Are male middle managers the key to equality in the workplace?

21st September 2015

Posted In: The Topic

A new report by Elisabeth Kelan, Professor of Leadership at Cranfield School of Management, explores the pivotal role men in middle management positions can play in creating fair and equal workplaces.

Professor Kelan’s research, Linchpin – Men, Middle Managers and Gender Inclusive Leadership, explores how men, who represent 70 percent of managers and leaders in organisations, can bring about the changes needed to the embedded systems and structures that can obstruct the progress of women.

Drawing on job shadowing and interviews with middle managers from a number of different organisations, the report documents the every day practices that often go unnoticed that are key to unlocking equality in organisations.

Professor Kelan commented: “The high numbers of men in middle management positions have a major role to play to ensure that gender parity becomes a reality in organisations. It has been well documented that CEOs recognise equality as a strategic priority, but the responsibility of male middle managers as gender inclusive leaders has so far largely been ignored.”

The report reveals four practices that these managers must engage in for change to happen in their organisations. They are: Celebrating and encouraging women; Calling out biases and making them visible; Championing and defending gender initiates to men and women and Challenging existing work practices.

Professor Kelan went on to say: “It is crucial that male middle managers start to model these desired practices. This will encourage others to do the same and over time gender inclusive leadership will be seen as a key part of how good leadership is achieved. Ideally, demonstrating gender inclusive leadership should be written into performance evaluations to formalise this commitment.”

The research suggests that a good middle manager will coach, develop, mentor, sponsor and support the people they manage. However the gender inclusive manager knows that these activities must encompass all people and not just people who are like them. They are able to overcome the tendency to identify with people who are like themselves and instead make an effort to connect with and support those who are different across the organisation.

Gender inclusive managers are also highly self-reflective; they consider their own impact on others. Asking for feedback from their team as well as senior leaders on how they can improve.

The research concludes that in order to create sustainable equality in the workplace, male middle managers must adopt inclusive leadership practices. They will then form the linchpin that will allow the strategic vision for gender equal workplaces to become an everyday reality.

Read the report in full here (pdf).

For the academic year 2014/2015 Professor Elisabeth Kelan, Cranfield Universiy School of Management, has led an extensive research project on how men as middle managers can engage in gender inclusive leadership.