Young men are being left behind in the battle of the sexes

A hand turns a wooden die to change an unequal sign to an equal sign between male and female symbols on a blue background.
A hand turns a wooden die to change an unequal sign to an equal sign between male and female symbols on a blue background.

If you have a question for Helena Morrissey about workplace etiquette, career advancement or work-life balance, please email 

After all the efforts around gender equality, it turns out no one is happy.

Recent research from King’s College London suggests that almost half of the UK population (47pc) thinks “we have gone so far in promoting women’s equality that we are discriminating against men”.

But that statistic tells only part of the story: a breakdown of responses between men and women reveals another problem, with 59pc of men agreeing with that statement, versus just 35pc of women.

We have reached a situation where the majority of men in this country feel their sex is discriminated against, yet women still don’t feel they have equal opportunities.

Nowhere is this more obvious than in the financial sector. Ahead of International Women’s Day on March 8, a journalist sent me a list of questions implying enough was enough when it comes to promoting women in finance.

“Is there a belief in the industry that we’ve ‘done enough’ on gender diversity?”

“Do you think some asset management firms are scared of getting an eye-roll if they discuss gender diversity?”

But the stark reality is that still just 12pc of fund managers are women, the industry’s gender bonus gap is around 50pc and Parliament’s Sexism in the City report showed plenty of misogyny running alongside the efforts to help women succeed.

One contributor to that report suggested it is more damaging career-wise for a woman to go on maternity leave than for a man to be found guilty of sexual harassment.

At the same time, we’re told there’s a “grim future awaiting British boys” – the headline of a recent Telegraph article on “why the UK risks sentencing its next generation of men to life’s scrapheap”.

The educational attainment gap between girls and boys is nothing new; girls outperform boys at every stage from early years to university, apart from in Stem subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths). But that educational advantage has not followed women into the world of work.

A year after university, average earnings for a male graduate are 8pc higher than their female peers, rising to a 31pc pay gap in a decade, according to figures from the Department for Education.

But whether that will continue is now under question. Women are catching up, working more and seeing their pay rise while real wages for men have fallen below their level of 20 years ago.

Increasing numbers of young men seem to be just giving up: the proportion of men aged 18-25 not in employment, education or training is now higher than for women, at over 15pc. White working-class boys have the bleakest prospects: just 14.6pc of this group progressed to higher education in 2021 – a third of the overall population average – with diminished opportunities to work in traditional industries or to develop a trade.

Improving the lot of women was not intended to be at the expense of men. But my first book, published in 2018, was entitled A Good Time to be a Girl, prompting the obvious question from my sons: does that mean it’s a bad time to be a boy?

Not necessarily – but as young women have seen their opportunities increase, young men do feel less certain about their own future. The traditional role of male provider did not guarantee happiness but provided a simple definition of success.

There is undoubtedly less clarity than before; the message is that “patriarchy” is bad, but what has taken its place to motivate and enthuse boys about their place in the world?

In the absence of much else, Andrew Tate stepped forward, with his seductive message of unapologetic misogyny, often called toxic masculinity.

I’m not keen on that phrase since it reinforces the false narrative that manhood is bad to a generation of young men who have grown up in a feminist era. We must not demonise maleness but instead celebrate positive male role models – and not, obviously, just for how they treat women.

Girls have no shortage of inspiring women to look up to, with endless lists of “women changing the world” – but where are the role models for boys apart from sportsmen and a few actors, musicians and fitness gurus?

Boys should feel inspired and motivated too. The greater choice before them than previous male generations should feel exciting, not undermining.

I tell my sons (three out of my nine children) that yes, they may encounter discrimination for being men, and also because they are white and privately-educated, but that does not mean all is lost. Far from it. It just means that they – like their sisters – must have something to offer.

Actually, I am confident that men and boys will once again prevail, because the future will depend on technology and Stem is the area where boys continue to do better and tend to be more interested – both in the classroom and beyond.

Women make up just 20pc of those studying computer science at university and a quarter of those working in the field of artificial intelligence. That’s a risk for women’s ongoing progress.

But right now, we need to focus on closing the gap in perceptions between the 59pc of British men who feel their sex is discriminated against and the 65pc of women who disagree. They can’t both be right.

Gender equality was not supposed to be a zero-sum game. More opportunity for one half of the population should mean higher growth, greater fulfilment, more prosperity for everyone. Something has gone badly wrong if so many men feel that something has been taken away.

So, let’s acknowledge that something has gone wrong. The “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion” (DEI) agenda has shot itself in the foot. The idea was to improve opportunities for the under-represented, not to swap one left behind group for another.

Yet many initiatives under the DEI banner do exclude or undermine men. At the same time, those men are being asked to help women succeed – the King’s College London survey shows that globally, 65pc of people believe we will only achieve progress for women if men champion change. That’s not going to happen if men are pushed away or feel devalued.

With so many men seeing progress for women as undermining their own prospects, it is hardly surprising that a new global gender divide is opening up, one of political ideology.

Alice Evans, visiting fellow at Stanford University, suggests that Gen Z is actually two generations, not one, with young women increasingly liberal and young men increasingly conservative in countries ranging from the US to South Korea, the UK to Germany.

Data supports this, with an alarming, unprecedented gap in how men and women describe their political leanings. A new battle of the sexes is emerging.

Yet we know that businesses and families thrive when men and women work together. It’s hardly controversial to suggest that everyone should have opportunities based on merit, hard work and aptitude. The future needs to be great for both our sons and our daughters.

With the evidence clear that the current approach is not only not working for anyone, but actually hardening the divisions, we need to reframe the whole gender agenda. Progress for women should not be at the expense of men. Improvement for all is the ambition. And we can only achieve that if we work together.

Broaden your horizons with award-winning British journalism. Try The Telegraph free for 3 months with unlimited access to our award-winning website, exclusive app, money-saving offers and more.