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Men Can Do A Lot to Help Women Advance

18 June 2019

Barbara read Men as Allies: Engaging Men to Advance Women in the Workplace and 7 Tips for Men Who Want to Support Equality and appreciated the practical advice.

Tags: barbara read, diversity, mentoring, women and leadership

I’m teaching a new course on leadership and gender issues and have written nine blog posts about how women can be influential in the workplace and how they can move into more senior positions. Soon, I’ll be teaching this course to a group of men and women and wanted to find information on how men can help with gender equity in the workplace and what might make them want to.

Some men will be supportive of equal opportunity and pay for women because it is the right thing to do, some because they have wives and daughters they want treated fairly, some because they want to live with and work beside powerful women so they can benefit from their knowledge and creativity, but even more may make an effort if they realize hiring and promoting women helps the bottom line. In Men as Allies: Engaging Men to Advance Women in the Workplace, Larson listed several studies by reputable firms that have shown that when more women are in leadership positions, profits go up.

Women who are just as well educated and competent as men do not get promoted as quickly as men. I found 7 Tips for Men Who Want to Support Equality on Lean In website. It included this research, “Success and likeability are positively correlated for men and negatively correlated for women. When a man is successful, his peers often like him more; when a woman is successful, both men and women often like her less. If a woman is competent, she does not seem nice enough, but if a woman seems really nice, she is considered less competent.” A woman has to be particularly strong to keep pursuing her goals in spite of both genders’ negative reactions coming at her. I think if more men knew about this, they’d be interested in helping to change this trend.

In her long and well-researched article, Larson lists 20 things men can do to help women advance. I’ve included some of the ideas that I think would be most helpful below.

"Recruit women and actively promote them." “Men apply for jobs when they meet 60 percent of the hiring criteria, while women wait until they meet all of them….Encourage women to apply for jobs with more responsibility, even though they might not currently meet all requirements.” Remind them that when they take the risk to get a new position that they don’t feel totally qualified for, they can find out what they need to know by doing research and occasionally asking for help.

"Provide constructive criticism." If women don’t know what they are doing wrong, they won’t know how to change so they can achieve their goals. Also give positive feedback describing exactly what you like when they do a good job, so they will know what to continue doing well.

"Share the housework at home and at the office....For women to succeed, they need an equal division of labor at home, ranging from childcare to household chores." At work “…as Sheryl Sandberg puts it, ‘The person taking diligent notes in the meeting almost never makes the killer point.’ Don’t assign women duties like note taking, office parties, or training new hires.”

"Take a female colleague to lunch. Casual social interaction can provide the foundation for professional relationships. Debora Spar, former president of Barnard College, notes the subtle problems young women confront because their male colleagues are actually fearful that being seen with them will constitute a violation of policy or propriety. The result is that women miss out on the opportunity to form important connections." If you go for drinks with male co-workers at the end of the day, invite women, too, or don’t go at all.

"Raise the number and visibility of female leaders....While women enter the workplace in equal numbers as men, their representation decreases step-by-step throughout the career pipeline and falls to about 19 percent by the time they reach the c-suite.” Even though this point was not made in the article, I don’t think it can be ignored—during those years many women are having babies.

Even if a mother has good childcare and goes back to work in six weeks or three months after the baby is born, when the children are older and realize Mama is leaving, sometimes difficulties come up and the parents discover one of them needs to be home more to solve problems. It’s often the mother who quits her job or goes part time. That shouldn’t be a move a parent can never recover from professionally. However, women also can’t expect to be in the same place as their male colleagues who didn’t leave the workforce. I started fulltime work when my children were 15 and 17. After 22 years, I retired as a Vice President because many men in the organization were committed to helping me catch up.

"Learn not to ‘manterrupt’....men interrupt women in conversation far more often than they interrupt other men....If a female colleague gets interrupted in a meeting, interject and say you’d like to hear her finish.” If a man does that, women will be encouraged to talk in spite of the fact that “...when female executives speak more than their peers, both men and women give them 14 percent lower ratings.”

An effective change for a man who wants to be supportive would be to listen more than he talks, “...but a more active tactic is to visibly solicit ideas and questions from women at meetings and then affirm them.” If interrupting is a problem in your organization, have everyone write their ideas first on a few of the agenda topics and then add some control to the conversation by going around the room asking for one idea from each person. You might even call on the women first before you open up the discussion to everyone. That will help prevent what I've also heard called “hepeating” where a woman says something that is ignored but then a few minutes later a man says the same thing and everyone thinks it is brilliant. 

If you are in a meeting, and especially if you are running the meeting, and you hear “hepeating” happen, you could call it out by saying, “Janice, you said that five minutes ago, and John, thank you for reinforcing it.

"Have her back when she’s not in the room.".... Call out injustices even if they don’t impact you….Silence about injustice is interpreted…as support for the status quo....If a man makes a sexist joke say…‘I don’t think that is okay.’” In the 7 Tips article, the author said “When you hear a woman called ‘bossy’ or ‘’shrill,’ request a specific example of what the woman did and then ask, ‘Would you have the same reaction if a man did the same thing?’"

Men had all the power and most of the jobs in the workplace until my generation when the birth control pill changed things, but I didn’t witness inequality in my home. My mother was an equal partner with my daddy when they opened a grocery store in a rural crossroads town in 1936. She continued to teach high school business classes for eight years while they got it off the ground and before they had children. I grew up seeing that, and yet, I had inequity in my marriage in the beginning. I married a doctor and because he made more money, he thought he had more rights while I was at home with two babies. At first, I almost agreed with him. Babies caused enough chaos and confusion in my head, and I wasn’t thinking clearly for a while.

I moved into equality by starting graduate school when my children were two and five. Then I taught as an adjunct faculty in various colleges until I went back to work fulltime when the children were 15 and 17. If you have managed a household well, you can manage a team. People at work often act like your children did. I worked with another woman who said it was her parenting skills of clearly describing expectations, refereeing, negotiating, giving positive and negative feedback that she called on most often in her management job. I agreed.

My husband was resistant at first to my independent moves because it was nice to have someone taking care of the home front, so he didn’t have to worry about it. In his childhood, he also didn’t have examples of women who worked if they didn’t have to. I believe his goal was to provide for us, so I didn’t have to work. After many direct and sometimes difficult conversations he got on board. Then, he was not only supportive and actively worked to advance my career but also took great pride in my accomplishments.

In that job I had a boss who was very demanding, but who also did all the supportive things I’ve included above. I've benefited greatly from men who were willing to be allies. What have you seen men do to help women advance at work?


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