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How Men Can Be Better Allies to Women in the Workplace

by David Tessmann-Keys

men-as-allies

Everybody knew.

It’s an increasingly familiar refrain as more stories about film legend Harvey Weinstein’s criminal and abusive behavior toward women continue to roll in. As the shocked public questions how this pattern of abuse could occur for so long, the reality is that it was an open secret. According to screenwriter Scott Rosenberg, everybody in Hollywood knew about it for decades. Most didn’t know the full extent, but they knew something wasn’t right. They knew he had an “odious” reputation around women.

But no one did anything about it.

Now Rosenberg, Quentin Tarentino, Kevin Smith, and many other men are stepping forward to say they regret that they did not do more to advocate for their female colleagues. They never intended for their own success to come at the expense of the women in their industry who were working equally hard alongside them. But speaking out against a powerful man like Weinstein could have cost them a powerful ally who made their careers.

The bad news is that the Weinstein scandal is far from an isolated issue. As The Wall Street Journal confirms, negative attitudes and behavior against women is systemically tolerated among top performers across many industries. And, according to the most recent Women in the Workplace study by McKinsey and LeanIn.org, just 30 percent of employees say their managers address gender-biased language and behavior. It’s no coincidence that this behavior remains prevalent in many organizations and that we see very few women in top leadership roles, a statistic that has barely budged in decades.

The bright spot, however, is that we are seeing a growing number of men speak up to say that they can and should do more to be allies to women. These men recognize that doing more to support gender equality is not a favor or kindness toward women, but a necessary step to improve life and work for everyone.

It’s still a long road to get to gender equality, but here are four things men can do to start on a journey to become better allies to women in the workplace:

1. Don’t confuse progress with success

In comparison to the situation decades ago, there’s no denying that women have come a long way in the workplace, and we’ve gotten used to seeing a few high-profile women CEOs in the media. But don’t mistake progress for success. According to the Women in the Workplace study cited above, men often tend to believe that women are doing better than they really are. Half of men reported that they think women are well-represented in leadership when only 1 in 10 senior leaders is a woman. There’s still a long way to go!

2. Sponsor women in their careers

Sponsors are absolutely critical to the success of anyone’s career, man or woman. The fact that so many writers, actors, directors, and others felt they needed Weinstein as their advocate to be successful speaks volumes about just how critical the role of a sponsor is. Women often look to other women to be their mentors and sponsors, but they likewise need sponsorship from men, who still hold the vast majority of leadership positions.

In the wake of the Weinstein scandal, some men may feel cautious that their interest in a woman’s career may be misinterpreted, and therefore may avoid inviting women to dinner meetings or showing too much interest in their careers. But avoiding mentoring and sponsoring women will only lead to a bigger lack of women in leadership.

3. Ask for feedback

Studies have shown that women typically speak less in meetings than men, and when they do, they are more frequently interrupted. Pay attention to whether women are voicing their opinions in meetings and ask for their feedback when possible. Not only does asking for feedback ensure that women’s voices are heard, but it will likely also guide the organization to make better overall decisions.

4. Create inclusive networking opportunities

Women often avoid some of the traditional forms of networking, such as golf outings or certain sporting events, which often cater more towards men. While some women enjoy these activities, many others feel uncomfortable and uninterested in these settings. But many deals get closed on the golf course, and women are often left out. Male allies can improve the situation by asking women about their preferred venues for networking, and planning inclusive activities.

At DDI, we’re encouraged to see the growing number of male-dominated industries and organizations that are working to address gender inequality and change their culture, starting with helping men become better allies to women. More organizations are recognizing that they should not tolerate sexist behavior from anyone, including their most powerful and talented executives. After all, you can always find someone else who has the talent and potential to replace them.

Perhaps even a highly talented woman.

David Tessmann-Keys is president of DDI. He is committed to promoting a workplace where both men and women have opportunities to advance their careers and to realize their full potential.

For more information about men as allies, visit DDI’s women in leadership site.

Posted: 23 Oct, 2017,

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