Zero-Sum Bias Deters Men from Engaging in Achieving Gender Equality

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Gender equality is not zero-sum. By definition, zero-sum situations create winners and losers whose goals are at odds with each other. A mutually beneficial outcome is never considered. In terms of gender equality, Zero-sum bias often deters men from engaging in conversations and behaviors that promote gender equality because it fuels the belief that men must sacrifice their resources or stature for women to earn a place at the table.

This zero-sum bias is harmful to women's development as well as to men's mental health. Based on Zero-sum Gender Beliefs (ZSGB) research conducted by Joel Y. Wong, Elyssa M. Klann, Nataša Bijelic, and Francisco Aguayo in Chile and Croatia, the higher the ZSGB score, the greater the mental stress experienced by men. Meanwhile, the lower the ZSBG score indicates the higher the level of male participation in domestic work, the higher the relationship satisfaction with their partner and the lower the mental stress.

There’s a real benefit for organizations to achieve gender equity. Businesses enjoy increased profitability and returns on equity, productivity, and innovation; a greater ability to attract and retain top talent; and revenue gains. According to a survey conducted by Accenture, when women rise up to leadership positions, the probability of men moving up to manager level is 23 percent and to senior/director level is 118 percent.

Here are four actions to overcome the zero-sum bias and behavior in organizations

  1. Quantify gender equity in terms of economic gains for the company. When making the case, bring evidence to show how men benefit when women and people of color are fully and equitably included at all levels of leadership. Research shows that there is an enhanced interpersonal skill that men reap from being part of a more diverse and inclusive organization.

  2. Tying DEI metrics to performance reviews. Implementing a standard DEI scorecard will play a critical role in closing intersectional gender gaps. The scorecard needs to track metrics at every stage of the employee lifecycle and on every step of the corporate ladder. In addition, annual diversity reports must be transparent and accessible to every worker.

  3. Encourage development opportunities to increase gender intelligence, empathy, and self- efficacy to superiors or the Human Resources division. By increasing awareness of women's experiences and challenges in the workplace, zero-sum bias is more likely to be overcome and empathy is more likely to grow among co-workers.

  4. Looking for a Male Fellow. It takes #LelakiTurutSerta to start talking about gender equality, change their perspective on zero-sum and do mentorship or sponsorship to potential female workers.

It takes all parties to achieve gender equality – women, men, communities, companies, to the state. Gender equality wants women and men to work together in order to benefit both. Because when women rise, we all rise.


“When She Rises, We All Rise”. 2018. 9 Mei 2022.

“Gender Equality Is Not Zero-Sum”. 31 Desember 2020.  9 Mei 2022.

9 May 2022

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