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Women’s underrepresentation in leadership roles in organisations has attracted a lot of attention in recent years. Much of this focus centres on how women need to change in order to fit into organisations. This approach, often called ‘fixing the women’, has been criticised because it leaves systems and structures in organisations unchallenged. Instead of changing women, it is organisational practices that need to change. This means that women as well as men have to engage reflectively with working practices. As men constitute 70% of managers and leaders in organisations (International Labour Organization 2015), men in leadership roles are central to changing gender relations at work by altering their workplace practices. However, men’s relevance and responsibility for gender change in the workplace is often ignored. How men as middle managers can contribute to gender parity is therefore a greatly neglected topic in practitioner and academic research.

While great strides have been taken to make workplaces more gender equal, gender inequality is perpetuated by many subtle workplace practices. We are talking here about the classic examples of a woman’s comment being ignored in a meeting or someone who looks exactly like others in the organisation being hired (Wittenberg-Cox & Maitland 2008). These subtle practices erode women’s motivation to remain in the workplace and limit their chances for career advancement. However, an individual woman has limited leeway to challenge this. Therefore, male middle managers play a pivotal role for two reasons. First, their hierarchical position means that they translate the strategic direction they receive from the top to their immediate environment. Middle managers could translate the aim for gender parity that many CEOs espouse into their immediate environment by changing daily interactions around gender. Second, if 70% of middle managers are men, this numerical majority could effectively progress change. This dual role of male middle managers is a powerful tool to effect change toward gender parity in organisations. 


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