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Do We Really Need a Men's Movement?

22/08/2013 10:56 BST | Updated 21/10/2013 10:12 BST

Many women will likely baulk at Anne-Marie Slaughter's call for a men's movement - which argues that men are stigmatised and need to speak up more in support of themselves. She has a point, but not quite in the way she thinks. We don't need a men's movement on the one hand, and a separate women's movement on the other. I'm not saying these movements are not needed because they are obsolete - far from it. Consider the role of women in business, which is far from ideal. But it would be far more effective if both men and women worked together as allies in the cause of gender equality.

Despite endless initiatives and policies - from international organisations like the UN, all the way down to individual SME companies - women are still under-repremen as alliessented in the business world. Despite women making up 51% of the population, almost every industry is dominated by men. Take architecture and design - globally 50% women graduate in this field, yet only 15% are licensed partners.

Women's professional networks are an important space for businesswomen - providing them with networking, support, advice and mentoring to eliminate internal and external obstacles which prevent them climbing the male-dominated corporate ladder. They serve an important purpose and it is quite understandable why women's professional networks often operate a women-only door policy. But are they missing a trick by being too strict?

Women's networks are fantastic at developing the talent and potential of women, and opening up opportunities to develop professionally. But women still face a labyrinth of challenges in order to progress in business. The result is that many exit the talent pipeline mid way through their career, not even reaching the glass ceiling, let alone breaking through it. As fantastically talented as they are, Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer at Facebook, and Marissa Mayer, Chief Executive of Yahoo!, are notable because they are the exceptions that prove the rule. The business world was designed by men, for men, and they still hold the major levers of power in the business world. Smashing the glass ceiling, therefore, requires working with those who constructed it.

Recognising that such a herculean task as workplace gender equality requires support from more than just 50% of the workforce, the network I preside over - the European Professional Women's Network - is pioneering a new campaign to engage men. This is the men's movement we urgently need.

At the very least, our campaign needs to educate men about the attitudinal, organisational and structural problems women face in the workplace - including how to assert themselves in often male-dominated environments or balancing work and home obligations if they decide to get married or have children. Few are aware of the daunting task of juggling work and children- why should they be? Consider just one example, what I call the gender magnet. This refers to the unconscious ways businesswomen are separated from their male peers inside and outside of the actual office, in more social corporate settings. Most businesswomen will be familiar with its pull - and the sense of frustration and disappointment you feel - when you attend an event and it seems only "natural" that you socialise with the wives of your peers or women in the room. One of our network members with a global bank just shared with me how surprised she was to see a huge group of interns naturally separate boys from the girls in mid day break areas this summer. The gender magnet has a pull from the very start of a person's career.

But we need much more than just education - we need believers, allies who can actively contribute to changing the position of women in business and contribute to reforming their companies so that they no longer implicitly and explicitly make it easier for men to advance. How we engage them to do so remains a fundamental question and requires understanding the barriers to their involvement - from peer pressure from other men to a fear of not being seen as serious about business.

Whether or not men need a movement for themselves is debatable. However, the need for continued action to achieve gender equality for women is beyond debate. Men can - and should - play a role in this objective. Achieving true gender equality will mean that one day, in the near future, all talented women will be able to reach their full potential on the upper rungs of the business ladder, and there won't be a need for a women's - or men's - movement any more.