Gender inequality in the workplace is hardly a new problem, and it is certainly not one that can be eradicated overnight. If women could simply wave a magic wand and fix the issue themselves, they would have done so by now. Instead, women have spent decades asserting that they are as intelligent and capable as men and equally effective in the workplace, only to witness very gradual improvement in how they are treated. However, the conversation surrounding gender equality at work has made a significant shift recently, with the #MeToo movement, and one thing that has become clear is that change will come more quickly and be more pronounced if women’s male allies stand alongside them helping to hold up the banner.
Today’s progressive male leaders need to be bold and mature enough to overtly eschew outdated gender norms and to celebrate the unique strengths that women bring to the workplace. When 50% of the talent pool is uplifted, the workforce as a whole becomes twice as strong. But such progress can be achieved only if men let go of the idea that supporting feminist initiatives is somehow emasculating. The best response is to learn how to join the conversation and be part of the solution.
Six Paths to Becoming a Better Ally
Ensuring that women are treated fairly and are celebrated equally in the workplace is not a job solely for CEOs and human resource professionals. It requires the broad adoption of new cultural norms, with 100% participation throughout an organization. If you are a male leader of a team or even an organization, the responsibility falls to you to model the intentional creation of change and investment in the success of your female team members. Here are six ways you can start elevating your role in remedying the gender divide.
First, Look Within
Many of the male behaviors that undermine women’s efforts to advance their careers (or even maintain their sanity at work) are the culmination of a lifetime of programming about gender roles in society. Some can be so ingrained that we see them as normal and even acceptable; we have lost perspective regarding how offensive they can be to the women experiencing them.
For example, are you a man who cracks “harmless” jokes at the expense of female colleagues and wonder why the women on the receiving end of these little jabs seem so sensitive to them? Don’t be that guy. Whether these remarks are sexually suggestive or merely condescending, these are chauvinistic patterns you should avoid. Even transgressions that seem small to you—such as using diminutive terms when speaking to your female colleagues or imitating them in a high-pitched voice when they disagree with you—are unjust actions that slowly erode women’s standing in the workplace.
You could also be guilty of some of these behaviors:
Mansplaining: A man interrupting a woman to explain something to her that she actually knows more about than he does.
Manterruption: A man interrupting a woman unnecessarily. A study by McKinsey and LeanIn found that this is a significant issue for more than 50% of working women in business meetings.
Bropropriating: A man appropriating a woman’s idea and taking credit for it. The aforementioned study found that 38% of women have experienced this in the workplace.
If you recognize these tendencies and feel in your heart that you want to support women, now is the time to change and grow as a person. Educate yourself about the gender-related issues women face in the workplace and what you can do to counteract them.
If you see a male colleague engaging in inappropriate or discriminatory behavior, take care to not fall victim to the “bystander effect.” A good ally will always intervene. Raise your voice against actions and remarks that are blatantly offensive and unacceptable, and against situations that advance men at the expense of qualified women. The best place to start might be a calm conversation with your offending colleague about what is appropriate and what is not.
Don’t Make Assumptions
You can assume that your female colleagues are intelligent, resourceful, and valuable, but your assumptions should stop there. For example, you might think that a female coworker of yours with two children is on the “mommy track”; perhaps a new opportunity arises that is well suited for her, but you don’t think she would be open to any extra burdens. Rather than proactively excluding her from consideration, what should you do? Ask! Motherhood is a wonderful experience—and should never come with a professional penalty.
You should also ensure that you (and others) are not making assumptions surrounding gender roles in the day-to-day workplace environment. Avoid treating women workers differently unless they ask you to, and ensure that both genders share equally in housekeeping tasks around the office, such as fetching coffee.
If you have the responsibility of delegating tasks for your team, consider assigning more important tasks to women and thereby playing a conscious role in their career growth. If possible, construct an all-woman team dedicated to certain clients or projects and examine how they might excel in certain scenarios compared to their male counterparts. You might find that women’s natural propensity to be more patient and better listeners means they are more successful in sales and customer service roles. Honor women’s unique skill sets and those who demonstrate good leadership by putting them into action.
In meetings, don’t let male employees interrupt a female colleague when she is voicing her opinion. No one wants to feel invisible. This phenomenon can be even more common in virtual meetings because the format facilitates it. Your female employees need to feel and know that everyone’s ideas are valued equally, and that hearing their input helps you make well-informed decisions.
By the same token, don’t be afraid to challenge women’s ideas just as you would a man’s if your reasons are genuine. Your goal is to create a level playing field for all your team members and not exaggerate the gender gap.
Acknowledge Your Privilege
For men to be offended when someone points out that they belong to a historically privileged gender category is unreasonable. We live in a society where we are still striving to overcome different standards for men and women—this is an established fact. Learn to accept it because doing do is key to becoming a force for positive change as we move toward a more inclusive future.
Male colleagues must give their female colleagues the social and emotional support they need to speak up when they have been ill-treated. To create a culture in which this is the norm, both genders need to be on the same page in believing that speaking up is the right thing to do.
Also important is that male leaders showcase the unique, merit-based contributions women make. Discuss with your entire team how your female employees’ efforts have advanced your mission. If you make a point of giving credit to women when they have earned it, that recognition will actually be inspirational for emerging leaders of both sexes. Consistently reinforce the positive cultural change you have made in meetings, emails, and feedback surveys so the energy you create can continue to move in the right direction.
Supporting Women into a Bright Future
At Girl Power Talk, we celebrate men who are authentic in their desire to uplift their female colleagues. We consciously invite them to join in our commitment to creating a work culture in which gender equality is a fundamental value. Investing in women’s development is a hallmark of the Girl Power Talk mission, and a crucial element of that is identifying men who will help us fulfill that goal.