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New Research Insights for Leaders of Gender Parity

Viral stories of men in male-dominated industries feeling unheard and resisting efforts to reduce gender inequities abound. (Take a look at the “Google Memo” scandal). This exposes a serious need for organizational leaders to understand how to advocate for gender parity policies. Organizations must implement policies in a way that builds employee support and minimizes the consequences of employee backlash.

As a Ph.D. student and researcher in the UCLA Social Relations lab, I recently conducted an experiment to understand how leader gender interacts with the use of a common leadership strategy to champion gender parity initiatives to male employees. In this experiment, I hypothesized that men using the leadership strategy of listening to subordinates’ views (called “voice” provision) have a unique opportunity to get other men on board with gender parity efforts.

Why Would Leader Gender Matter to Gender Parity Initiatives?

My research is based on a well-established idea: the match or mismatch of identities (e.g., race or gender) between leaders and their subordinates can affect how employees respond to the leader’s decisions, policies, or agendas. For example, when using a leadership strategy that communicates respect to subordinates by providing them with the opportunity to voice their views on a relevant, even undesirable matter, the effectiveness of this strategy is heightened when the leader shares a group identity with the subordinate.

Male Leaders have an Opportunity to Motivate Other Men

Working with UCLA’s Dr. Yuen Huo, I conducted an experiment on hundreds of adult men working in male-dominated industries. Men went through a scenario in which a leader initiated a mandatory “Gender Dynamics Training Program” to respond to gender bias in a hypothetical company. I randomly assigned participants to this training requirement by either a male or female leader. The leadership strategy of providing voice was either present or absent in the interaction. 

Voice by Male Leaders Boosts Support for Gender Parity Efforts

Men were the least resistant to the gender parity effort when a male leader used the voice strategy. In contrast, this research found that men showed a slight increase in resistance towards the gender parity effort when women leaders used the voice provision strategy, as opposed to not using the strategy. This suggests that male leaders may have an advantage when using similar leadership strategies to garner support for gender parity efforts from their male subordinates.

Gender Parity Recommendations for Organizations in Male-dominated Industries

This research highlights the importance of informed diversity management. Organizations must administer diversity and inclusion programs carefully to maximize impact. These findings suggest that organizations can strengthen their diversity agendas. They must direct leadership to communicate respect to their employees (e.g., by incorporating voice provision) when rolling out programming.

This is quite similar to other research on how male allies against sexism can leverage their privilege in meaningful ways. This research suggests that male leaders are in a unique position to promote gender parity. This is especially clear among other men because of their shared group membership. In short, men remain the “most powerful stakeholder group” in most large organizations. Getting more men to the table in support of gender parity efforts has profound implications for the success and sustainability of such efforts. There is a distinct opportunity for men in power to motivate their group members toward workplace parity goals. Some leaders view this opportunity as a valuable, even imperative, professional responsibility.