5 Ways Men Can Help Tackle the Missing Middle

16 December 2016 -


Men have a responsibility to actively help create gender equality in their place of work, and Insights reveals the things male professionals could be doing differently to help improve the workplace culture for both sexes

Jermaine Haughton

More than 45 years after the Equal Pay Act was established in the UK, the battle for equality in the workplace for women continues, as research shows unequal pay, unfair conditions, sexual harassment and a ‘glass ceiling’ are blocking many employees from reaching the top of the career ladder.

The latest CMI research revealed ‘the missing middle’ experienced by women in many organisations, whereby disproportionately few advance into middle management and beyond.

CMI’s 2016 National Management Salary Survey shows that while 73% of entry-level roles are occupied by women, this reduces to just 43% of women in middle management roles.

Despite a number of government reviews, initiatives and targets, fewer than 10% of executive director roles at the UK’s 100 biggest public companies are held by women, according to Cranfield School of Management.

Furthermore, more than four in 10 young women reported that they believe their gender will count against them during their career, compared to just 4% of young men, according to a survey by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS).

Some estimates suggest this is losing the UK economy as much as £150 billion a year.

Read more: CMI’s Blueprint for Balance

To fill the ‘missing middle’ and achieve a 50/50 split of management jobs between men and women by 2024, UK Plc will need 1.5 million new female managers. CMI has launched CMI Women and created a Blueprint for Balance, a free tool allowing employers to share information and learn how others have improved gender balance in their organisations.

With men typically dominating the senior ranks of businesses, it makes sense for both sexes to work closely together to solve current inequalities in the workplace.

Rather assessing what women alone must do to fulfil their potential at work, in one study, researchers at the University of Cambridge took an alternative approach by interviewing male employees and attempting to work out the contribution male peers can make.

Based on interviews with 40 men in early career, middle management and senior management roles in SMEs and large organisations, across public and private sectors, the breakthrough report, Collaborating with Men, provided male insight into the implicit and explicit behaviours that impede women’s careers.

Women continue to report that they commonly experience behaviours and assumptions from male peers and bosses in the workplace that frustrate them and impede promotion by merit. These behaviours include being interrupted and talked over in meetings and being side-lined from many informal conversations where decisions are often really made.

Dr Jill Armstrong, the leader of the research, explained: “Small, incremental changes in the behaviour of individual men will add up to big changes for women’s advancement into the top levels of careers.

“Many men involved in this research have suggested ideas to help their understanding of the problems women report, to improve relationships between male and female colleagues and help level the playing field for women. Men and women in middle and early career stages have a lot to get done. The best solutions will be those that adapt easily into the normal working day and positively improve the workplace culture for men as well as women.”

Top tips for solving the missing middle conundrum

  • Just ask: Facilitated, supportive meetings within teams for women and men to air issues they think they experience because of their gender and discuss how issues can be addressed. 
  • Mix up the mentoring: Many of us seek a mentor or sponsor of the same gender because we perceive there will be more common ground. Instead, pick a mentor of another gender to help people appreciate what the workplace looks like from a different point of view and, importantly, learn from each other’s strengths. 
  • Active review: A mixed gender team to lead a review after a project is finished to make visible how and where decisions were made to improve the way gender diverse groups work together. 
  • Building closer relationships: Create opportunities for the informal networking that leads to career opportunities. An example could be ‘Wednesday Walkabouts’ in which everyone is expected to have coffee with someone new of the opposite gender. 
  • Bystanders Amplify: Men should be more willing to amplify and credit ideas coming from women in a meeting and be prepared to challenge sexist comments and behaviour in the workplace.

Find out more about the work CMI is doing to help women in the workplace, and how you can get involved, see here: managers.org.uk/cmiwomen

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