Men As Allies
Good Guys

Men As Allies

A practical guide – backed by considerable research – on how to become a male ally for the women in your workplace.

You may think creating a level playing field for women is solely a woman’s issue, but it’s not. David G. Smith, a professor at the US Naval War College, and W. Brad Johnson, a psychology professor at the US Naval Academy, explain how and why men can and should become allies to women.

Writing for male leaders and men seeking to navigate today’s gender politics, the authors offer an acclaimed, pragmatic step-by-step guide for men acting alone, in groups or as leaders to become allies to women. Taking this stand, the authors explain, increases your firm’s profits, your influence at work and your ability to lead diverse teams. Globe & Mail named their manual a Best Business Books of 2020, Behavioral Scientist listed it as a Notable Book of 2020, and it won the Axiom Business Book Gold Medal for Best Human Resources/Employee Training Book in 2021. 

200 Years

The authors cite a World Economic Forum study estimating that if gender inequity remains solely a women’s issue, achieving global equality will take 200 years. On the other hand, instituting equal wages today would increase the global gross domestic product (GDP) by $28 trillion. In the United States, equal wages would reduce women’s poverty by 50% and increase the GDP by 2.8%.

Silence is not one of your options – allyship demands you…deploy male privilege in a consistent way.David G. Smith and W. Brad Johnson

White, straight, middle-class or richer men are often unaware that they possess an inherent status or “privilege,” that is, a “systematically unearned advantage.” Ask your male friends who belong to a demographic minority about their experiences. Consider your most recent career decision.Did anyone ask you about the impact of your choice on your spouse or children?That query might seem irrelevant, but managers often ask it of women. Apply your privilege to supporting equality. When wise leaders recognize inequities, they can no longer dismiss them. 

Smith and Johnson urge you to provide both male and female colleagues and staff members with equal opportunities. As a man, acknowledge that you don’t know what women experience at work, so ask them about it. Be aware, too, that women of color face double jeopardy from both racial and gender discrimination.

To become an ally, start by building your “gender intelligence” (GQ) so you learn to be more aware. For example, in meetings notice whether men are sitting at the table while women sit on the periphery. Do men interrupt women or belittle their ideas?To be an active ally in meetings, ask women for their ideas and call out men who interrupt or belittle them. Stop men from appropriating women’s ideas.

Inform, Recommend, Promote and Mentor

Include women in business-related activities, in and out of the office.Make sure that men and women share workplace housekeeping chores.Call out sexist comments or biases. Listen to and validate a woman’s reactions to such comments or harassment. Telling a woman that a man who insulted her meant no harm only compounds the insult.

When you demonstrate a genuine habit of sharing your time with female colleagues, you’ll be communicating care.David G. Smith and W. Brad Johnson

As a proactive ally, encourage women to apply for promotions. To fight pay differentials, share useful data about your salary and benefits.

Create a core group of female friends. A female mentor can provide feedback as you learn to be an ally and can boost your GQ.

Base the decision to mentor a female staff member on her competence and abilities, not her physical attributes. Explain what information you plan to discuss, and put meeting topics in your calendar.

Share Responsibility

Less than 30% of today’s families have a working father and a stay-at-home mother. The vast majority of families have two working parents or a single working parent. Yet women still perform the majority of unpaid domestic labor, even if they have the family’s only job or the higher-paying job.

Such…normalizing and honoring of family obligations are powerful acts of allyship. David G. Smith and W. Brad Johnson

Share the responsibility at home for grocery shopping, child care and scheduling. When your partner has a big project looming, do her work at home.Make sure your children recognize that you and your spouse contribute equal efforts. This behavior will build your daughters’ confidence and teach your sons to be allies.

Don’t Be Passive

Most men don’t recognize the delta between their beliefs and reality. They may appear supportive, but they often take no action. Intervene when you see or hear something inappropriate, even when women are not present. “Bystander paralysis” is real and destructive, and it enables abuse.

Sexist humor increases tolerance of sexual harassment. Confronting other men over a remark may be the most difficult part of being an ally. Support men who take that lead.

Humor can make sexism more dangerous to the culture and more difficult…to confront.David G. Smith and W. Brad Johnson

To thwart gender bias in hiring, remove names and gender-identifying elements from résumés. Shut down any comments that address a leader’s gender. 

Address Systemic Inequity

Call out inequities or discrimination. Prioritize hiring women in leadership roles.  If your company lacks policies against sexual harassment, make sure it develops guidelines for reporting such situations without retaliation. 

You really can’t be an effective leader without also being an all-in ally.David G. Smith and W. Brad Johnson

Creating a culture of allyship means cultivating a mutually supportive group of people focused on gender equity. Help men understand their role in supporting equity. Make sure your staff members understand why gender equity training is important. To launch a gender equity program, include supportive referrals from managers and higher-echelon leaders. Challenge myths by providing facts. Men who take an active role can spur life-changing shifts in old systems.

Use your forum to teach men how to intervene and to discuss “healthy gender identities,” a process which benefits women and men stuck in traditional roles. To align your goals in allyship, reach out to women who are leading gender initiatives. Leadership today requires embracing diversity and supporting equality.

Teaching, Not Preaching

Careers spent at male-dominated institutions have given Smith and Johnson rare insight into how to inspire men to embrace gender equality. Foremost, they don’t try to. They are not in the inspiring business; their goal is loftier and more pragmatic. 

Gender inequities are not women’s issues – they are leadership issues.David G. Smith and W. Brad Johnson

They teach men – without preaching – to address their awareness – or lack of it – of how gender inequality functions and, then, how to help arrest it. Their tone is straightforward, without rancor or emotion; they list a series of problems and accompanying likely solutions. By grounding their guidance in the practical and day-to-day, they offer an invaluable manual.

David G. Smith and W. Brad Johnson also co-wrote Athena Rising: How and Why Men Should Mentor Women. W. Brad Johnson co-authored The Elements of Mentoring with Charles R. Ridley; and Becoming a Leader the Annapolis Way with Gregory P. Harper, among other titles. Other books on leading diverse workplaces include How To Be an Inclusive Leader by Jennifer Brown; and Radical Candor by Kim Scott.

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