Inviting All Male Allies

       

Are you a woman wondering how to incorporate more men in the quest for gender equity at work? Or are you a man who’s wondering how you can help make a difference for gender diversity in the workplace? Of course, the concern over saying or doing the wrong thing can strike fear in the heart of many who are interested in getting involved. To help address these concerns, we wanted to offer some tips and resources for avoiding pitfalls and for making sure these efforts are successful.    

First, it’s important to make the case for why it’s important to get involved:

Reason 1: Contrary to popular perception, increasing diverse participation is not a women’s or any underrepresented group’s issue. We know that society and businesses profit from the many benefits that diverse perspectives bring to creativity and innovation. In addition, men also stand to benefit from expanding gender norms. For instance, men also are held to gender standards that limit what they are able to do (e.g., spend more time with family). Since these are issues that affect everyone, everyone should be working on them.

Reason 2: Men currently hold a majority of formal and informal positions of power, particularly in technology companies, so they are able to have a great deal of influence on the current climate — either in subtle everyday interactions or in changing larger systems. The most successful 21st century firms will be those with strong management – and those companies with a culture of inclusion will be able to attract diverse, creative, and innovative talent – so today’s male managers can thrive by working to build diverse teams.  

Reason 3: A diverse workforce reflects your diverse customer base. So men and women should be working together to expand the computing workforce to include all people, not just those who have traditionally held tech positions.

Next, it’s important to be clear about what men should be advocating for…

Changing the Environment, Not the Women.  In general, male advocacy is not about men advocating for or helping individual women. In fact, if helping specific women is the primary focus, these efforts can come across as patronizing or be a surefire recipe for disaster, even when well-intentioned.

Women do not generally need extra help, but the environment in which they work often DOES need help, particularly in tech.  Changing this environment involves eliminating subtle biases in team meetings, job descriptions, interview practices, performance evaluation criteria, task assignment patterns, and allowing for flexible work policies and practices. Leaders have an opportunity to create culture change. Below are links to resources that can help enlist more men in making change, and helping men interested in making change be more successful.

Three Things to Know Before You Get Started

#1 –YOU can drive change. Culture change starts with you. Whether you are a man or a woman, senior leader, or individual contributor, if you step up and speak to the benefits of an inclusive environment, others will join in and follow you. There’s no magic formula, but if you’ve read this far and agree with us, step up and speak out – your group will benefit.

#2 - Listen to women’s stories about their experiences in the technical workplace.  It may seem simple, but this step is so often overlooked. Without this level of understanding, it is easy to jump to one’s own conclusions about how best to fix the problem, which can come across as ill-informed advice, however well-intentioned. Take time to ask questions, listen and understand.

#3 - Don’t assume all women want to participate in diversity efforts. Being a minority in a majority environment is a tricky proposition, so underrepresented individuals develop different strategies to survive and advance - against significant odds - in these environments.  One such strategy is to - consciously or unconsciously - distance yourself from the minority group to which you belong. Don’t be alarmed if some women, refuse, resist, or react negatively to your initial interest. Recognize that it might sometimes take a while to build trust, and some women may never want to participate. Everyone wants to make it on their own merit and not be patronized.

More detail and tips for involving male allies in gender diversity efforts can be found at The Tricky (And Necessary) Business of Being A Male Advocate For Gender Equality. Also check out the links below for additional resources you can use. Some of these are specific to technology, a male-dominated field, but apply to other types of organizations as well.

Resource List

Making the case for diversity

Here are some resources for how to identify male allies and increase their visibility and support:

 

The SHRM Blog does not accept solicitation for guest posts.
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