Frequently Asked Questions
What is a Male Ally?
We know that male allies come in many shapes and sizes. While some come straight from central casting, many male allies may not be the likely suspects. We believe that each man develops his own way to be a male ally and that his comfort and skill grow through time.
We’ve found that instead of learning from the many men who work to facilitate the career growth of women, far too much attention is placed on the bad actors, those men who knowingly abuse their power in ways that demean, disrespect and marginalize women. Male allies are those men on the learning journey, working with good intent, to respect and support their female colleagues.
We’ve found men receive frequent messages about what not to do and too rarely about what they should be doing to support gender equality in the workplace. We’re turning that around, placing the spotlight on thou shall behaviors rather than thou shall not behaviors when working with men. Below are a few examples that help concretize male ally behaviors. Male allies:
- Seek to listen, and learn, about the unique challenges that women confront in the workplace.
- Make mistakes, perhaps with an off-color joke or by being too touchy for some women, and simply apologize and work to consider gender more in the future
- Help break down gender barriers and stereotypes, for example regularly asking male colleagues and men on panels, how they balance their careers with their roles as fathers?
- Encourage other men to get involved in gender diversity work, asking them to participate in a women’s network event at their company or a conference session focused on gender balance in the workplace.
- Seek to step back and reflect on what messages their behaviors send – some perhaps unintended – about gender in and outside the workplace.
- Honor the hard work women have done – and continue to do – to support gender parity.
What is a Gender Lens?
At GenderWorks, we believe a major avenue for realizing greater equality in the workplace is by helping men to develop – and deepen – their gender lenses. What do we mean by the term gender lens?
A gender lens is a focused awareness of the myriad behaviors, systems & norms that collectively affect the professional development and advancement of women and men.
It’s a way of seeing situations with an understanding of how gender can – and often does – come into play. Male ally involvement becomes a catalyst for new thinking and new behaviors. New information piques men’s interest to learn more, prompting further exploration. Men are able to see patterns and to more deeply understand the systemic nature of gender issues in the workplace. This understanding helps to stimulate changes in behavior – and the creation of new norms of engagement – which enable gender balance.
Involving men in male ally forums supports their developing a gender lens, leading to individual and ultimately organizational change.
Why Focus on Gender When the Goal is Inclusivity for All?
- Women represent every dimension of diversity – all racial and ethnic groups, employees in the LGBT community, veterans, parents, etc. – except for white men.
- Gender is a universal dimension of diversity that directly touches every employee.
- Gender diversity is global, resonating across the world, while other types of diversity vary from one culture or region to another.
- Women represent a large percentage of the workforce and of the talent pool – often the majority – in many organizations and cultures.
- Efforts targeted at creating gender parity in leadership – including adapting problematic systems, engaging allies, and creating new practices – are broadly applicable to all aspects of diversity.
For all these reasons, the universality of gender, the critical mass of females in the talent pool, and the applicability of improvements for all, focusing on gender is compelling.
Why Do So Few Men Get Involved in Gender Diversity Work?
At GenderWorks, we know there isn’t just one, but many, reasons that help to explain the lack of men’s involvement in gender diversity work. We’ve developed a graphic, illustrating the range of thoughts and feelings that men typically bring to the gender equality conversation, that helps to clarify the barriers.
- Some men experience a focus on gender diversity as a direct threat to their oportunities. They don’t understand why the company would spend money focused specifically on women’s career development. Opposition is the barrier.
- Some men see women in their organization and are stymied by all the conversation about the need for gender diversity. Not understanding the issue is the barrier.
- Some men, conceding that women hold few leadership seats in their organization, don’t perceive the issue as personally related to their work. They’re sick of hearing about gender diversity and hope it will fade. A lack of perceived relevancy is the barrier.
- Some men who perceive the lack of gender parity as a problem, are interested but generally don’t feel like they have a clue regarding what to do about it. A lack of knowledge is the barrier.
- Some men, believing that the lack of gender diversity is an issue and having an interest in making things better, are open to getting involved. Competing work priorities, and/or not understanding how to get involved, are the barriers.
Understanding what prevents men from becoming active partners in gender diversity work, Genderworks employs a variety of strategies that mitigate – and eliminate – the hurdles. The ‘how’ of engaging men makes all the difference.
How Do You Define Gender Equality?
There are many ways that gender equality can be defined and many angles from which to address the topic. This is the first, with other installments to follow, that speaks to the concept of gender equality.
Definitions of gender equality include ‘the state of equal access to resources and opportunities’ and ‘the act of treating females and males equally’. At its core, gender equality is about fairness and creating a world where gender is not the indiscriminate driver of critical aspects of our lives such as economic viability, health and well-being, political leadership or educational attainment. It’s important to note that gender inequality cuts both ways and while we exuberantly celebrate women’s enormous gains in higher education, we also need to consider why young boys are faring poorly (compared with girls) during their elementary education.
What’s critical about the definition of gender equality is that it encompasses a desired state of equal treatment, opportunity and outcomes for males and females but it also includes a need to act to eliminate disparities. The focus on action is a critical piece of the gender equality puzzle.
A great example illustrating the power of action to address inequality is Title IX, the federal law enacted in 1972 that ensures Federal monies in education must be equally distributed by gender. This piece of legislation paved the way for the rise of girls participating in sports, enabling them to reap the many rewards of athletic involvement. It also catalyzed the ascendance of the amazing U.S. Women’s Soccer team, which captured another world cup in 2019.
Organizations can act, seeking to address workplace gender disparities, by necessitating structures and practices that hasten its demise. Some examples include:
- ensuring association bias (individuals being attracted to those like themselves) does not infect the resume review process. (note: this can be done by obscuring the candidate’s name, which often suggests gender, racial and ethnic identities)
- designing a reverse mentoring approach that enables individuals, across levels and with varying dimensions of diversity, to come together and learn from one another
- creating a meeting structure to ensure important voices, that often go unheard, are on the agenda
- developing an assignment review process that focuses managers on assessing – and addressing – disparities such as rotating the less desirable, garden-variety work across team members through time
There’s no silver bullet that will erase the complex and intersecting drivers of gender inequality in the workplace. But, there’s great promise in replacing old approaches – that perpetuate gender disparities – with new ones built to do just the opposite.
What Does Gender Equality Look Like in the Workplace?
The World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report 2020 was just recently released. It reveals that at our current rate of change, gender parity will not be attained for another 99 years!
At GenderWorks, we’ve been asked if the goal of gender equality is to simply have women represent 50% of all roles in the workplace. Though we don’t favor getting too prescriptive, the fact that gender inequality exists in nearly every company, industry, and profession underscores the systemic nature of the problem and the need for concrete actions to fuel progress.
From a practical perspective, gender equality translates to ensuring that the mismatch between women representing over half of the initial talent pool – in fields such as neuroscience and law – yet representing a paltry 1 in 5 of those in leadership, does not persist. A common sense approach could be determining tolerance ranges that assist organizations in recognizing when action is required.
Thus, if the goal is to have women represent between 40% and 60% of the leadership team, when female representation drops below 40%, it provides a trigger for a response to fill the gap within a defined timeframe. Possible responses could include hiring women from outside the organization and/or identifying the strongest internal female candidates and creating well-resourced plans to accelerate their development.
As another example, if male nurses represented 20% of students graduating with nursing degrees yet only 10% of RNs (registered nurses), it would be a signal to act. Interestingly, the National League of Nursing reported in a 2017-18 survey that men comprised 13% of nursing students while the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicated approximately 12% of RNs were male, tracking the pipeline figure quite nicely. In this profession, strengthening diversity requires increasing men’s presence in the feeder pool for nurses rather than ensuring their retention and development.
Another means by which to assess gender equality is to ensure that organizations are comparing apple to apples. It is very common to hear that no gender problems exist because there is a woman or some women in leadership. Yet, often those women are superstars and if a man possessed the same credentials, he would not be an SVP or the head of a business unit but the CEO of the multi-national company.
At Lisa’s former employer Catalyst – an organization well known for its research and consulting on women in the workplace – a story about helping a client company confront their gender biases became somewhat legendary. The story told about a major manufacturer who was struggling with the dearth of women in plant management roles. The male leaders attributed this shortfall to the fact that there were no qualified women available to fill these roles. When the resumes of these men – at the point they had assumed plant management roles – were revealed, the men could see firsthand that they were no more qualified, and often less so, than the potential women candidates.
Gender equality in the workplace looks like the average woman professional, not the superstar, achieving a similar level of status and pay as the average male. It’s about comparing apples and apples.