While there is no shortage of books, seminars, articles, etc. created to help women succeed in male-dominated workplaces, there is precious little information designed to help men modify their attitude and behaviour in order to promote gender equality at work.
This is a problem because, let’s face it, women will never achieve equity in the workplace or in life if they’re the only gender working towards it. Men need to be part of the solution. It's a solution worth fighting for when you consider that, according to a study by the National Center for Women & Information Technology, gender-balanced companies demonstrate superior team dynamics and productivity, perform better financially, and produce teams that stay on schedule and under budget. A win-win scenario for everyone!
So how can men be part of the solution? How can they be allies to women in male-dominated industries like tech, where female numbers are small and where they’re bound to feel outnumbered and isolated? In honour of International Women’s Day, with its theme of #PressforProgress, I offer you 10 things men can do to support women in the tech workplace.
Before men can think of being allies to women in our quest for gender parity, you first have to acknowledge your privileged position in the workplace and in society as a whole.
Now I know this is a hard one for many people to understand, let alone accept. So let me first define what I mean by privilege in this context. A privilege is “a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group and not to others.” In relation to gender, being born male—particularly white, heterosexual, and Christian in an industrial nation—confers an enormous amount of privilege in comparison to men and women of other ethnicities, sexual orientations, religions, etc. But this doesn’t mean you haven’t worked hard to achieve what you have, it doesn’t invalidate the challenges you’ve personally had to overcome in your life, nor does it make you guilty of anything!
What it does mean is that as a result of a twisted structure of injustice that is no fault of yours, before you even start to work towards your goals, you are already ahead of the other players in the game. It means that people who weren’t born with your unique and totally accidental combination of characteristics have to overcome varying obstacles and sometimes seemingly insurmountable odds just to get to your starting point. It means, in other words, that some people have to work much harder for the same opportunities you’re automatically afforded.
It also means taking responsibility for figuring out how the configuration of the playing field affects all players. And more than anything, as someone who benefits from privilege, it means having compassion for others with less privilege and taking active steps to help and support them when you can.
If you don’t quite get what I’m saying, here are two videos that quite effectively demonstrate how privilege works:
If you'd like to discover your degree of privilege, you can try this quiz.
Though most women face some form of gender inequality at work, not all women face it in the same way. That is because the discrimination a woman faces in the workplace may overlap with her other identities: namely race, class, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, etc.
If feminism champions women's rights and promotes equity between the sexes, intersectional feminism questions how these other identities mentioned above affect the way women experience discrimination.
A white woman, for example, may be discriminated against for her gender but has the advantage of race on her side. However, a woman of African ancestry or an Asian lesbian may be discriminated against because of their gender, their ethnicity, and/or their sexual orientation.
Supporting women in the tech workplace means understanding that sexism is sometimes intersectional and requires different levels of awareness and action in order to address it effectively.
Many of the problems women face in tech begin with hiring practices. If you’re in a position to hire for your company, you may expand your scope for finding suitable female candidates by attending college job fairs at all-female colleges and reaching out to professional organisations that are geared towards women. In addition, to increase the likelihood of reaching a greater diversity of women, you may seek out professional organisations that cater to ethnic minorities.
Even if you’re not in a position to hire for your company, you may still influence your company's hiring practices by raising awareness of the need to employ a greater diversity of talent. You might do this by researching relevant talent pools yourself and suggesting that your hiring department consider them as viable options.
Getting a diversity of women in the door is a good start for any tech company, but to keep them there, male allies are needed to champion fair workplace policies.
One of the most important policies supports fair and equitable compensation by establishing transparent salary guidelines based on criteria like education and skill level, performance level, and going market rates. Other policies benefit everyone—like flexible hours, working from home, generous maternity and paternity leave programmes, and on-site child care. They are also the type of practices that can be of special benefit to women, who are often the primary caregivers in the family.
When women of child-bearing age join the workforce, one of the great difficulties they face is how to balance motherhood with their professional aspirations and their company’s expectations. In fact, companies often hesitate to hire women because of the assumption that they will leave after they have a baby.
In the ideal world we’re working towards, for a two-parent household, parental leave isn’t just a woman’s issue, but an issue shared by the couple.
In addition to advocating for fair workplace policies, if more men spoke up and insisted on taking parental leave to share the obligations of parenthood equitably, this would lessen the stigma of taking time off for both women and men. It would help eradicate the motherhood bias against hiring women, since both women and men would be seen as potentially liable to take time off from work to care for their children.
Mentors and sponsors are critical for career advancement—and in the tech world, men are 50% more likely than women to have a mentor or sponsor who can help guide their career path and support them in seeking out new opportunities.
Elizabeth Borges is a senior manager for a 12-month leadership and networking programme called EverwiseWomen. She suggests that men working in tech can make a huge difference by seeking out a high-potential junior woman to mentor or sponsor.
To become a mentor, she says to:
Set up time with a junior colleague to provide feedback about what’s she doing well and where she could improve. Ask her what work challenges she’s facing and help coach her through them.
To become a sponsor, male allies can:
Identify a woman who is doing amazing work, who could benefit from more visibility with senior leaders. Devise a stretch project that you could assign her or work with her on to help her gain that visibility, and help her expand her own perception of what she can do.
If there’s anything we’ve learnt from the #MeToo and Time's Up movements that took the globe by storm in 2017, it’s that sexual harassment and assault is rampant in the workplace. Women have had enough and are no longer prepared to suffer in silence.
If men of good conscience in the tech industry are to be supportive allies to women, it’s not enough to avoid obvious harassment like sexual innuendo, sexist jokes, or commenting on a woman’s appearance. Men must also have the courage to highlight and report situations in which harassment occurs. Silence in the face of gendered harassment or abuse communicates complicity with the perpetrator and isolates and demoralises the victim.
Male allies have to insist on a policy of zero tolerance for harassment in the workplace and codify this position with procedures and training about the law, as well as suggested strategies for witnesses and victims about how to react.
Another term that gained currency last year is “hepeating”, popularised by astronomer and physics professor Nicole Gugliucci. She tweeted about hepeating after friends of hers coined the term to describe the scenario where women share their idea at work and are met with silence and indifference. Then, immediately after, the very same idea is put forth by a man who claims it as his own, and everyone approves enthusiastically.
This annoying and frustrating practice struck a chord with so many people that Gugliucci’s tweet received 200,000 likes and 65,000 retweets.
According to the Washington Post, women have recently come up with a strategy called “amplification” to stop this from happening. Amplification takes place when other women in the room listen to and repeat the key points made by a female colleague during a meeting and give credit to the woman who came up with the idea, forcing others in the room to remember the contribution and who made it.
This is something that male allies to women in tech can absolutely practice themselves, especially considering that it is unlikely that women in tech may have any other female allies in the room.
Apart from having their ideas stolen by male colleagues, several studies show that when it comes to meetings, women are more likely than other men to be interrupted and talked over by male colleagues.
There’s not much to say here, other than don’t do it. It's rude, disrespectful, and unbecoming of an ally!
One of the greatest challenges women encounter in the face of sexism in the workplace is silence from men of good conscience. Often, men are silent because they don’t know how to respond. But men need to be aware that when they are silent, their silence is interpreted as support for the bad behaviour of others.
Being an ally to women means noticing all the forms of injustice that women are exposed to and taking action to hold the perpetrator accountable and to support the victim.
Women in the tech workplace don’t need male saviours, but they certainly could use supportive allies of conscience and integrity. These allies are willing to hold themselves and their colleagues accountable and create a healthier and more equitable work environment for all—simply because it’s the right thing to do.