Criticality of Male Allies
By Brandon Lyssy and Andrew Mint
We have heard it countless times … “that’s a women’s issue”. It’s become common for both men, and sometimes even women, to expect women to educate everyone on gaps in gender equality and come up with, and often be responsible for, the actions that will help us create a more just and equitable society. The reality is quite different. If history has proven anything to us in this space it is how critical it is for men to stand up, have a voice, and take responsibility for their part in creating that gender equal world that we know will benefit all human kind.
As two men who take this responsibility seriously, we sat down to talk about the criticality of male ally-ship in the fight for gender equality, as well as discuss practical examples of how men can, not just participate, but take a leadership role in advocating change. As men, we have reaped the benefits of a culture that historically has reinforced more opportunity and progression for men over women. It’s our duty to help challenge stereotypes and champion increased visibility and opportunities for talented women.
Our key takeaways?
- Don’t wait for instruction – educate yourself.
- Be open-minded – get ready to be comfortable with the uncomfortable.
- Focus on solutions – not blame.
- Everyone has a story to tell – so tell yours.
Director Global Engagement & Inclusion
Director Global Solution Centers
Brandon: Let’s start with one of the basic questions – why is it important for men to be part of driving change toward gender equality in the workplace?
Andrew: In an issue of Society of Women Engineers Magazine, Roberta Rincon, PhD was quoted saying, “where men are the majority, their behaviors and actions are necessary to address inequities in their immediate spheres”. Put simply – it’s our responsibility to demonstrate inclusivity and equality in all that we do. When men speak up, it helps frame the issue of gender equality as an organizational mandate rather than simply a women’s issue. Additionally, we’ve seen it happen, women sometimes end up paying a professional price for speaking out themselves, which often results in their apprehension to speak up when the experience or witness inequality. How many times have outspoken women, brave enough to call out inequality, been regarded as ambitious or self- serving; even when men may have been unfairly praised for being vocal. It’s a double standard that we must help eliminate.
Brandon: I think one of the things men wonder is where to start. If you want to show that you support gender equality and want to challenge stereotypes where should you start?
Andrew: For me, the starting point was educating myself so that I can grow my own knowledge. Growth doesn’t mean you’re wrong or bad, it means you’re willing to improve. I’ve found no shortage of relevant topics, information, online articles, books and learning opportunities at my fingertips. I would encourage other men to learn about organizations like Catalyst and Lean In which advocate for gender equality and the advancement of women through research, education, and ally-ship. They both put out a tremendous amount of thought leadership and offer events and videos that are both informative and inspiring. Within our own organization we provide an extensive set of online events, on-demand education in our Learning Management System, video materials, and Employee Resource Networks to help us educate ourselves on critical areas of diversity, equity and inclusion.
As a leader, I know that demonstrating and modeling inclusive behaviors for my team is critical. Inclusive leaders are those who invite different perspectives; so if I had to give a step #2, I would say don’t wait for someone to speak up on your team – invite the perspectives of others by making space for everyone to contribute ideas. Think about ways that you can help increase gender equality on your own team. Are women on your team getting the same opportunity to participate in creative projects that drive business success, or have you unintentionally allowed bias to give more opportunities to men?
Brandon: Have you witnessed any personal impacts of COVID-19 on the careers of women who you work with?
Andrew: I have been in this industry and science-based fields for a long time and I can tell you that what we have seen result from the COVID-19 pandemic is discouraging. Implicit bias and performance bias puts women in technical fields at a disadvantage already, and a study by Pew Research shows that women in STEM roles experience higher levels of discrimination than non-STEM roles. Also, only 20% of American engineers are woman according to Roger Green, PhD [American Society for Engineers]. Many technical roles struggle as it is to attract, develop, and advance women – the impacts of COVID-19 aren’t helping women who may be feeling the negative professional impacts so much more than men, and may be feeling pressured to choose to derail their careers to provide the critical support to their families. A recent study by McKinsey titled “Women in the Workplace 2020” suggests that possibly two million women are considering leaving the workplace as a result of the pandemic which could mean even fewer women in STEM roles and fewer women in leadership positions. Our industry needs to work to do better at providing the kinds of flexibility and understanding during times like this to provide talented women equitable opportunities and balance so that they can succeed.
Brandon: There is often pushback from men when they feel women are getting more recognition for achievements; which can feel, at times un-equal. How would you respond to that sentiment?
Andrew: You know if you look back through history, and even in our current environment, women still get disproportionately less recognition than men for similar achievements. Think about the COVID-19 vaccine; how many of us may have assumed the initial vaccine was developed by a man? In fact, the science for the vaccine was based off of Hungarian scientist Katalin Kariko and her relentless work on the mRNA. It’s important to increase the equity women are receiving in recognition for their achievements, and that may mean going big and bold to give women the recognition they deserve. Consider the analogy of starting a race. In a traditional race you would have all the runners on the same starting line. But when it comes to equality, women and other underrepresented groups and minorities, have long since had their starting line set further back than men. We can all do more to bring that starting line up to an equal position by providing more equity for those who have yet to get a fair balance of recognition.
Brandon: Do you have a personal motivation that drives you in your passion for being an advocate for gender equality through ally-ship?
Brandon: Personally, I am motivated by the memories of watching a single mom raise me for much of my childhood. I watched her struggle for us, sometimes working multiple jobs, or changing jobs to provide more for us. I’ve known a lot of influential and smart women in my life; many of whom are working today in our Solution Centers innovating products that we use every day. Maybe it’s a bit cliché, but what drives my motivation to be an ally for women is the realization that my own mom, who is herself incredibly smart, felt like she often had to choose family over career and miss out on advancement. Women should not be made to feel that they have to choose, or that they are expected to choose care for family over career advancement – both can be achievable.
Andrew: I was also raised by a single mum in the 1970’s & 1980’s and saw first-hand how hard that was in a time when inequality was far more pronounced than it seems today. It helped me see first-hand challenges women experienced and how many of those same challenges are still experienced by women today. Indeed times have changed, with men now being far more present and active co-parents compared to anything I saw in the 1970’s. We have made progress for sure, but there is still a long way to go so we see balanced representation in certain industries and at certain senior levels. We should be proud of the gender balance progress at Univar Solutions, and I am certainly proud that we have a near 50/50 mix of men and women in our Solution Centers, with each of those team members supporting each other irrespective of their gender. I proudly tell my children (3 daughters and a son) about our passion for equality, and how this will improve their own lives are they grow into their careers. I continue on a journey of learning and improvement every day, and learn from all my colleagues, irrespective of their gender – a good idea in science, is a good idea, no matter where it comes from!
After providing a little personal insight of our own, we’d like to leave you with a few simple ally actions than anyone can adopt to help advance gender equality in the workplace. From self-guided education to gently calling out micro-aggressions from other men during meetings, we can all do something to take a stand for women and ensure our organizations are creating cultures and environments where women can, and want, to succeed.
- Investigate gender equity/equality education
- Consider taking one of the Harvard University’s Implicit Association Tests – be open-minded
- Learn from someone who’s different than you
- Have hard conversations – be open and don’t let fear prevent you from having the conversation
- Challenge stereotypes – perhaps start by learning about the achievements of some of our exceptional women found online
- Review report “Engaging Men in Gender Initiatives: What Change Agents Need to Know,” which is available online at ly/2Oc5uKe.
- Compare department against national statistics https://www.asee.org/
- Serve on a hiring panel with a focus on being an ally for gender equality – call out bias
- Use identified biases as teachable moments for other men, not shaming
- Be intentional about actively listening to women and redirect the conversation toward them if they get interrupted
- Be intentional about including women in informal work gatherings and think about creating social activities that appeal to both men and women
- Advocate for healthy work/life balance
- Promote and formally recognize achievements of women
- Talk to other male colleagues about your role and advocacy of gender equity
- Be a sponsor/mentor for women – the higher you are in seniority, the more critical your role as a mentor/sponsor