We live in a society that is fundamentally sexist and non-inclusive, where historically our workplaces have been designed and led by men for men.
Some men still hold deep-rooted stereotypical beliefs about women and believe the independence of women at home and progression of women in the workplace is at their expense.
This mindset is very prevalent, even when it’s not stated. At the same time, many men are feeling the discomfort of knowing that they are expected to change and behave differently.
If a man behaves badly towards a woman how easy is it for another man to call that out?
Many men have been brought up in environments where it is much easier to smirk or laugh at someone who makes a sexist comment about a woman.
They are reluctant to turn round to that person and say: "That’s not on. It is just not okay to say what you just said," because they open themselves up to being in an uncomfortable situation with a colleague or colleagues, and this may then threaten their whole sense of belonging.
They may also be good friends with that person and just not want to rock the boat.
Preliminary findings from our recent research with men looking to embrace gender equity in the workplace suggest there is much work to be done to redefine the role of men as partners in inclusive cultures.
Several of our workshop participants felt that senior leaders lacked understanding of what it takes to achieve real equity.
Many described their own eventual recognition of the benefits of equity in the workplace, and then their realisation that understanding was not enough: “you have to do more than believe in equity for women, you have to be prepared to take action”.
For men to embrace and thrive in organisations working towards gender equity they need to acquire the necessary mindset and skills to firstly ‘notice’ gender-related inequity, unfairness, discrimination, and bad behaviour, and then to make choices about acting.
They also need to become aware of how privilege and/or historic entitlement play out in organisational life.
For senior leaders this involves understanding and addressing organisational culture. As allies, men must be prepared to come off the fence and uphold respectful standards of behaviour.
This shift in mindset requires men to become ‘gender conscious’ through understanding deeply the history and causes of gender equity, and listening to their female colleagues to gain awareness of how women experience the workplace, their perspectives, and the barriers they face in achieving their potential.
All this forms part of a dedicated journey of personal growth to build a strong foundation of self-awareness and insight, as well as the courage and conviction to live with the discomfort allyship inevitably brings.
Men who achieve this shift in mindset then choose to use their power, privilege, and influence to advocate for the fair and equal treatment and advancement of women.
HR is well positioned to accelerate this learning journey by taking some practical steps to engage and support men into allyship:
- Encourage senior leaders to be intentional in leading women’s advancement and equity across the organisation, clarifying expectations and strategic goals, and addressing organisational culture.
- Encourage and celebrate gender equity champions, leaders at all levels, to role-model allyship and sponsor women’s professional growth.
- Provide access to resources for men to educate themselves on key issues relating to gender equity, and opportunities for skills development.
- Most importantly, enable safe facilitated spaces where men can be vulnerable, develop gender consciousness, explore and understand their own power and privilege as a man, and explore the meaning and expectations of allyship and sponsorship with other colleagues.
Debbie Bayntun-Lees is professor of organisational change and leadership at Hult international Business School (Ashridge)