Sub-theme 41: Men, Leadership, and Inclusivity: Men Resisting and Supporting Gender Equality in Organizations

Anja Kirsch
Freie Universität Berlin, Germany
Elisabeth Kelan
University of Essex, United Kingdom
Julia Nentwich
University of St. Gallen, Switzerland

Call for Papers

This sub-theme aims to explore how men support and resist gender inclusion in organizations. For decades, scholars have documented the underrepresentation of women in management and on boards (Ely, 1994; Ibarra, 1993; Kirsch, 2018; Wang & Kelan, 2013). They have uncovered myriads of factors contributing to this state of affairs, including men’s resistance to gender equality. Only recently, however, has the role of men in fostering gender inclusion started to attract attention, for instance, through the Male Champions of Change initiatives in Australia (Male Champions of Change, 2017; Metz, 2016) and the #HeForShe campaign by United Nations Women (United Nations, 2016) amongst others (Armstrong & Ghaboos, 2019; Prime & Moss-Racusin, 2009). We are interested in work on how men as actors in organizations can either support or resist gender inclusion.
Research on resistance has shown how men mobilise masculinities to exclude women (Cockburn, 1991; Kelan, 2018; Martin, 2001); the reproduction of hegemonic masculinity in the business world requires men to exclude women and non-hegemonic men (Connell & Wood, 2005). Men in leadership also often hold essentialist views of gender (Humbert et al., 2019) and men might often react negatively to initiatives that are designed to advance women (Kelan, 2019). Many practices of men in organizations will therefore exclude rather than include women.
Research on men’s role in supporting gender inclusion has constructed men as effective change agents for gender equality. Based on the notion that clear leadership is required to produce greater diversity in organizations (Dobbin & Kalev, 2007), men, as they belong to the dominant group, are more likely than women to be in a position to provide such leadership. They can challenge the masculine norm in organizations by becoming advocates for gender equality (Sawyer & Valerio, 2018; Wahl, 2014). Women, by contrast, are often presumed to be biased and, because they are already in a minority (token) position in organizations, it is difficult for them to unfold power and agency to support gender equality (de Vries, 2015; Hekman et al., 2017). However, men are often constructed as heroic leaders for gender equality, which perpetuates rather than challenges hegemonic masculinity and existing gender stereotypes (Kelan & Wratil, 2018; Wahl, 2014). As masculinity is at stake, men have to struggle for position (Nentwich et al., 2013). Furthermore, challenging privilege from a privileged position remains risky and a rather ambivalent endeavour (Tienari & Taylor, 2019).
In this sub-theme, we ask scholars to reflect on the motivations, dynamics and practices that contribute to men’s support for or resistance to gender inclusion in organisations. We welcome both theoretical and empirical submissions that further develop our understanding of the role and importance of men as leaders for greater gender inclusion in organizations. Possible questions include, but are not limited to:

  • What is the role and relevance of organizational leaders in supporting or resisting gender inclusion?

  • Which role does organisational hierarchy play for the change agency that leaders can unfold?

  • Is men’s change agency different from women’s?

  • Do their change practices challenge or confirm traditional notions of hegemonic masculinity?

  • How do men construct their identities when they are change agents for gender equality?

  • Why and how do men support and resist gender inclusion?

  • What is the role of institutional context for men’s stance towards gender inclusion?

  • What factors influence how men see women in leadership positions?

  • How do men experience exclusion as a consequence of an increase in women’s inclusion?

  • Are practices that create gender inclusion similar or different to practices that create inclusion in regard to other dimensions of diversity?

  • How can organisations encourage men to foster inclusion?



  • Armstrong, J., & Ghaboos, J. (2019): Women Collaborating with Men: Everyday Workplace Inclusion, available at:
  • Cockburn, C. (1991): In the Way of Women: Men’s Resistance to Sex Equality in Organizations. London: Macmillan.
  • Connell, R.W., & Wood, J. (2005): “Globalization and business masculinities.” Men and Masculinities, 7 (4), 347–364.
  • de Vries, J.A. (2015): “Champions of gender equality: Female and male executives as leaders of gender change.” Equality, Diversity and Inclusion: An International Journal, 34 (1), 21–36.
  • Dobbin, F., & Kalev, A. (2007): “The architecture of inclusion: Evidence from corporate diversity programs.” Harvard Journal of Law & Gender, 30, 279–301.
  • Ely, R.J. (1994): “The effects of organizational demographics and social identity on relationships among professional women.” Administrative Science Quarterly, 39 (2), 203–238.
  • Hekman, D.R., Johnson, S.K., Foo, M.-D., & Yang, W. (2017): “does diversity-valuing behavior result in diminished performance ratings for non-white and female leaders?” Academy of Management Journal, 60 (2), 771–797.
  • Humbert, A.L., Kelan, E.K., & van den Brink, M. (2019): “The perils of gender beliefs for men leaders as change agents for gender equality.” European Management Review, 16 (4), 1143–1157.
  • Ibarra, H. (1993): “Personal networks of women and minorities in management: A conceptual framework.” Academy of Management Review, 18 (1), 56–87.
  • Kelan, E.K. (2018): “Men doing and undoing gender at work: A review and research agenda.” International Journal of Management Reviews, 20 (2), 544–558.
  • Kelan, E.K. (2019): “The inclusive leader, the smart strategist and the forced altruist: Subject positions for men as gender equality partner.” European Management Review, first published on December 2, 2019:
  • Kelan, E.K., & Wratil, P. (2018): “Post-heroic leadership, tempered radicalism and senior leaders as change agents for gender equality.” European Management Review, 15 (1), 5–18.
  • Kirsch, A. (2018): “The gender composition of corporate boards: A review and research agenda.” The Leadership Quarterly, 29 (2), 346–364.
  • Male Champions of Change (2017): Male Champions of Change, availabe at:
  • Martin, P.Y. (2001): “‘Mobilizing masculinity’: Women’s experiences of men at work.” Organization, 8 (4), 587–618.
  • Metz, I. (2016): Male Champions of Gender Equity Change, availabe at:
  • Nentwich, J., Poppen, W., Schälin, S. & Vogt, F. (2013): “The same and the other: Male childcare workers managing identity dissonance.” International Review of Sociology, 23 (2), 325–344.
  • Prime, J., & Moss-Racusin, C.A. (2009): Engaging Men in Gender Initiatives: What Change Agents Need to Know, available at:
  • Sawyer, K., & Valerio, A.M. (2018): “Making the case for male champions for gender inclusiveness at work.” Organizational Dynamics, 47 (1), 1–7.
  • Tienari, J., & Taylor, S. (2019): “Feminism and men: Ambivalent space for acting up.” Organization, 26 (6), 948–960.
  • United Nations (2016): #HeforShe, available at:
  • Wahl, A. (2014): “Male managers challenging and reinforcing the male norm in management.” NORA – Nordic Journal of Feminist and Gender Research, 22 (2), 131–146.
  • Wang, M., & Kelan, E. (2013): “The gender quota and female leadership: effects of the norwegian gender quota on board chairs and CEOs.” Journal of Business Ethics, 117 (3), 449–466.
Anja Kirsch is a post-doctoral research fellow at Freie Universität Berlin, Germany. Her research interests are the determinants and effects of increasing diversity in board composition, as well as internationally comparative perspectives on employment relations institutions and human resource management practices. Anja’s work has been published in ‘The Leadership Quarterly’, ‘International Journal of Human Resource Management’, ‘European Journal of Industrial Relations’, and ‘Industrielle Beziehungen’.
Elisabeth Kelan is a Professor of Leadership and Organisation at Essex Business School, University of Essex, United Kingdom. Her main research interests are gender and leadership, generations at work, inclusion in organisations, discourse analysis and ethnography. Her recent research explores how men can be change makers for gender inclusion in organisations. Elisabeth has published in ‘Gender, Work and Organization’, ‘Human Relations’, ‘British Journal of Management’, ‘Management Learning’, and ‘Academy of Management Learning and Education’, among others.
Julia Nentwich is an Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of St. Gallen, Switzerland, where she teaches psychology and critical thinking. In her research she is interested in social and discursive practices of doing gender and diversity, organizational change, change agency and resistance. She is currently investigating (male) leaders’ social, discursive and affective practices in support of equality initiatives. Julia has published widely on these topics in ‘Gender, Work and Organization’, ‘Culture and Organisation’, the ‘British Journal of Management’, and ‘Feminism and Psychology’.