Male allyship: what can men do to support their female colleagues?
The theme of International Women’s Day this year is #ChoosetoChallenge. One of the questions I’m often asked is how can men support their female colleagues in fulfilling their potential at work.
Knowing what to do or say isn’t always easy. You want to demonstrate your support, but the last thing you want is to sound patronising or for women to feel like they’re being singled out for ‘special’ treatment.
And this challenge applies to all aspects of diversity and inclusion, not just gender.
So what does allyship look, sound and feel like?
IMO, if your intention is good, if your heart is in the right place, you’re more than halfway there. But if you want some more practical guidance, here are some tips and recommendations – I love to hear yours too.
- Awareness and empathy – firstly, appreciate that the challenges women face in getting their voice heard and fulfilling their potential at work are real and that even the strongest of women will have at some point experienced organisational and psychological barriers to progression. For more on this, ask me to send you the Why is power a challenge at work? chapter of my book, Power Up, which is packed full of data to illustrate this.
- Proactively encourage – secondly, it’s not enough to just say you support gender equality. You need to show it through your actions. This might include showing an interest in your organisation’s recruitment policy and gender pay gap reporting, and highlighting when a more balance perspective is required (i.e. panel discussions, brainstorms, meetings) or picking up on sexist remarks.
- Curiosity over judgement – thirdly, become adept at calling out inappropriate behaviour, with the aim of educating and inspiring, rather than judging. Judgement tends to create polarising debates where ‘I’m right and you’re wrong’, which usually result in the person either digging their heels in or feeling guilty and withdrawing. Instead, apply my interpretation of Kim Scott’s ‘radical candour’ approach by reminding yourself that very few people are deliberately offensive. And then clearly and calmly sharing examples of what they did/said that was inappropriate and explaining what you would like to see instead.
- Coach don’t rescue – fourthly, as a male manager, give your female team members the opportunity to find their own path, rather than coming in and telling them what to do. And if you hear a man mansplaining (i.e. re-articulating what a female colleague has just explained), call it out by building on what they’ve said – “Thank you John for reiterating that great point that Jamela made just now”.
- Equal voice ambassador – finally, for each meeting, appoint what I call an Equal Voice Ambassador to ensure that everyone is granted adequate time to speak and send out a powerful message that all perspectives are considered equally.
What do you think?