International Men’s Day and The OR Society



There can be some sensitivity around the objective of ‘championing’ men on International Men’s Day. Individual expressions may vary, but the unifying thought behind this reaction appears to be that, while not the numerical majority, men hold the power majority and therefore ‘every day is men’s day’.


There are many complex and serious reasons why this feeling exists. However, EDI (equality, diversity and inclusion) is not a zero-sum game, and there should be no hierarchy of equity that civil society is earnestly pursuing. Validating and supporting under-recognised groups does not mean devaluing or denying other groups – even ones perceived to be ‘on top’ – and this consideration does not even take into account the complexities of intersectionality.

One of the six pillars of International Men’s Day 2021 is “to improve gender relations and promote gender equality not only for men but for women too,” along with the theme of “Better relations between men and women.” The OR Society wishes to use this day to recognise and thank all the men among its members who work towards a more equal, just and inclusive society.

Men face trials, issues and difficulties that impact their lives – often with deadly outcomes – and this should be also recognised, along with the positive impact men can have in their families, social circles, workplaces and society at large. This year’s International Men’s Day falls on Friday 19 November 2021 and The OR Society will mark the occasion by sharing on social media very short profiles of famous men from operational research, mathematics and wider science.

The hope is these profiles will encourage people to ‘see the whole person’.

Scientists such as Newton, Eddison, Tesla, Einstein, Hawkins, Berners-Lee and Dawkins can transcend their disciplines and become almost mythologised in pop culture. While this can provide inspirational heroes for budding scientists to emulate, this can be dehumanising and reduce them to a list of inventions or discoveries or a simplified persona, leaving their true lives and stories to one side.

In looking at their lives, I read that it took Einstein nine years to secure a job in academia, post-graduation. He will have faced frustration, uncertainty and disappointment just like the rest of us. This went some way to humanising the man and it challenged my unconsidered notions of a wild-haired genius who had always enjoyed global recognition.

Not coming from an operational research or cybernetics background, I had not heard of Stafford Beer prior to joining the Society. My first impression upon researching him centred on an extraordinary career and an impressive beard, however it was not long before I found myself reading brief accounts of people who knew the man, with his memorable sense of humour, his sharp insights and his loyalty to friends.

While I barely scratched the surface of his life, reading a few of his more famous quotes and sayings helped me perceive a more complete picture of him than just a list of career achievements and a long-term commitment to facial hair.

“Don’t bite my finger,” he apparently said to people when delivering facts that were disruptive to their assumptions or plans, “look at where it is pointing.” That’s a lot of character in just ten words.

Highlighting individual characters is just part of what we’re doing this International Men’s Day. We’re also doing what many other organisations are doing – shining a light on the needs of men from a mental health and wellbeing perspective.

In 2009, the national mental health charity Mind published its Get It Off Your Chest report, which used YouGov polling data and focus groups to examine the challenges facing men’s mental health. Ten years later, Mind re-commissioned the YouGov survey to find out how people’s experiences have changed since 2009.

  • Two in five men (43 percent) admit to regularly feeling worried or low, an increase from 37 percent.
  • The number of men who have suicidal thoughts when feeling worried or low has doubled to 10 percent.
  • The number of men who are worried about their appearance has risen from 18 percent in 2009 to 23 percent in 2019.
  • Over a third of men (37 percent) say social media has a negative impact on how they feel.
  • One in ten men reported getting angry when they are worried, a drop of 5 percent since 2009.
  • Men are now almost three times more likely to see a therapist when worried or low than in 2009.
  • Men are now equally as willing as women to see their GP if they feel worried or low – a large increase since 2009.

The results are worrying and encouraging in different parts. While more men admit to feeling worried or low, it is likely that this increase is due to more men opening up rather than hiding their feelings. Paired with more men being willing to seek help, this could be argued as part of a wider positive set of changes.

More men reporting suicidal thoughts doubling in ten years is shocking, especially as male suicides account for three quarters of all suicides in the UK; however, the suicide rate has not doubled in ten years, moving from 15 deaths per 100,000 in 2009 to 16.9 deaths in 2019. It is possible that more men are feeling able to discuss such thoughts, rather than denying them as they might have done.

Some groups are more at risk, however:

“Men aged 45 to 49 years had the highest age-specific suicide rate (25.5 deaths per 100,000 males versus 11.0 deaths per 100,000 for the general population).

“The reasons behind suicides are complex, but Samaritans has found that deprivation, financial insecurity and unmanageable debt are strongly associated with an increased risk of suicide in men. Research has also found that two-thirds of adults aged 16 to 64 in receipt of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) have a common mental health problem (66.1 percent), and almost half of people claiming ESA have made a suicide attempt at some point.”

The Mind survey also highlighted possible ways to better support men who may be at risk from low mood, depression, deteriorating mental health or suicidal thoughts. It says, “Men would be more likely to seek support if they felt worried or low if it was made available online, if they were guaranteed anonymity or if help was made available at more convenient times of day.”

Such practical insights may inform decision-makers in health services and companies committed to the wellbeing of their employees, and help men recover their mental health. The report also touches on qualitative research, drawing on insights from service user-led focus groups on what ‘works’ for them, in their individual experiences.

While the report anonymises these respondents, their personal stories humanise this aspect of the contemporary male experience. Like adding personal details to our impressions of famous mathematicians and scientists, perhaps this may take any remaining heat out of the debate around whether it is ‘fair’ to celebrate International Men’s Day, replacing it instead with a bit more compassion for anyone who has unmet needs or struggles that society can support regardless of the group to which they belong.

Let us see the whole person this International Men’s Day. 


Sources of help and advice for anyone feeling the pressure:

Mind, the mental health charity
Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM)
Rehab 4 Addiction Rehab 4 Addiction: UK Drug & Alcohol Rehab - Rehab 4 Addiction