Gender equality stayed in the news in 2019 – but female representation in senior jobs and the gender pay gap showed little sign of improvement. There are some signs for optimism about progress. In our work for International Women’s Day this year and for Julia Gillard at the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership we found that attitudes to collective action and shared responsibility are changing.

Most British men agree that women won’t achieve equality unless they also take action to support them (60%). While a third (29%) of British men say they are expected to do too much to support women’s equality, more than half (57%) disagree.31

Attitudes towards masculinity and gender roles are changing too, which benefits both women and men. Childcare is no longer seen as the preserve of women, with 75% of people globally disagreeing that a man who stays at home to look after his children is ‘less of a man’.

Close to half (48%) of us believe that not enough is being done to achieve equality between men and women. It remains a widespread belief in many parts of the world that housework is women’s work. A recent study in the US found that married mothers still do almost twice as much of the housework and childcare than married fathers,32 often while maintaining a full-time job. Men must start to acknowledge and take action to share the day-to-day household management in order to reduce the burden on women’s shoulders. That means not just the cleaning and washing, but the organising, planning, gift-buying, dressing … the ‘mental load’ goes on.

Men also continue to dominate positions of power – positions they would have to give up in order to achieve parity. Some 46% believe more must be done to improve
equal rights between men and women in business. Forty-four per cent say the same for government and politics. Much of this comes down to the visible absence of women as experts, CEOs and politicians, which reinforces inequality; generations of young women are less likely to feel their aspirations for success are possible without role models to guide them. We can challenge this by asking “where are all the women?”, but men must do their part to enable women the opportunity. Simple things like insisting on gender balanced shortlists for senior roles can make a
big difference.

It is also about changing the narrative, and there is an argument that this begins in the home. A recent study shows that only 38% of heterosexual families where the woman outearns her husband thought the term ‘breadwinner’ was an appropriate label for the woman.33 One possible explanation for this is an unwillingness to break the norms of engrained gender expectations. Men often fear that the empowerment of women will mean them losing out, so it is important to broadcast that equality benefits us all. The distribution of care and domestic tasks in the home encourages more satisfying and happy relationships.

Employers still have a lot to do – our November study revealed several double standards around the world; people are more likely to say intelligence is important for women to get ahead (28%) than for men (20%), and that never giving up is key (25% for women versus 16% for men). By contrast, personal networks are considered more important for men’s success. Globally, 22% say being connected is key for men, compared with 13% who say the same for women. And 18% say political connections are particularly important for men, versus 8% for women.

This year’s data may not yet be just cause to celebrate, but globally, people are most confident that, in 20 years, discrimination against women will have ended in education (47% think so) and science and technology (44%). However, our research shows that resilience alone will not enable women to achieve equality with men – they need positive action. According to the British public, the three greatest barriers are employers not doing enough to close the gender pay gap (27%), a lack of employer support for women in balancing work and care responsibilities (22%) and employers not promoting women to senior positions (21%).

While men agree theoretically with the importance of equality, they’re less enthusiastic when it comes to concrete changes. Some 72% of people globally – women and men – want employers to make it easier to combine childcare with work. As the ‘#BalanceforBetter’ theme for International Women’s Day this year encapsulates, shared responsibility is better for balance, better for all of us.34 And none of this can be achieved without the support of men.