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Men break with the norms to help propel gender equality

After six years of hard work, gender equality prevails among the senior management at Reykjavik Energy. The pay gap is close to zero. Ikea wants to reach the same goal by 2020, and Volvo is tackling fierce global competition with more diversity. At the Barbershop conference in Copenhagen, 200 business leaders, politicians, and researchers came together to fine-tune their arguments, expand their knowledge, and mobilise men within the field of gender equality.

Iceland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Gudlaugur Thor Thordarson called the conference a training camp:

“At Barbershop, men get the insight they need to play an active role in the debate on gender equality. Otherwise we’re just playing with half a team, with no hope of winning the match,” he said as he opened the conference.

He continued by clarifying that winning one match does not mean that the Nordic countries will remain best in the world when it comes to gender equality.

“We know what respect for women’s rights and women’s participation in the labour market has done for our well-being. And we want to be even better. But the ultimate goal is that every country achieves gender equality,” said Thordarson.

Women leaving Volvo

The concept of providing a forum for men’s debate on gender equality has been developed in Iceland and tested around the world on several occasions.

The first Barbershop conference, organised by the Nordic Council of Ministers and UN Women, took place in Copenhagen on 12 October.

Senior business figures, including Peter Grönberg from Volvo and Sari Brody from Ikea, took to the stage to talk about their companies’ systematic efforts relating to gender equality. Volvo has had problems with women disliking its corporate culture and leaving the company. All male senior managers are now undergoing training to create awareness of masculinity norms.

“We have to be creative if we want to be the best problem-solving company in the industry. The predominance of men in management teams isn’t especially creative; it’s more about maintaining hierarchies. We only become creative through mixed management teams and when people dare to be themselves. Many men in Volvo’s management team have said that receiving training in gender norms has changed their lives,” said Grönberg.

Counting is only the first step

Ikea, which employs 150,000 people in 29 countries, has the goal of achieving gender-equal management teams and equal pay for equal work by 2020.

“Once you have equality in numbers, you have only started your work. Because your real work is an inclusive culture. Our starting point is that gender equality is a fundamental human right,” said Brody.

One way for Ikea to work on its corporate culture is to offer paid parental leave to new mothers and fathers in countries like India, Japan, and the US, and to encourage men in particular to make use of this entitlement.

Bjarni Bjarnason, CEO of Reykjavik Energy, described the company’s hard work in successfully abolishing unjustified pay differences between women and men in the company – a process which began after Iceland’s banking crisis.

Equal pay standard used

The company has gone from an inappropriate 8.4 percent pay gap between women and men to a 1.1 percent gap.

“By the end of the year, we’ll be hovering around zero. We’ve also worked a lot on our corporate culture, with the benefit of higher productivity, more open decision-making processes, and better decisions as a result. All the cards are on the table and no one has a hidden agenda,” said Bjarnason.

Reykjavik Energy has been involved in developing the volontary standard for equal pay that now can be used by every major company in Iceland to abolish unjustified pay gaps. Iceland have introduced legislation requiring employers to prove they are paying men and women equally.

“The senior management has a duty to enforce gender equality,” concluded Bjarnason.

Klas Hyllander, an engineer and consultant who trains business leaders in gender equality, confirmed that it is important to put pressure on senior management teams in the corporate world.

“The situation in the private business sector is worse than other sectors – CEOs are underperforming. They’re failing to utilise the potential that exists within their companies. Companies which exclude large segments of the population prove expensive for society as a whole,” Hyllander said.

Girls in STEM, boys in social care

To enable companies to utilise their full potential – such as the high level of educational attainment of women – men must be responsible for half of unpaid work in the home,” said Gary Barker, founder of the organisation Promundo.

“The most important reason why women throughout the world pursue a career to a lesser extent than men is that they are more responsible for looking after their children and homes,” he said.

The foremost political priority is two-fold, says Barker: Educate all young people, regardless of gender, in being breadwinners and caregivers. And “force” new fathers to stay at home with their children.

“We spend a lot of time convincing girls that they can embark on a variety of technical training programmes, but how much time do we spend convincing boys to be caregivers, both professionally and privately?” he asked.

“Dad months” are effective

“For as long as the wage gap between women and men exists, and for as long as gender roles govern people’s lives so heavily, women will assume the lion’s share of caring for their children,” he argued. Consequently, parental leave should be fully paid and shared equally between both parents.

“Countries that pursue this will achieve gender equality more quickly. And the politicians who make such decisions will usually be re-elected,” said Barker.

Updated 11 December 2019