First, the good news: More men want to be allies to women in the workplace than ever before — with 76% of men expressing an interest in allyship. The bad news? Men think their allyship is better than what their women counterparts would rate it as.
In one recent survey of 100+ women in male-dominated fields, researcher Meg A. Warren found that men would classify certain actions as allyship when they were not. As an example, one man saw another male colleague speaking over a woman colleague in a meeting, and while he didn’t speak up during the meeting, he recognized the unfairness, and checked in with the woman after to express his support, rating his actions as showing allyship. While she saw him as a good colleague, she didn’t view him as an ally.
In fact, men consistently overestimate their abilities across gender research. “Men give inflated self-ratings in a lot of different areas — humorously, including their own attractiveness to women,” says Dr. Brad Johnson, Professor of Psychology in the Department of Leadership, Ethics and Law at the United States Naval Academy and author of Good Guys: How Men Can Become Better Allies for Women in the Workplace.
“If 80% of the people making decisions are men, we need to engage them in the dialogue,” says Salima Lin, IBM Consulting’s Vice President and Senior Partner of Strategy, Transformation, and Thought Leadership. “We know that they want to be a part of the solution, so engage men in the answers. Don't just make this a problem for women to solve.”
Let’s start by defining the first step of allyship. “Allyship is about being visible, building relationships, and standing in solidarity by using one’s position of power and privilege,” says Nick Henderson-Mayo, Head of D&I at VinciWorks.
When it comes to men knowing if they’re actually being good allies (as opposed to their self-perception), men can also rely on close relationships to check in, though they should be sure they’ve done a lot of self-education first. That means reading books and articles on the subject, listening to podcasts, and encouraging other men to do the same. This takes the education burden off women when asking for their feedback. After that you can “ask to ask,” which leaves it up to her if she wants to share her experience.
If the feedback isn’t all positive from a colleague, it’s important to not get defensive, take some time to process, and come back to the colleague to thank her and solicit more feedback if appropriate. “Allies will make mistakes, but they will also be open to hearing how they didn’t quite match up, and what they can do better next time,” says Henderson-Mayo.
“When a woman trusts you enough to share ‘Hey, when you said that today, a lot of women cringed. Here's why.' You are lucky to get feedback like that, so thank her and think about how you're going to get better,” says Dr. Johnson. He also suggests following up after with appreciation and an invitation to continue pointing out any similar missteps. “When you show up that way, you're likely to be getting feedback about how you're doing.”
It’s important to remember that allyship isn’t just to benefit women. Data consistently shows how men benefit from close relationships with women: “Their EQ gets better, their communication skills get better, they’re seen as more inclusive leaders which leads to more promotions in most modern workplaces,” says Dr. Johnson. And those skills aren’t checked at the door; those relationships can make them better parents and partners at home. “There’s a lot in this for a man who gets this right,” he says.
Women executives network differently — and it works.
Executives are nearly twice as likely to report being more confident and having success with networking than those at the manager level. Find out why to unlock the next level of your career.