA’s CEO, Lisa Annese, said the discussion at the Debate highlighted key issues for employers.

“Involving men in efforts to drive gender equality is important – but it mustn’t be at the expense of women’s voices and it shouldn’t be viewed as ‘the silver bullet’.

“Organisations also need to ensure programs designed to engage men have clear objectives and are achieving their intended results,” said Lisa.

During the Debate, speakers for the affirmative team argued that engaging men is key to achieving gender equality:

  • “The cause has been stalled by polarising arguments about men versus women. The best way to make change is through inclusive leadership, through men being included in understanding the current situation more fully and also being part of the solution. This is an issue of numbers and basic psychology," said Stephen Barrow.
  • “We are not saying that men are more important or should be running the show, but they can work together with women in the fight for gender justice. If we can engage the large majority of men in our community who have historically failed to pull their weight, this will make a huge difference,” said Kate Jenkins.
  • “The reality is that men hold the majority of positions of power in our businesses, our boardrooms and our parliaments. History shows us that acceptance has never driven change so we need to engage the men who sit in these positions of influence. Their role in agitating and advocating for change at all levels is critical to driving the change required to create a better future,” said Pip Marlow.

Speakers for the negative team argued that engaging men alone will not deliver gender equality:

  • “In practice, efforts to engage men often set the bar for men very low. They risk marginalising women’s voices. They focus too much on reassuring men and not enough on challenging systems and cultures of oppression,” said Dr Michael Flood.
  • “Men are already engaged – look at the myriad initiatives in every sector that have existed for years, if not decades – and there is still inequality. Men won’t end inequality, just as white people won’t end racism,” said Benjamin Law.
  • “Too often, engaging men has been about asking men to ‘help’ women, to decide how much power to give back to women. It should be focused less on valorising men and more on changing, challenging, and mobilising them,” said Clementine Ford.

DCA thanks Major Sponsor NAB as well as Supporting Sponsors Optus and Johnson & Johnson, and Associate Sponsors BAE Systems and Boardroom.Media, for making the Debate such a successful event.

Lisa Annese, DCA’s CEO, and panellists are available for interview. Please contact Diane Falzon, 0430 596 699 or Catherine Petterson, 0419 447 331.