Be An Ally

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International Women’s Day can be complicated for men, even feminists. There is always a lot going on, and it can seem disingenuous to try and join in the chorus. It’s definitely a form of male privilege to bust out a “Happy International Women’s Day!” post and then go on with your life as if nothing happened, which is a fancy way of saying that the real question about International Women’s Day is not so much what you do on March 8th, but what happens on March 9th, March 10th, etc.

“…the real question about International Women’s Day is not so much what you do on March 8th, but what happens on March 9th, March 10th, etc.”

One thing every man can do, however, is commit themselves to be an ally at work. Virtually everyone who’s being thoughtful at all about the opportunities and challenges facing women in the workplace recognizes that male allies are essential to making progress. Men who are genuinely committing themselves to trying to find opportunities and equality for women in the workplace. One thing that every man can do on International Women’s Day is commit to being an ally. It’s free, you can do it right now, you can start immediately, and it can last forever. It’s like drinking a lot of water -- once you start doing it, you’re sort of like, “How come I never did this before?”

Here are a few specific things that every man in business can adopt to help themselves be a better ally, starting right now and lasting forever.

Listen more

Mansplaining, dominating conversations, overtalking, everything like that … those are real issues. Virtually every one of us men is guilty of it in one fashion or another. Committing yourself to listen more -- and especially listening before you speak -- is critical. It could be as simple as asking colleagues “what do you think?”, “how are you doing?”, “do you have anything on your list that you want to go through?”, “why don’t you start?”, that sort of thing. It makes a huge difference. And, remind yourself to actively listen. Don’t just hear the words, but actually listen for their meaning. It’s a huge first step.

Be public about being an ally

I know plenty of men who are willing to be helpful to women in the workplace but aren’t really comfortable being public about that being a real goal of theirs. Here’s the thing, if you’re not willing to talk about it, then are you really doing it? Being an ally does not mean that you’ll help a woman when it’s convenient for you or aligns with your interests, or that you’ll help women in the cut but not out in the open. Being an ally means that publicly you will affirm that you are committed to this process. Using social media, using your platform in the workplace, at meetings, in public events, those sorts of things. You absolutely have to go public with these ideas and your commitment to fostering an inclusive environment if you want to be a true ally. Own it, celebrate it. It’s something to be proud of.

Work on your own biases

Everybody is fallible, and even those who have the best intentions often fall short. Nobody’s perfect all the time and everyone makes mistakes in judgment from time to time. That’s all part of it. But committing yourself to work on your own biases and your own imperfections and understanding that while you’re not perfect you can always aim to be doing a little bit better, that’s the key. Anybody who’s ever done yoga understands this concept. You don’t do yoga because you are flexible, you do yoga to get more flexible. And so we all need to work where we are. Here are some good examples of things you can do:

  • Completely eliminate the use of the word “girl” to describe an adult woman from your vocabulary.

  • Try to never to say — or laugh at — a sexist or misogynistic joke.

  • Train yourself with some lines so that when you see somebody else acting in an improper fashion you can respond to it in real time or step up for somebody else.

Think about what is in your control in the workplace

One of the biggest challenges that I hear when talking with men about this is that they don’t feel like they’re in control of the situation at the workplace. “If I don’t control my own destiny at work, how can I help somebody else?” This. Is. A. Fucking. Cop. Out. You control so much. Do you want to set up a meeting? Great. Take five seconds to think about if one of the people in your group is a mom (or a dad) and they are going to be unnecessarily stressed out by having a meeting on the 9 AM or at 4:30 PM. (I advocate eliminating 9 AM and 4:30 PM meetings entirely but that’s another topic). When you sit down at a meeting, are you thinking about who’s around the table? Have you given up your seat for a female colleague? Had a meeting and moved to the outer part of the room? Have you walked around your office and noticed something that might be offensive that you’d want to take down? Have you asked if your company has a domestic violence prevention policy? Anyone of these are things that are well within your purview to do.

Nominate someone

Something else that I have had a ton of success with is nominating people for things or promoting people for things. Awards, honors, new jobs, professional development programs, that sort of thing. I bet if you check your email right now there are a dozen different things in there where people are asking for nominations of others. A very powerful way of being an ally is to think first about which women in your workplace or in your network can benefit from the time and energy that you might devote to that type of endeavor. Generally speaking, the process of doing something like this for somebody takes ten minutes, max. And the value of it is immense. Think about the math. If it takes 10 minutes to step up for somebody in a material fashion, doing it once a week means that you would be spending 520 minutes annually doing these types of activities. That is roughly one day of work. Would you take one day of work out of your year to help women 52 different times, to find more opportunity, find more advancement, find their future? Of course you would!

Understand the math

While we’re on the topic of math, understanding the calculus behind being an ally is actually a really important part of the equation. Being an ally is absolutely not a zero-sum game. One of the reasons that I’ve always felt like a lot of men don’t really make this a priority is that they are consciously or unconsciously concerned that anything they do to promote others, especially women, will actually undermine their own chances for success in some way. Bullshit. Unequivocally, men who help advance women are going to be more successful, and even more important than that, creating and sustaining a society where women have opportunity and are treated with respect and fairness is good for everybody. This is absolutely not a scenario where there is a fixed quantity of opportunity, money, resources, whatever. We’re talking about the future here, and growing an environment that has room for everybody.

Measure something and push for a policy

Lastly, there is a lot you can actually do proactively to try and measure something and then, once you measure it, push for an improvement or a policy. How many women are on the leadership team of your company? Do you have harassment policies, direct domestic violence policies, or another sort of advocacy policy at your organization? How many people are at your level and how many of them are women in the arts and is there pay equity? These are all things that can be measured quite easily by your organization and they should be. However, too often they are not. (We started a whole company to try and solve this problem). So pushing for some additional measurement, and just committing yourself to measure something, will be very valuable.

On top of that, you can actually push for a policy change. Having a more thoughtful parental leave policy is something that you can push forward, regardless of if you’re a parent or not. Asking your company to consider a domestic violence prevention policy or even to consider something as simple as adding the word “inclusive” to your values or mission statement, these are things that are very reasonable for anybody to do. Taking a public action fits very much in line with the aforementioned ideas, and is the next step in the process.

So, those are some ideas for how to be a better ally. Get to work.

Tom Alexander