Men, The Time Is Now To Be An Ally In The Workplace; Here is How.
Men, the time is now.
The issues that women and their allies are fighting for will benefit everyone, including men! Equal pay, fair co-parenting, flexible working arrangements, and an environment where people feel safe to bring their whole selves to work are good for everyone. Men, you shouldn’t have to miss out on your baby’s first words, your son’s ballet recitals, or your daughter’s track meets! The last time I checked, men loved their children too! The fact that women AND men feel like they have to choose between family and career is BS! It may seem like being an ally will only benefit the women in your life, but you, your kids, and hell, even your grandkids will benefit too.
But even if you didn’t benefit at all, being an ally to women in the workplace is still the right thing to do. Whether you’re aware of it or not, men have benefited from the inequality of the past. And as a man, you have a responsibility to be part of the solution.
It’s easy to say that you support equality for men and women in the workplace (and at home!), but sometimes it can be challenging to know what concrete steps you can take towards achieving it. Everyone has a role to play – whether male or female – so the time is now for great men like you to step up.
True allyship is action-oriented
It is vital to demonstrate allyship through authentic, supportive behavior. This means calling out your office buddy when he comments on the new hire’s nice pair of legs or mentoring women and helping them advance in their careers.
When men ask how they can support gender equity in the workplace, I tell them to speak up when they see unfairness or hear inappropriate comments.
By doing so, they send a clear message that such behavior is unacceptable—and it’s often news to most people in the room.
Speaking up doesn’t just have to focus on the negative behavior of male colleagues. It is equally important as a male ally to focus on the positive behaviors of women colleagues. If your colleague has a great idea or has executed her tasks very well, make sure her efforts are known in your company.
Often, men tell me they are afraid of saying the wrong thing when trying to support female colleagues. I suggest that they join professional organizations dedicated to advancing diverse women. These groups offer opportunities for learning about the issues impacting these groups in the workplace today and guidance on what specific actions can be taken.
Allies are indispensable when issues arise in companies or organizations—for example, if a woman missed out on a promotion because she was passed over for a man who had less experience but more “leadership potential,” we all know that’s BS! In these instances, male allies must acknowledge these injustices with empathy and use their power to change the culture so that it no longer reinforces discriminatory behaviors. This kind of true allyship helps bring about lasting change rather than just checking boxes toward achieving diversity goals without much action (which diverse employees can spot a mile away).
Don’t put all the burden on women.
It’s also essential that you do your own research and become an expert on sexism, misogyny, and other forms of discrimination that women face. I’m serious; google these terms. This is not something that companies should expect women to have to do for you.
Have the humility to ask women what they need from you. Asking this question means shouldering more of the burden of creating equity rather than asking your women colleagues who are already overburdened (and often underpaid) to take up the slack. It also means putting in extra work when it is not easy, convenient, or comfortable.
You have a responsibility to educate yourself on these topics. Everyday Feminism and Women You Should Know are good places for beginners looking for further reading on the kind of discrimination women face everywhere, from Silicon Valley to media companies.
Don’t assume your intentions are good enough.
When it comes to the workplace, good intentions are simply not enough. Your behavior matters more than your intentions. I tell clients repeatedly that they have to focus on impact instead of intentions. Just because you don’t mean to act hurtfully or ignorantly does not mean you didn’t make an unconsciously sexist comment.
We ALL have unconscious biases that cause us to say stupid things that hurt people. Instead of assuming that your intentions make up for your actions, take a step back and think about how your behavior affects others. It’s also essential to think about how people perceive you and what they may be going through. Don’t assume that you’re in the clear just because someone didn’t say anything; they’ve probably been talking to their friends instead of confronting you directly. Marginalized women have been socially conditioned to second guess themselves when they are being mistreated. So they have to run hurtful comments or situations past others before they confront you to ensure they aren’t being “too sensitive.”
Even if you aren’t sure how to be a good ally, you can start by not making things worse.
- Don’t make excuses for bad behavior.
- Don’t ignore the problem.
- Don’t assume that because you try to be a nice person, you support women—you need to ask how to support them.
- Don’t make assumptions about women, like telling her that she should be flattered by unwanted attention.
- (This may be the most important) Don’t think you have to be perfect in your interactions with people who identify as women or nonbinary. If you find yourself doing or saying something wrong, apologize, learn from it, and move on. It’s best not to dwell on your mistakes too much because otherwise, they can eat away your confidence and prevent you from trying to do better next time. And if I haven’t made this clear enough, WE NEED YOU! The key is constantly striving towards progress over perfection! But also remember: no one is perfect, and we can all be better together if we keep working!