So it’s Women’s History Month – a time to celebrate women’s achievements and all the progress we’ve made towards gender equality. We remember the hard fought battles that got us here, and we recognize that we still have a ways to go. It feels like every company is celebrating…kind of. A lot of the content feels empty. It’s like a month of pink washing – we’re being blasted with emails (“Spend $50 get a free mascara, ladies”), Instagram posts (many using the same Canva templates), and meaningless hashtags (#yasqueen #womenshistorymonth2023). IMHO this content feels hollow in the current societal state. Where’s the substance? Where’s the honesty?
We also noticed we don’t see a lot of content for our male allies. For obvious reason right? It’s WOMENS History, we have the spotlight!
Reality check – this push for equity, rights, and inclusion will be bigger and bolder with a diverse population behind it. And diverse means men, too.
There are men walking beside us in this fight, and guys – we want to equip you to understand why Male Allyship is a big deal for us, especially during the times we celebrate our achievements.
So, this article is for the men in our lives. Our goal is to provide a guide for male allies with some basic breakdowns, advice on how to be a true ally, and clarity on how your involvement can help move the women’s equality movement forward. So it’s a long one – but we wanted to offer as many insights and resources as we could. Too Long DO Read
Let’s start with an analogy. A company softball team.
You work at a company with a softball league, and it is one of the biggest team building components for your division. You go all out every year but have never won.
This year is different though – you have a new employee on your team, Jane, and well…Jane played in the NCAA College Championships for softball. You have an ace in the hole, and your team has the potential to win this years competition. The kicker – there’s this weird old rule from the 90’s that nobody ever challenges: men get the traditional 3 strikes, but women only get 1 strike and they are out.
This solution feels so easy right? Push back on the rule, take your team to victory! But then you ask yourself – how come this rule hasn’t been changed anytime in the last 3 decades? Are you the first person who’s ever tried to push back on this rule? Surely other women have played before and spoken up?
And then you notice…there aren’t really any women that stick with the game. And you start to realize why. It’s not you that created this imbalance, or you that has intentionally perpetuated it, but it’s the first time you are seeing the brokenness of the system in a way that impacts you. And it’s the first time you are making a conscious choice – do you keep things as they are and limit your teams success…or do you rise up, push for change, and lead your entire team to glory?
What can I do to become a true Male Ally?
- Get loud – Use your privilege to speak out against inequity and support women’s voices in the workplace and in the world, especially if you are in a leadership position. This includes speaking up if you see sexism or unfair treatment in the workplace, supporting diversity initiatives, and encouraging women to pursue career paths that may be dominated by men. And most importantly, speaking up and confronting men who sexually harass women in the workplace – say something and don’t stay quiet when you witness inappropriate advances from your male colleagues. Hold other men accountable, shape the right culture in your workplace, and set the precedent.
- Get quiet – Passing the mic to women and giving them a platform to share their voices is a powerful way to amplify their stories and perspectives. It’s important to recognize that women have been historically silenced, and by actively listening to them and ensuring that they have the attention of yourself and other men, you will be actively pushing this movement forward. So, take the time to listen to the women around you, provide emotional support when needed, and amplify their voices and stories.
- Challenge your own biases – try to recognize and question your own unconscious biases and make an effort to create an inclusive environment where all employees feel respected and empowered. Do you assume a woman will always take notes during the meeting? Offer to take a turn so women have the stage to participate in the discussion. Will a woman plan the upcoming birthday party? Take the lead! If Jim and Dwight can do it, you def can. Can’t go wrong with cupcakes.
- Show Up – Sometimes all you have to do is be in the room. Support women’s organizations, mentorship programs, and other initiatives designed to empower women in your life and help them advance their careers. By joining forces with female colleagues and allies, you can create powerful networks of mutual support and help make a real impact.
- Champion Women – Men in the US are 60% less likely to mentor, have 1:1s with Jr. level women, and or even socialize with women co-workers because they are afraid how it will look. And we love the mindfulness, that has been a huge step in the workplace, but there is a major difference between what support for women looks like and harassment towards women looks like. Define your boundaries, and challenge men in your workplace to step up as well. And red flag – if there is a man on your team who cannot differentiate what is harassment and what is support, they might be a liability to your company overall.
A quote for men from Sheryl Sandbur and Marc Pritchard of Proctor & Gamble on male mentorship –
Not harassing is not enough. We need men to support women’s careers. That’s how we’ll achieve a workplace that is truly equal for all.
What are some things I should avoid doing as a Male Ally?
- Don’t cut us off – Don’t speak over women in meetings or group conversations: It is important to remember that each person in the conversation brings their own perspective, and everyone deserves the opportunity to share their voice. Instead of speaking over women or interrupting them, listen actively and give them the space to express their views.
- Don’t talk down to us – Treating women with respect is essential. Avoid patronizing or talking down to us. Showing empathy and understanding can go a long way in creating an inclusive environment. We are tired of mansplaining and yes you do it unprovoked.
- Don’t make assumptions about women – All too often, women are judged by stereotypes and assumptions about their gender. Avoid making assumptions about what a woman may or may not be capable of. Just because she’s older doesn’t mean she’s a mother. Just because she’s younger doesn’t mean she wants to get married. Just because she loves pink and is super girly doesn’t mean she won’t kick your ass at CrossFit. Just because she’s religious doesn’t mean she’s homophobic. Just because she cusses and has a sense of humor doesn’t mean she wants to hear sex jokes. Respect her choices and value her opinion, no matter what it is.
- Don’t be a white knight – Supporting women doesn’t mean taking away their ability to advocate for themselves. Don’t be overbearing or try to “fix” all of their issues or their situation. Instead, lend your support and resources if they ask for it, offer your support, but not all women need to be saved.
Let’s talk Male Privilege
Privilege by definition is “a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available to only one type of person”. There are oodles of privileges in life that are won by experience, ability, and profession. Privilege can be an exciting and warranted right, especially in your career.
Moving up the ladder equates to more responsibility and in turn, more privilege. But some special rights or advantages in our society are not won, warranted, or wanted even. Male privilege is a “system of advantages or rights are are available solely to men on the basis of…society’s ideal masculine norm”. Meaning not all males benefit from male privilege, especially if they don’t fit in the appropriate boxes.
Men – you might not knowingly be taking advantage of your male privilege; more likely you aren’t aware of some of these advantages because of your lack of conflict in that area. Here are some examples of benefits of male privilege you may not have considered:
- If you’ve never worried how having a child could prevent you from being hired or staying employed.
- If you’ve never walked to your car after a regular work day with your keys through your fingers like a makeshift weapon in case you are attacked in the parking garage out of nowhere.
- If you’ve never sent a friend your location with a “Just in case something happens to me” text when meeting a man one-on-one.
- If you’ve never changed from one shirt to another before leaving your house so that no one would be “sexually distracted” by you?
- If you’ve never worried that people assume you only got your promotion by sleeping your way up the ladder?
- We could go on.
Privilege can be invisible, pervasive, and subtle. Peggy McIntosh, who is one of the first feminist scholars to write about white privilege and male privilege, defined privilege as the “invisible weightless knapsack” that is filled with “special provisions, assurances, tools, maps, guides, codebooks, passports, visas, clothes, compass, emergency gear, and blank checks”. She explained that these privileges are not perpetuated due to concerted efforts to oppress the opposite gender or race, but mostly because the inherent nature of these benefits create biases at a systemic level. In many situations, change kicks off when we start asking ourselves and each other, “Am I benefiting from this seemingly insignificant thing in a way that is impossible for others, and is the reason it’s impossible for others based on bias?”
The Wage Gap is common knowledge – on average, Women make $.82 to every $1 a man makes, and that’s even less for women of color. Additionally, women are often overlooked for career advancement opportunities or prestigious positions, not because they are underqualified, but due to gender bias. A study conducted by Yale researchers in 2012 asked the question “why are there less women in science than men?”
They submitted identical resumes with randomly assigned male or female names to 200 academic researchers. The resume was for a made-up senior undergrad applying for a lab manager position. The study found that ”both men and women science faculty were more likely to hire the male, ranked him higher in competency, and were willing to pay him $4000 more than the woman.
They were also more willing to provide mentoring to the male than to the female candidate” despite identical qualifications. Similar studies conducted by researchers at the University of Chicago and MIT found the same results.
These studies confirm that gender bias is a real and a strangely pervasive issue in most hiring practices. Why is the first choice for a science, tech, or managerial position most often a man? The data says it all – most people think this way. It is partly because of these unchallenged biases and outdated hiring practices, but these are symptoms of a major root cause: lack of allyship.
Men may find themselves in positions of power due to their gender alone, with no extra effort on their part, and then remain silent or unknowing on issues of equity and equality. Rinse. Repeat.
Interpersonal interactions can also be affected by male privilege. Men often find themselves dominating conversations, being taken more seriously than women, or interrupting women without consequence (or maybe even realizing their doing so).
This dynamic can create a hostile environment for women and lead to them feeling disrespected, ignored, and disconnected from the team’s success. Or alternately, can stifle professional growth in women that otherwise would be huge contributors to the team.
To be true allies for women, it’s important to recognize and question male privilege. Taking time to learn about the patriarchy and systemic oppression can help men become better at recognizing privilege and advocating for women.
As male allies, you can also use your privilege to help support the women in a meaningful and respectful way. This can include actively advocating for women in the workplace, having honest conversations with other men about privilege, and challenging the patriarchal systems that oppress women.
Take the time to listen to women’s experiences, provide emotional support when needed, and amplify women’s voices and stories. In doing this, we will take a step forward in processing what privilege looks like day-to-day.
Why do we keep talking about the Patriarchy?
The patriarchy is not one man; it’s not all men–it is broken systems. Patriarchy relates to the systems of oppression that grant men unearned privilege, power and status over women and other marginalized groups.
From birth, boys are taught to inhabit a position of dominance, to lean into the unknown, and to break the mold. Girls and other non-binary genders are often taught to shrink, conform to gender norms like pleasing, and disappear in the crowd.
This imbalance can manifest itself in many different ways. It can be seen in the workplace, where women are often paid less than men for the same work or overlooked for promotions despite their competencies; in politics, women are severely underrepresented.
Women hold only 23% of the seats in national parliaments worldwide, according to the United Nations. In the United States, women make up only 29% of the House of Representatives and 27% of the Senate, which is more than ever before (Source1 Source 2). The patriarchy is most glaringly present in social dynamics, where women are often treated as objects or sexualized; and in family structures, where women are still expected to bear the brunt of domestic labor.
For many years, these systems of oppression were accepted as normal and remained unchallenged by men. The rise of recent movements such as #MeToo and Women’s Marches have shifted more conversation around the patriarchy, and highlighted the dire importance of understanding and challenging its pervasive nature. And men have come out to support these initiatives, showing that this can be a joint effort. When those that benefit most from the current system step up and raise their voices for equity within that system, the scale tips. Women are leading DEI efforts, male allies can help us past the finish line.
To all you guys who made it this far – you’re doing it! You’re being an ally!
We see you putting in the effort and we appreciate it. And let’s be real, being an ally isn’t rocket science. It’s not about performing miracles or having superpowers.
It’s about being fair, reasonable, and empathetic. It’s about actively listening to women, recognizing their voices, and supporting them in meaningful ways. It’s about challenging your own biases, advocating for diversity and inclusion in the workplace, and taking action to make a real impact.
So… why not keep it up? We promise you’ll have plenty of opportunities to support and stand up for women moving forward. And who knows? You might just create change. And give us a follow, sign up for our newsletter, and don’t be afraid to reach out. We love having male allies and we couldn’t do what we do without you. Below is a list of other articles and resources we recommend in your journey towards allyship:
- Read this The Skimm article – everything it says is important and helpful for male allies.
- Check out this book by David Smith and w. Brad Johnson https://www.workplaceallies.com/books/goodguys
- One of our fav quick reads is Men Explain Things To Me by Rebecca Solnit – a great review of the perspective of women in many of the situations we’re outlining above.
- Dig into this article on why Men need to mentor and champion women
- Signup for the Better Allies Weekly Newsletter – curated by women, you’ll get 5 every day actions you can work on to progress your allyship further. They’re talking concepts that you’ve probably never heard of, like Tall Poppy Syndrome, offering scripts to confront racism and gender inequality in the workplace, and so much more!
- Read more from our Blog, sign up for Hire Women Week, and join one of our events (found on our Home Page)