3 Things Men Can Do to be Allies for Women in the Workplace
What does being a male ally look like in everyday work life? How can men follow up their belief in the power of allyship for women with intentional actions that are sincere and straightforward?
Consultant Chuck Shelton, quoted in Bentley University’s Center for Women and Business 2017 research report on men as allies, describes what allies do: “Allies listen, co-create opportunity, and build a personal brand for accountability and trust.”
Put another way, male allies listen and amplify, talk straight and elevate, and learn and model.
Listen and amplify
“You may not even know that every time a woman talks, you don’t give her your full attention.”
Steve Pemberton, chief diversity officer for Walgreens, has watched men tune out women in meetings, and describes it as one of many “micro-inequities” suffered by women in the workplace. Diversity Woman lists several others, including checking emails or texting during a conversation, interrupting or talking over women in meetings, making eye contact only with men, and taking more questions from men than women.
Male allies who are good listeners also amplify women’s voices in the workplace.
Emilie Aries, writing for Forbes in her 2017 article, “5 Ways Men Can Be Women’s Allies At Work,” describes amplification as “a powerful tool in combating unconscious bias at work. When you hear a woman at work being talked over, interrupted, or worse—having her ideas co-opted by someone else—speak up to help pass the mic back her way.”
Talk Straight and Elevate
Straight talk is crucial when it’s time for giving feedback and evaluations, whether formal or informal. Diversity Woman notes that, “Sometimes, men are tentative about giving constructive feedback to their female employees [or colleagues], because they are afraid of being considered heavy-handed or even acting in a gender-biased fashion.”
“Protective hesitation” robs women of much-needed opportunities to grow and get better at what they do. Honest feedback doesn’t mean overlooking poor job performance or lack of skills. Women need the opportunity to fail or succeed just as men do.
Research published in the Harvard Business Review notes that “women consistently receive less feedback tied to business outcomes . . . it does not identify which specific actions are valued or the positive impact of their accomplishments.” “Vague feedback,” the study found, “can specifically hold women back.”
The study’s authors recommend tying both positive and developmental feedback to specific business and goal outcomes. They cite a pilot program conducted at a major technology company where leadership development was “grounded in clear and actionable feedback.” 17 women participated in the first year of the pilot, and 6 were promoted into a leadership role.
Learn and Model
There is ample research showing that when men are aware of gender bias, and share that awareness with others, good things happen in the workplace.
The Bentley University research report highlights this quote from Robert Pantano, Senior Vice President of Cardinal Health: “When male leaders show that advocating for and sponsoring women is important, the culture and dynamics shift.”
One well-informed man working intentionally to make a difference can raise awareness of other men. Discussions of gender equity become “less risky,” and both formal and informal programs of men being allies are born.
Men, It Is Time For Role Reversal
“In a world where little girls are praised for being quiet and still and little boys are expected to be loud and rambunctious, it can be a radical act to practice reversing those roles,” observes Emilie Aries.
But the reversal toward being an ally who listens, elevates, and learns, is critical. “Get comfortable being uncomfortable,” advise Johnson and Smith in HBR. “The solution is more interaction and learning, not less.”