Study: The difference between helping, hurting male allies

Being a male ally in the workplace can help female peers feel supported and empowered, but occasionally can have a negative effect, according to a study from Houston-based Rice University.

Interested in how men play a role in combating sexism at work, Rice Associate Professor Eden King, PhD, surveyed 100 women varying in age, work experience and ethnicity about their experiences with male allies.

The researchers identified helpful behaviors of a male ally, which include listening to female peers; suggesting women for promotions, projects and raises; and speaking up if they witness bad behavior.

Survey respondents said allyship can sometimes be ineffective when it has no effect on workplace culture or even causes backlash. A few respondents described unwanted allyship, when a man intervenes for a woman who doesn't need help, which can leave women feeling less confident. 

"While we found that allies can have a very positive impact, we encourage these individuals to confer with their female colleagues to see if help is wanted or needed," Dr. King said in a press release. "If the answer is yes, then allies should keep doing what they are doing. If the answer is no, they should respect that."

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