One of the biggest socio-cultural changes over the past fifty years has been the ascendancy of women in society.  I’ve noticed this particularly in education.

When I first started university in the early 1970’s I could count the number of female classmates on one hand.  When I attended graduate school in 1977 there were thirty student in my Masters of Public Administration program, and probably 8 of them were women.  When I returned to grad school in 1985 to pursue my M.I.R.  the representation level had increased to fifty percent.  Today, fully eighty percent of the classes I teach are comprised of women.

The increased visibility and profile of women in all sectors has brought a number of positive changes and benefits.  One of those has been consideration of issues and perspectives that previously had no voice, were never considered, or were suppressed.

However, the ascendancy of women also begs the obvious question:  where are all the men?

Why are men now under-represented in certain fields? More to the point, where are they, and why do they appear to be less successful or represented than in previous generations.

My experience leads me to suspect that men are still out there, but are now concentrated in certain sectors and occupations.  Fields such as engineering, mathematics, statistics and finance have a large concentration of men.  Disciplines in the arts and humanities such as history, English, Romance Languages, etc., have a much smaller male cohort.

More concerning for me is the fact that men are now feeling increasingly isolated.  In most of the courses I teach the stronger performers are women.  Not only is their attendance better, but female students are generally more active in class, are more engaged in the course material, and have much better attendance.  When I worked in Human Resources, particularly in my last position in the financial sector, women occupied most of the dominant positions.  Clearly, employment equity programs have played a significant role, but I would also suggest there are other factors at play.

Male students and employees face challenges which, in many cases, they are not particularly well-prepared to address (Photo courtesy of Andrea Piacquadio and Pexels)

Male students and employees face challenges which, in many cases, they are not particularly well-prepared to address (Photo courtesy of Andrea Piacquadio and Pexels)


Men are Often Their Own Worst Enemy

What is it about men that now places them at a disadvantage in the workplace or in education?  I would submit there are certain behaviours, thought patterns, practices and attitudes that are not only dysfunctional but which actually impede the advancement of men in the workplace.  Here are some personal thoughts:

1) The rugged individualism ethos.  Many men adhere to the “rugged individualist” approach.  Many of us grew up with a deeply imbued sense of independence.  We were expected to work and complete tasks individually.  Team work and collaboration is not always something we adopt willingly.  These behaviours require a willingness to share and “give and take”, and the innately competitive nature of the male psyche makes it difficult for us to break free of old patterns.

2) A reluctance to ask for assistance.  Men are as reluctant to ask for help as they are to ask for directions.  We think we can fix it ourselves, and the notion of asking for guidance is often alien to us.  We think we know much more than we do, and are often reluctant to admit our frailties and shortcomings.

3) Lack of affiliation and real friends.  If you ask most guys who their best friend is many could identify one, but I would guess that few could name five. True friendship requires us to be open, share our feelings, admit mistakes, and both offer and receive support.  Those are not things we generally do well.

4) Focus on short-term gains.  I find that most guys are focused on the immediate.  We often fail to see the complete picture.  Delayed gratification is difficult, and does not come easily to us.

5) Poor study habits.  For whatever reason my sense is that many male students cannot or do not know how to study.  They often underestimate the amount of time it takes to prepare or complete tasks.  The practice of cramming is widespread.

6) Lack of focus and concentration.  Guys are easily distracted.  Often, we have trouble keeping our “eyes on the prize”.  The brightest, shiniest thing in the room easily grabs our attention.

7) Poor communication skills.  One of the things that women excel at is the ability to articulate their feelings and emotions, both orally and in writing.  Many guys struggle with this.  I suspect many of us are fearful of being labelled as “weak” or unmasculine.  This often means that many of our frustrations, fears and anxieties are never voiced, but instead, are internalized. It is no wonder there has been a tremendous growth in recent years in mental illness among men.

A Final Thought…

When I was taking my coaching training back in 2015 an instructor coined an interesting phrase that I often use with clients.  He said that the first step in identifying a problem was recognizing and labelling it.  His exact words were “You have to name it to tame it”.  In the case of men and their increasingly diminished role in the education system and the workplace I think a first step is to acknowledge what is actually happening, and then seek out causes for their declining status while exploring measures to enhance their effectiveness and their self-image.

That is why I found it strangely refreshing when listening to a speech delivered recently by the newly elected NDP Premier of Manitoba, Wab Kinew.  Anyone familiar with his background knows that he faced an incredible number of personal obstacles ranging from poverty to substance abuse. To his credit, he managed to turn his life around, and build a successful career as a broadcaster before entering politics and becoming the first Aboriginal head of a provincial government in Canada.

At his victory party he gave a speech which contained this unique and insightful observation:

“I was given a second chance in life, and I would like to think that I’ve made good on that opportunity. And you can do the same — here’s how. My life became immeasurably better when I stopped making excuses and I started looking for a reason.”