But When Is International Men's Day_.png

By Eric Bailey
Author, The Cure for Stupidity: Using Brain Science to Explain Irrational Behavior at Work

This question, which can seem insensitive, offensive, and ignorant all at the same time - is, unfortunately, a symptom of a deeper problem in our society. Every year, I hear several men ask this question on social media and in person. Every year, I enter the same conversation slowly picking apart their shallow arguments. Every year, I hope that it’s the last time that I hear it, and every year, I’m wrong. I cannot imagine what the experience is like for a woman who has to hear this question every single year.

One of my favorite humans on the planet is Nicole Lance, the co-founder of Arizona Women Leading Government. She deals with a question similar to this far too often. She gets the question, “When do we get a Men Leading Government conference?” and her response is perfect! “As soon as you can tell me what problem you’re trying to solve.” You see, Women Leading Government exists because when you look at all the CEOs for US Cities (City Administrators or City Managers), the ratio of female to male is roughly 14% to 86%. When Ronald Reagan was President of the United States, the ratio was around 13% to 87%. In nearly 40 years of progress, this number has not changed in a meaningful way. That is a powerful problem to solve.

What problem would we be trying to solve?

What problem would we be trying to solve by instituting an International Men’s Day? What hard-fought victory would we be celebrating? Are we underrepresented in civic, corporate, and political leadership? No. Are we fighting against constitutional inequity? No. Are we trying to correct centuries of social context that has us undervalued at work? No. Why then do we keep asking the question, “But when is International Men’s Day?” Now, there ARE some significant trends that men DO need to address soon, but we’ll get to those later.

The problem here is the folks who are calling for an #IMD don’t actually want an International Men’s Day. They either want to stir the pot, or they’re employing the same tactic used by Kindergarteners. Johnny has been ignoring both Sally and the firetruck toy all morning. But when he sees her start playing with it, then suddenly, it’s all that he wants. He causes a big scene, and some adult intervenes. Ultimately they agree to share the toy by taking turns. As soon as it’s Johnny’s turn with it, he no longer wants it. The call for International Men’s Day is born out of the same mindset. He is going to say that he wants it because she has it. Well, let me say this: Please Grow Up. And for those who ask that question because they want to intentionally cause drama, I truly hope that there are more productive things that you could be doing with your time.

Now, beyond the kindergarten poking and teasing, there may actually be cause for alarm for men when you look at a couple of trends: Education and Unemployment. While currently the Chief Executive position of Fortune 500 companies is less than 5% female, recent education trends indicate that this statistic may be poised to change. Stick with me. The average age of Fortune 500 CEOs is about 60, which means most of them graduated with their bachelor’s degree in the mid-1980s. At that time 23% of men had a bachelor’s degree compared to just 16% of women. This difference of 7 percentage points meant millions more men received degrees than did women. Education-wise in the 1980s significantly more men were eligible for executive paths.

For every 2,000… 3,000

A few years ago however, a dramatic reversal began. In 2014, for the first time, women earned more degrees than men did, and the gap is growing. In every degree category (Associate, Bachelor, Master, Doctoral), women are receiving more degrees than men. According to the US Department of Education projections, for every 2,000 degrees males earn, women will earn 3,000. With such a dramatic shift in eligibility, what will the Fortune 500 leadership look like in 30 or 50 years? If men want to rally and solve a problem, it’s not complaining about International Women’s Day; it should be about solving why men are falling behind in higher education.

Another trend to watch is the unusual unemployment and underemployment numbers. Currently (Q1 2019), national unemployment numbers are extremely low. They have been in decline since The Great Recession. Interestingly, men report higher unemployment than women in every age category (16-19, 20-24, 25-54, 55+). There is fascinating research that might point to the culprit for this employment gap. But to understand it, we must also look at some job posting data. Even though there are millions unemployed men, millions of jobs remain vacant. Many of these vacancies are jobs that are perceived as "women's" jobs. For the past several generations, women have been working (read: fighting) to earn parity at work, stepping into roles that were viewed as traditionally male — breaking glass ceilings. What the data doesn’t show is the reciprocal happening. The really interesting thing is that these perceptions only exist in our brains. There is no general demarcation line between male jobs and female jobs, just perceptions based on previous experiences and expectations. So the men who are refusing to learn a new trade or skill because it is perceived as female are creating their own problem.

“Nursing? So… you didn’t want to go for the M.D.?” - Meet the Parents

For example, the term “male nurse,” is something you’ve heard before. It’s a little odd. A male as a nurse seems remarkable because "A nurse is a woman's job." But again, this is perception, not fact. There are currently nursing shortages all over the country. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that over 1,000,000 new nurses will be needed to cover expected shortages. And yet only about 10% of nurses in the United States are male. Men are not filling a role that is desperately in need of more people. They are not stepping into this role and roles like it because it is perceived as a woman’s role. The price they pay is unemployment.

The issue isn’t that we need an International Men’s Day because there’s an International Women’s Day. If men genuinely want to solve a problem, they should look at what is souring male attitudes towards higher education and look at undoing perceptions of male versus female jobs. But the more powerful lesson in all of this is if current trends continue, we may be less than a generation away from seeing true gender balance across leadership. When that day comes and even after it has passed we can all continue celebrating the amazing achievement of women on International Women’s Day.

Eric M. Bailey, President of Bailey Strategic Innovation Group, helps you experience how brain science can change every relationship in your life. His unique methodology engages emotional feelers, analytical thinkers, and everyone in-between. With a master’s degree in Leadership and Organizational Development from Saint Louis University, Eric is a lifelong learner of human and organizational behavior. He works with Google, the US Air Force, Los Angeles County, the Phoenix PD, and many others around the world.

Eric Bailey
Author, The Cure for Stupidity: Using Brain Science to Explain Irrational Behavior at Work

President, Bailey Strategic Innovation Group

Speaker Committee, Arizona Women Leading Government