Management Today recently celebrated its 2018 Agents of Change Power List, the men we felt had done the most to contribute to gender equality at work over the last year. That sometimes elicits a double take. The men who’ve pushed for gender equality?
But men have been fighting for women’s rights for centuries now. Or at least some of them have.
Today you’ve got chaps like EE’s chief executive Marc Allera, who’s contractually bound recruitment agencies to provide 50:50 candidate lists or Aviva’s Mark Wilson, who’s introduced a policy of equal parental leave and was the first FTSE 100 CEO to sign up to the 30% Club’s gender diversity commitment.
But peer back through the mists of time and you’ll find many a notable ‘suffragent’. Here are a few of MT’s favourites.
John Stuart Mill: ‘If ever there was an early Male Agent of Change, I think John Stuart Mill would have been an ideal candidate for our Power List’ says ad-land queen (and real life Dame) Cilla Snowball at the Agents of Change party at the BT Tower.
In 1869 his essay The Subjection of Women, Mill wrote ‘by denying women the same opportunities as men, society not only impedes the development of roughly half the population, but denies itself the benefit of their talents.’
He was elected as MP for the City and Westminster on a platform that pushed votes for women and in 1866 presented the first mass suffrage petition to the House of Commons.
George Lansbury: A future Labour leader and founder of the Daily Herald (rebranded as the Sun newspaper), Lansbury represented the Bow and Bromley constituency in Parliament and was a keen supporter of women’s rights.
He frequently clashed with his parliamentary colleagues over universal suffrage. In 1912, Lansbury resigned from his seat to contest a by-election specifically on the issue - which he then lost. He was also imprisoned for three months in 1913 after addressing a Women's Social and Political Union event at Albert Hall.
James Keir Hardie: The Labour party founder and trade unionist Keir Hardie regularly addressed Parliament on the issue of women’s suffrage. He scrutinised Government ministers over the way that suffragette prisoners were treated and attended many WPSU events.
These men were hugely forward thinking. They lived at a time when women were completely subordinate to men and barred from owning property, voting or practicing a profession. To push the case for women’s equality at such a time was not only brave but progressive and pioneering. If they could push for change in a Victorian world, there is now excuse in the 21st century.
Now that society is slowly starting to address this historical wrong, we need men now more than ever to keep working for change. After all it's already taken hundreds of years just to get here and we’ve still got a long way to go.
Image credit: Everett Historical/Shutterstock