Men have an increasingly important role to play when it comes to helping women advance in the workplace. When asked directly, most men say they support gender equality, so why is progress moving so slowly? Study after study examines the perspectives and company policies that stand in the way and offer insights and strategies to help women’s advancement. Lean In and McKinsey & Company’s latest Women in the Workplace report shows that while we are making progress in some areas, companies need to stay focused on efforts “earlier in the pipeline” to make real progress, and that’s where our male allies can often help women most.
Many successful women say their best mentors and allies have been men, since there are so few women in the C-suite and upper management. We advise in the book, In This Together, that we can best engage men to help us advance when we, “Look for a man who can turn his good intentions into lasting change if women will tell him truthfully and openly the ways gender equality has affected them, has shown through his words and actions that he is committed to gender equality, is willing to have the difficult conversations on your behalf when you’re not in the room, and is willing to mentor and sponsor women to create opportunities for female leadership within your company.”
Do men like this actually exist? Yes, in fact there are actually quite a few of them when you know what characteristics to look for. Once you identify such a man, ask for his help, tell him what you need from your own perspective, and expect and believe that he will help you.
While there are a number of ways that male allies can help women advance, Susan Madsen, Women’s Leadership Thought Leader from Utah Valley University, recently wrote in Forbes that simply recognizing women’s contributions can be a good place to start. In a recent survey she found that women mentioned, “how powerful it was for men to recognize their work and ideas even in private settings; it mattered when men truly listened and acknowledged the value women brought to their organizations.”
Madsen and her colleagues April Townsend and Robbyn T. Scribner recently published a scholarly article in the Journal of Men’s Studies, titled “Strategies that Male Allies Use to Advance Women in the Workplace.” While researching, the three explored a number of important actions that seem to be making a difference. Besides recognizing women’s contributions, they also found that providing honest, accurate and specific feedback also helps. The largest study of its kind, women reported that strong male allies did not hesitate to give praise or correction when needed, and that feedback is critical for advancement. While it may go without saying that men can become stronger allies when they learn more about — and then challenge — gender discrimination in all forms, the researchers found that one of the most important ways that men can help women in the workplace advance is simply by supporting and changing HR processes and procedures. In fact, the men in the study placed company policies about inclusive hiring, family leave policies, etc. as more important than women.
There are so many ways that our male allies can help women advance. They are a great and necessary resource for creating opportunities and helping us step into leadership roles. We must engage their help to change the status quo and make a real, daily commitment to support a more balanced, diverse and successful management and workforce. That’s how we’ll reach gender equality in leadership. We can do it best when we (women and men) work together.