The Man's guide to International Women's Day

If you're a man, here's what you can do to #PressforProgress.

by Stephen Frost
Last Updated: 08 Mar 2018

In case you hadn't noticed, today is International Women’s Day. Since this time last year, we've had the viral success of the #MeToo campaign, the Harvey Weinstein scandal opening a door to talking openly about sexual harassment, the BBC gender pay gap forcing all major companies to reveal their gender pay disparities and the 100 year anniversary of women winning the right to vote in the UK.

But has the world actually gone backwards for women in the past 12 months? If you’re a man, here’s what you can do.

1. Man up

Have the courage to challenge bad behaviour and call it out. That’s not being soft, that’s being strong.  Ditto, having the courage to make yourself vulnerable, admit when you don’t know something and see how much better the response is.For all the differences between the genders, we still have more in common than we have apart. Remember, diversity is a reality, but inclusion is a choice. This International Women’s Day, choose inclusion. For her, and for yourself.

2. Avoid tokenism 

Diversity is infinite – no two people are the same, and it is this diversity of people and their perspectives that makes it valuable. Ask, don’t assume. 

3. Grow your ‘in-group’

Write down your five closest friends and your five closest colleagues. How many women does this include? Chances are you are part of the majority of people who hang out with people incredibly similar to themselves. We call this homophily and it’s the natural and normal tendency to gravitate towards like minds (and genders). This ‘in-group’ unconsciously acts as your frame of reference for how you perceive 'intelligence' or 'do they get it?' or even 'are they a good/bad hombre?' Be aware of this lens and include women in your in-group to make the lens more accurate. 

4. Promote your ‘out-group’

Don’t confuse confidence with competence. When going for promotion, men are likely to put themselves forward when they can fulfil 50% of the job description. Women are likely to hold back until they can complete 90%. Go for competence, even if this means having to dig a little deeper and encourage people (women and introverted men) to put themselves forward.

5. Educate yourself

International Women's Day is just as much about men as about women. It’s about men and their reluctance to change, or ignorance of the need to. It’s been four years since Sheryl Sandberg wrote Lean In about what women can do for themselves. But since men control most of the power and decision making in society, what are you doing to lean in? There are more men called ‘John’ leading FTSE 100 companies than women. In other words, it’s about fixing the system, not fixing the women.  And you are part of the system. At a time of resource scarcity, diminished budgets and tight margins, diversity can be a vital resource. It can increase team productivity, lessen risks such as groupthink, and increase resilience. Diversity has been mathematically proven to be correlated with greater profit.

6. Be self-aware

If you say, 'I don’t see gender, I just treat everyone the same', then you probably need to become aware of your own bias. Take the Harvard implicit association test. It’s free, takes 10 minutes and you’ll learn loads about yourself. 

7. Flex your role

Your ‘self’ includes your football team, your preferred beer and your political views. Your ‘role’ includes your job and how you choose to conduct yourself professionally in life. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you believe, you can still be yourself. Just flex your behaviour.

8. Develop empathy: Put yourself in her shoes

Remember that conference you went to? Were you oblivious to the fact it was all grey and blue suits and guys slapping each other on the back and talking football? Go to a women’s conference, such as Management Today's Inspiring Women conference in Edinburgh or its Young Women in Business event in London. See how it feels to be one of the only men in a sea full of women.   

9. Get your company on board

Most of my clients are straight white men. They understand that it’s in their own self-interest to have more women on board. You could argue that cognitive diversity can happen amongst a group of white men. That’s true, but it would be significantly more if women and other minorities were included.  Gender and ethnicity are proxies for cognitive diversity and ignoring them reduces the perspectives available in decision-making.

10. Partner with a woman professionally

Have you ever been in a meeting and felt excluded? Think how it feels if you’re the only woman in the room. People will see your gender before they listen to what you have to say. When women point out sexism they can be perceived as self-interested ('there she goes again'). So you point it out. At a recent lecture, the professor highlighted separate brain scans of a man and a woman at rest at 3am. The woman’s brain was a hive of activity with neurons flashing everywhere as she analysed the day’s events. In the man’s brain scan, nothing was going on. So it makes sense to partner with someone who’s more likely to have done the homework, less likely to BS and more complementary to your own skill set.  

Stephen Frost is the founder of f(i), a consultancy that works with business professionals to help them embed inclusion in their decision-making. His latest book, Inclusive Talent Management – How business can thrive in an age of diversity, is out now, published by Kogan Page. For more information go to or find Stephen on Twitter.



Find this article useful?

Get more great articles like this in your inbox every lunchtime

The Big Pharma gender conundrum

The pharmaceutical industry is championing women in its workforce - but is failing to get...

How one profitable company manages the four-day week

CEO and owner of CMG Technologies, Rachel Garrett, makes every week a bank holiday for...

How can SMEs cope with the latest hike in inflation?

MT Asks: With the latest inflation update from the Bank of England crushing any business...

Karen Blackett

Leadership clinic: "How do I motivate my team when we're all exhausted?"

Karen Blackett OBE, UK country manager of WPP, Group M UK CEO and a former...

Dog, bear and cat

The Animal Rich List: These animals are worth more than you

C-suite roles might be famously well paid, but these animals are worth more. Much more....

How leaders can create a culture of learning

Rich Westman, CEO and founder of start-up Kaido, argues that creating a strong learning culture...