How Gender Bias Hides Men Too

10/07/2015 05:56 pm ET Updated Oct 07, 2016

The Wall Street Journal recently reported on Women in the Workplace. The articles spoke to the progress that has been made toward increasing gender equality and where it continues to lag, if not languish.

As a female CEO and executive coach to leaders in Fortune 500, mid-size and small companies, I wanted to understand why gender inequality persists, what was fact and what was myth. This quest inspired my newly released book, Hidden by Gender: What Women Need to Know About Gender Bias to Shine in the Corporate Space and the Marketplace.

The focus on gender equality is important. It's good for the world when half its population is healthy and productive. It increases the health and productivity of the other half.

I worry though, with our focus on gender equality for women, that we are fortifying an old notion that "it's a man's world." If we agree with that notion wholesale however, it hides men. It hides men who stand on behalf of women. It hides men when cultural norms insist men behave in proscribed ways.

Men Who Stand on Behalf of Women

At the Vital Voices Global Partnership Annual Awards this summer, Pakistani filmmaker Samar Minallah Khan's documentary on men received a standing ovation. We watched a father stand up for his daughter against swara, the practice of giving a daughter away to pay for a crime. We watched a brother stand for his sister's education when the village elders and grandmother said she did not need more education. There are men around the world who risk their lives standing on behalf of women.

Men Whose Roles and Behavior Differs from Proscribed Norms

The notion that "it is a man's world" hides men when cultural norms insist men behave in proscribed ways.

Consider Andrew Moravcsik. His wife, Anne-Marie Slaughter, wrote the now viral The Atlantic article, Why Women Still Can't Have It All. In his article titled Why I Put My Wife's Career First, Morvacsik states,

A female business executive willing to do what it takes to get to the top--go on every trip, meet every client, accept every promotion, even pick up and move to a new location when asked--needs what male CEOs have always had: a spouse who bears most of the burden at home.

Cultural norms, according to Moravcsik, make it okay if a younger man is the lead parent to a younger child. If he and the child are older, he is suspect. We know that social and cultural norms can prevent men from getting help to ensure their mental and even their physical health. They can impact a man's quality of life with painful, deadly consequences.

With our increasing acknowledgement of gender fluidity, it is curious to me how we, sometimes without even being aware, can still hold men hostage to fixed, dated ideas.

It's An Unequal World but Blame Doesn't Help

It is an unequal world for women around the globe. In our efforts to change this, we have to be vigilant for the unspoken notion that "it is a man's world." Spoken or unspoken, this idea is frequently accompanied by the sentiment that men are to be blamed. Have men contributed to the current state? Yes. As have women. When we blame, however, we have overly simplified a complex issue. Blame distracts from a solution focus. Worst of all, blame hides men.

Like the Chinese adage that inspired the title for the powerful book by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, we need to fully see those who hold up the other half.

We are all on the gender journey; it is part of the evolving human journey. It is an important one that can lead us to a more inclusive world for all--men and women, boys and girls.