28 ways for men to be (better) allies with women 

The concept of allyship has never been more prevalent in the public sphere than over the past several months, as neighbors, colleagues, friends and family saw the renewed need to act in solidarity with the people in their lives who face prejudice. 

There is no one playbook on how to be an effective ally. It's lifelong work that requires a lot of listening, discomfort and awareness. But there are some strategies and actions, many based on research, that have proven effective and are worth sharing. 

This list is by no means exhaustive. In fact, if you'd like to contribute to it, you are welcome to do so: Please email mgamble@beckershealthcare.com with your thoughts. And although this is written for men who aim to become stronger allies with their female colleagues, many of the principles in this list carry over to allyship with people in other underrepresented or oppressed groups. 

Perhaps you'll send this article along to a male ally in your life to point out how many of these actions he already takes in his daily life. Perhaps you'll send this article to a male colleague who wants to do more. Or maybe you'll use this article as a starting point for conversations on your team about how allyship can show up in the workplace and create a fairer, healthier culture for all. 

 

1. Understand underrepresented people are not responsible for educating you or privileged groups on their struggle or history. 

2. Put in effort to actively build an understanding of the histories, contexts and current issues to effectively empathize with colleagues and peers, Aspen Russell wrote for the Association for Women in Science. 

3. Recognize that effective, meaningful allyship doesn't involve a "savior complex," where a male ally steps in to help or intervene on behalf of a woman who doesn't want or need his help. This can contribute to women feeling less confident in their abilities on the job.

4. Ask or take cues from female colleagues about how you can be an ally, according to research out of Rice University. 

5. Acknowledge the counterproductive effect of guilt. Although learning about the professional challenges of women may result in moments where men feel shame, allyship is founded in a sense of responsibility and awareness. Shame and guilt can cause potential allies to interact with women less, whereas the opposite is needed for effective allyship. 

6. Assess where your allyship falls on a spectrum, which is organized by diversity consultant Jennifer Brown. The spectrum ranges from apathetic (no understanding of the issues) to aware (in which men know of basic concepts but do not take action) to active (when men are well-informed and share knowledge or seek diversity when prompted). The most developed stage of allyship is advocacy, wherein men are committed and routinely and proactively championing inclusion. 

7. Take appropriate action depending on where you fall on the spectrum. If apathetic, learn about issues surrounding diversity and inclusion. If aware, determine how to activate yourself. If active, determine how you can take action without being prompted to become a true advocate. 

8. Listen. No, really listen. "First, to be a good listener, stop talking," historian Kimberly Probolus wrote in The New York Times. "You cannot listen to her story and be present for her if you're too busy thinking about yourself or your next brilliant comment. Second, active listening means hearing the words women are saying and taking them at face value, even if those words contradict your prior assumptions or your own agenda. Third, being an active listener means asking questions."

9. Understand the distinction between benevolent and hostile sexism.

10. Learn about the ways that the former can fly under the radar in a professional setting and are ingrained in many social interactions. 

11. Do not respond to displays of sexism with a benevolently sexist strategy, which nearly one-third of men do, according to research from Catalyst. One example of a benevolently sexist response is asking the perpetrator, "What if you said that about your mother or daughter?"

12. Challenge the likeability trap. For instance, if you hear a woman called "bossy" or "shrill," ask for a specific example of what the woman did that demonstrates those attributes. Ask if the reaction would hold if a man did the same thing. 

13. When addressing a display of sexism from a peer, respond to it as an opportunity for personal growth versus pointing fingers and causing shame or embarrassment. 

14. Anticipate that many people who engage in microaggressions will not see what they said as sexist — or racist or homophobic. This is important to keep in mind both when calling something out, and also if you are the one called out. 

15. Focus on the result of microaggressions versus intent. "Calling them racist or sexist or homophobic would make them very defensive and make them unable to even recognize what their impact was," Kevin Nadal, a professor of psychology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, told NPR. "We're all human beings who are prone to mistakes, and we're all human beings who might commit microaggressions. And it's not necessarily that you're a bad person if you commit a microaggression, but rather that you need to be more aware of your biases and impact on people."

16. Notice and challenge when female colleagues are encouraged or expected to operate within gender stereotypes. "I know a younger woman who works with one of my vendor partners," said Rose Glenn, senior vice president and chief marketing officer with Ann Arbor-based Michigan Medicine. "She has been told by a male manager to be more 'deferential' — to not speak up as much in meetings even though she makes valuable contributions. I tend to doubt that he would have given this counsel to a male associate. These men should be encouraging and helping young professionals develop — and paying particular attention to being intentional around anti-sexist behaviors. Those in the company who witness or hear about this behavior should let these men know that it is unacceptable."

17. Ask women how you can amplify, not replace or change, existing gender parity efforts, according to Harvard Business Review. "Refrain from taking center stage, speaking for women or mansplaining how women should approach gender equity efforts."

18. Be prepared for moments when allyship doesn't come easy and involves disrupting the status quo. "Keep in mind that committing to express as little sexism as possible in your interactions with women is the easy part of allyship," according to HBR. "The hard part requires you to take informed action. Use your experience in women's events and initiatives to learn how you can best become a public ally for social justice around gender. When the time comes, this may require you to upset the status quo." 

19. Consider how your workplace culture encourages or discourages men to call out sexism. When confronted by a sexist behavior, 36 percent of men in more combative cultures report doing nothing compared to 6 percent of men in less combative cultures, according to Catalyst. Employees in combative workplaces are systematically encouraged to competitively engage in stereotypically masculine behaviors as a pathway to professional success.

20. Ensure every member of your team is aware of gender bias when evaluating performance. Be specific about what constitutes excellent performance, and make sure goals are set in advance, understood and measurable. Bias is especially pronounced when review criteria are unclear.

21. Look for opportunities to acknowledge women's contributions. Make sure women get the credit they deserve. For instance, if a woman's contributions are overlooked in a meeting, a man can repeat her statement and give full credit.

22. Raise a hand to take on non-promotable work or ensure that work is distributed equitably on your team. Women are more likely than men to be asked by their manager or reluctantly volunteer to take on this type of work, which can include office "housework," filling in for a colleague, serving on a low-ranking committee, or taking on routine work that doesn't require much skill or make much impact, according to HBR.

23. If you're a manager, consider rotating assignments for non-promotable work across employees instead of asking for volunteers or asking women to volunteer because they are more likely to say yes. 

24. Do not interrupt women. If you're in a meeting where a male colleague interrupts a female colleague, intervene. If you are a leader, set the tone and put parameters on interruptions. Research consistently finds women are interrupted more than men across a range of settings — in corporate offices, town meetings, school boards and the Supreme Court. It will happen in your organization, too. 

25. Determine if you are mansplaining. Here is a chart to do so. Author Kim Goodwin created it after more than one male colleague sincerely asked her whether a certain behavior qualified as mansplaining. 

26. Share Ms. Goodwin's chart with male colleagues. 

27. Send this article to male colleagues. 

28. Use this article as a starting point for conversation with women in your professional network about allyship.

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