Millennial men say women are favoured at work
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Millennial men say women are favoured at work

Millennial men are leading a major backlash against women’s rights, according to new research from the University of Canberra.

Those men, born between 1982 and 2000, backed by their older Gen X brothers, say they are left out of the conversation about gender equality and believe there is too much political correctness at work. Nearly half say their rights are being eroded by the focus on gender equality.

Senator Lucy Gichuhi is threatening to name MPs who she believes bullied colleagues during the Liberal leadership spill.

Senator Lucy Gichuhi is threatening to name MPs who she believes bullied colleagues during the Liberal leadership spill.

Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

The Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins says: “There is more support for gender equality than ever before but there is also more opposition than ever before.”

This backlash comes at a time as federal politics in Australia is in upheaval, among serious accusations of sexism and bullying. Both the minister for women, Kelly O’Dwyer and South Australian senator Lucy Gichuhi confirmed this week there were instances of bullying over the course of the leadership spill in the Liberal Party. The survey reveals 58 per cent of respondents believe politics is the most sexist area of society in Australia, with the workplace not far behind at 53 per cent.

The research, the first of its kind, surveyed 2122 Australians, across age groups, gender and demographics and the results show a marked contrast between men and women. It comes the week before new figures from the Australian Human Rights Commission are expected to reveal soaring rates of sexual harassment in industries across Australia.

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Nearly half of all male respondents surveyed agreed with the statement that “gender equality strategies in the workplace do not take men into account”. That feeling was strongest among Millennials but was consistent across men of all ages. Those men also believed that men were increasingly excluded from measures to improve gender equality and four in 10 Australian men say political correctness benefits women in the workplace. Around 30 per cent of men say their jobs have been impacted in some way by their gender; and just over one-third of men believe women are better at household tasks.

The glass ceiling of gender inequity: women still on the bottom. Illustration: Matt Davidson

The glass ceiling of gender inequity: women still on the bottom. Illustration: Matt Davidson

The report’s authors Professor Mark Evans and Virginia Haussegger from the 50/50 Foundation at the University of Canberra wrote: “The observation that younger generations of men view themselves as outsiders, actively excluded from what is now increasingly one of the key debates in many workplaces indicates that there is no room for complacency if we want to avoid a backlash against workplace interventions to address gender inequality.”

Ms Haussegger says progress towards gender equality in Australia is in trouble.

“The current climate of bias and backlash is proving immune to regulatory control ... Australian women and girls are failing to flourish as well as they should, given [Australia’s] decade-long world number one ranking in female education,” she said.

But Professor Evans says there is a context to the backlash among Millennials and Gen X men. "It’s a response to their own feelings of economic insecurity," he says. "It's also partly a product of witnessing the difficulties experienced by their parents in dual earner families and consequent rising divorce rates.”

As one of the respondents to the survey, a Generation X man with moderate political views, said: “Yes sexual discrimination is a problem for Australian women but men are having it tough as well ... We all fear being middle aged and unemployed. The expectations on us from our parents, our children and at work are overwhelming.”

Stuart Whitman, a self confessed member of Gen X and the project officer for the Australian Labor Party’s new Labor Academy, a training and development organisation for the party, argues his generation’s mindset must change. The academy has been established by the ALP to better prepare members for public office.

"It's lazy and ill-informed to dismiss expectations of decent behaviour and inclusiveness as 'political correctness', culture change will happen in our parties when they start properly resourcing the education and training of their members and MPs."

Jenna Price is a Fairfax columnist, and an academic at the University of Technology, Sydney.