Thought Leadership

How masculinity remains relevant in the workplace

Hobbs Consultancy and Token Man’s Masculinity in the Workplace event outlines the need for vulnerability in leadership

Georgie Moreton

Deputy Editor, BITE Creativebrief


‘How can we create change without causing fear of irrelevance?’ This was the question that Roxanne Hobbs, Founder of the Hobbs Consultancy, posed at Hobbs Consultancy and Token Man’s Masculinity in the Workplace event held at Havas' London headquarters.  The pandemic has presented a unique opportunity to reshape the future of the workplace for the better, being relevant is at the very top of the business agenda.

“A common reaction to shame is armouring up but we need authenticity and for people to bring their full selves to work,” explains Hobbs. Embracing vulnerability is key to ensuring progress towards an inclusive industry.

Everyday sexism

The event touched on how getting men immersed and involved in diversity and inclusion initiatives is imperative to creating change. A keynote session from Laura Bates, Founder of Everyday Sexism Project, reinforced the fact that sexism is not just a women’s issue.

Bates shared how often women find themselves at the sharp end of sexism. “Just one in three MPs are women and one woman is killed by a man every three days,'' said Bates. “These are not women’s issues at men’s expense," she continued, adding: "male suicide rates on average are 3 to to 5 times higher than female  [suicide rates] and 63% of men think their arms or chests arent muscley enough.” 

“People hijack progress positioning progress for women as a threat to men’” says Bates, yet change can have a positive impact on everyone. For each negative stereotype about women that exists there is an equally damaging opposite stereotype that impacts men. For example, where women are told they are overly emotional, men are told that boys don’t cry. “Gender stereotypes don't exist in a vacuum, they are mirrored,” she explained.

Men are central to combatting sexism. Challenging the culture of victim blaming  Bates underlined the role of the media in upholding damaging stereotypes. Contributing to a narrative in which the campaign to prevent violence against women has been depicted as a 'witch hunt gone mad'. A climate Bates believes has led to the “stoking of irrational fear that makes men not want to hold one-to-one meetings with women”.  

In reality Bates shared this extremist narrative is far from the truth. “People make the conversion about taking away fun, ‘banter’ but the majority of men know the distinction and it is a disservice to them to suggest they don’t," she added.

Change is in everybody’s interest.

Laura Bates, Founder of the Everyday Sexism Project

Allyship in action

Bates points to the example of Andy Murray correcting a journalist that said he was the ‘first person to win two tennis gold medals’. Murray's polite but firm correction that he was in fact the ‘first male player’ to achieve that double, successfully pushed the journalist to acknowledge the achievements of his female peers without creating conflict. This is a perfect demonstration of allyship in action.

Men hold a unique position and can carry out change where often women cannot. They can break down stereotypes by shifting culture between peers in ecosystems and environments in which women's voices cannot be heard. “Change is in everybody’s interest,” explained Bates.

Another example Bates shared was of a junior man in the workplace who realised that a woman his equal was getting pushed into more secretarial work like being asked to make tea and take notes. Frustrated on her behalf he began to offer to make the teas or take the notes. A small yet important act, which Bates believed contributed to changing stereotypes, by making a choice to be actively involved.

She believes that everyone has an opportunity to get involved. By learning about the wider issues of sexism, not being a bystander and speaking up. “In helping shift stereotypes and making a choice to be actively involved men can be relevant and involved in the conversation," Bates added.

Inclusive leadership

To bring in a workplace context Daniele Fiandaca, Co-founder, Token Man presented findings of the latest Masculinity in the Workplace study. The research asked three key questions: ‘How inclusive is your workplace? What traits are rewarded? How engaged are men in DEI?’

According to Fiandaca the findings showed that: “There’s still lots to be done, an ongoing inclusive leadership gap and the need to do more to engage men in allyship.”  

Evidence for this can be found in the contrast between leadership traits which people find to be the most rewarded and those traits which people think actually should be rewarded. The first list includes ‘confidence’ ,'results-focused’ and ‘ambitious’, where the latter sees ‘empathetic’, ‘collaborative’ and ‘kind’ amongst others. A disconnect which demonstrates an ongoing leadership gap. “Traditionally masculine skills are still seen to be the most valuable, although new skills are emerging like ‘kind’,” added Fiandaca.

Other findings outlined the impact of diversity and inclusion initiatives and found that 35% of respondents feel less valued because of diversity initiatives. This contrasts with the 37% that feel more included because of them. While 41% felt they will be looked over for promotion due to diversity targets, demonstrating the stark need to bring more men into DEI. 

Vulnerability was raised as a polarising issue. While 43% of respondents said they were brought up to believe vulnerability is a weakness, almost half (49%) saw it as courage. While over half (56%) believe vulnerability is a key leadership skill. A keynote session from Christopher Veal of the Vulnerable Man podcast outlined the importance of vulnerability and its ability to make significant change.

Strength in vulnerability 

Veal candidly shared his own journey of vulnerability which led him to 'create connection' and 'facilitate real change' in his own life. Sharing his experience of growing up surrounded by the narrow view of masculinity that the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone were poster boys for, the former marine found himself embracing vulnerability ahead of the birth of his daughter. Upon asking his company for paternity leave to balance caring responsibilities, Veal was met with comments from other men such as: 'Why do you need maternity leave?' and  'That’s women's work'.  He explained: “I had to go first and be willing to ask for help, stand up against the stereotype.” 

Yet Veal is careful not to blame fellow men for the backlash to his request and instead points to the impact of generations worth of societal conditioning. “They are a product of their environment,” he says. But he urges others to reject such stereotypes and be willing to be open and learn. 

Veal champions the idea of an ‘oops and ouch method’ accepting that in the pursuit to do better there will be times when people do get things wrong. Maintaining a learning mindset, being open to connection and getting comfortable with vulnerability means that mistakes are just misplaced footsteps on the journey toward a positive goal.