Celebrate International Women’s Day March 8
Hello Men . . . Here’s How You Can #embraceequity and Move the Needle
Just as white allies are critical to expanding racial equity, male champions are necessary to drive gender equity. International Women’s Day, March 8, is a great time to celebrate women’s achievements and step up your contribution to #EmbraceEquity and accelerate progress.
Men can be particularly effective in challenging gender stereotypes, calling out discrimination and bias, and fostering inclusion for women at work because, on average, they still occupy more positions of power and authority. Here are some tools to get you started.
- Know the facts. Research shows men often have a skewed understanding of women’s experience in the workplace and an inaccurate view of the degree of progress that’s been made. In 2017, McKinsey & Company found that, “Nearly 50 percent of men think women are well represented in leadership in companies where only one in ten senior leaders is a woman.” A more recent study of MBA alumni from St. Catherine University found that 40% of male graduates believed gender equity had already been achieved.
The 2022 Integrating Women Leaders Foundation (IWL) study on the state of allyship also turned up strong differences in perspective. While 77% of men at the executive level described their male peers as either “active allies” or “public advocates” for gender equity, only 45% of women at that level held the same view.
The first step to becoming an effective male champion is to educate yourself about the state of women at work in general and then to dive into specifics in your organization. The annual Women in the Workplace study from McKinsey & Company is a great place to start. The Pew Research Organization also has extensive research on gender equity.
Finally, talk with women you work with about when and where they’ve encountered barriers or discrimination to empower yourself to interrupt unfair treatment.
- Speak up and bring other men into the conversation. Research reported by Grant Thornton found that 60% of those surveyed said it’s rare to see men speaking out against gender discrimination. The IWL study also found one of the least often practiced forms of allyship was “calling out other men who were devaluing women in meetings and other interactions.”
“Active confrontation of other men for sexism, bias, harassment and all manner of inappropriate behavior may be the toughest part of male allyship. It is also utterly essential,” writes David Smith, Ph.D., author of Good Guys: How Men Can Be Better Allies for Women in the Workplace, and associate business professor at Johns Hopkins University.
There are three key reasons men must fulfill this role, Smith says. First, women who call out sexist behavior are often viewed negatively and even rated as less competent. Men who call out sexist behavior are more persuasive because it will not benefit them personally and their statements are received more positively by “in-group” members.
Smith advocates a “two-second rule” for responding to sexism. “To combat the paralysis that sets in mere seconds after another man delivers a sexist comment or demeaning joke, just say something!” he urges. “Simply say, ‘ouch’ clearly and forcefully. This buys you a few extra seconds to formulate a clear statement about why the comment didn’t land well with you.”
It can also be helpful to have stock phrases at the ready. A great one is to simply say, “What do you mean?” It puts the onus back on the other person to actually spell out their sexist thinking and gives you more time to gather your thoughts. For even more encouragement to speak up, consider that many of your peers are also bothered by the behavior and your courage will help them break their silence too.
- Listen and collaborate with women. One of the most frustrating experiences for women and marginalized people is having members of the dominant population tell them that their experience is not real; that they’re reading into things or seeing bias where it doesn’t exist. Don’t fall into that trap. Proactively ask women on your team to share their perspectives on gender equity within the organization and whether they’ve experienced discrimination. Then believe what they say, gather data that will help illuminate similar experiences and commit to taking action. Look to women to guide what actions are most desired.
- Get active. One of the most powerful things you can do to interrupt sexism in your workplace is to become an enthusiastic mentor and sponsor for talented women. Share your networks, open doors to new connections and speak up for women when they are not in the room to advocate for their advancement.
You can also make an impact by spotlighting the achievements of women on your team and female colleagues and by making sure that they receive credit for their ideas and successes. When women receive clear support from male leaders, it increases respect and reduces feelings of isolation, according to research from the University of Kansas.
Being an effective male champion of women requires both interpersonal skills, such as listening, empathizing and creating mutually respectful relationships. It also requires public communication where you call out sexist behavior and policies, admit mistakes and learn from them, and actively strive to correct salary discrepancies and slower rates of promotion. You will benefit with a stronger team at work, and greater opportunities for the women you care about most in your personal life.