Blogs / 12 Aug 2022 6 min

Think you’re a good male ally? Three considerations for supporting women.

By Shazma Ahmed, Shape Talent Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Consultant

Did you know, it will take 132 years to reach full gender parity? The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2022[1] found that while there is some progress being made to close the global gender gap, at the current rate of progress, we are still over a century behind in getting there.

Leadership drives progress, so if the majority of leaders and those holding dominant positions are men, their engagement and actions play a crucial part in overcoming or upholding gender disparity. Effective male allyship is a key driver to accelerating gender equity in the workplace.

How to achieve gender equity is not a new conversation. Perhaps due to the rise of awareness, the shift in societal attitudes and consumer and regulatory expectations, we have seen a steady increase of women’s leadership positions in the business world. However, if we take a closer look at the data, women being hired into leadership positions are in industries where they were already highly represented. There is still significant disparity in the STEM industries.

What does it mean to be a male ally?

Male allyship is impactful in eliminating gender underrepresentation; a study[2] found that a male ally in predominantly male workplaces eliminated the typical negative effects of underrepresentation experienced by women in those workplaces. Another study[3] found that women are more likely to experience backlash when advocating for gender equality than men are and the messages of gender equality may lead others to be more receptive when delivered by a man than if they were delivered by women.

Active and effective male allyship involves using one’s own male privilege to advocate for and actively advance gender equality through meaningful action. The ‘ally continuum’[4] describes the stages of allyship; from being apathetic at one end; having no understanding of the issues to being an advocate at the other; being routinely committed to proactively championing inclusion.

While most men would say they are not apathetic, this doesn’t necessarily make them advocates and therefore effective allies. Being aware or active; having and sharing knowledge of basic concepts of the discrimination women face and how this plays out at work sits in between the two sides of the continuum. The shift to being an advocate is crucial in countering inequitable structures and cultures that are rooted in gender discrimination.

Perception vs. Reality

The rise in conversation and awareness-raising relating to gender equity can lead to a false perception that we are ‘almost there’, when there is actually much work left to do. A 2019 study[5] found that while most men believe in gender equity and support women in leadership, they are not necessarily taking action on this.  The study further found that at times men are overstating their allyship efforts.

There seems to be a gap between the perception and the reality:

  • 77% of men report doing ‘everything they can’, to support gender equality at work, however only 41% of women agreed with that.
  • 48% of men felt there had been a positive increase in men’s awareness around the discrimination faced by women, however 60% of both men and women agreed that it was rare to see men speak out against discrimination.
  • This is also true for the inequity at home; 48% of women who are parents reported that the amount of household work their partner does is unfair to them, compared with 24% of men.

3 questions to help you be a stronger ally

  1. How are your actions matching your intentions?

While most of us are in support of gender equality, we ought to ask ourselves how our actions contributing to achieving it or not (this one goes for women too). Raising the profile of our women colleagues by recognising and giving credit to their work is a simple example. Speaking up and calling out discriminatory behaviour when you see it or advocating for equal pay however, is more difficult but these actions are significant steps toward changing cultures that perpetuate inequality. Sponsoring women is another form of effective advocacy where one can use their privilege to enhance the interests of another[6]. Being in a position of influence and seniority comes with power and responsibility. Visibly role modelling and advocating for gender equity and inclusion can have a significant impact on changing the culture of the organisation; for example, what resources are being allocated to your gender strategy and what are you doing to encourage more inclusivity in your decision-making forums?

  1. What is the lived experience of gender inequality for the women in your work and personal life?

Actively develop your own understanding and learning on gender inequity and behaviours rooted in discrimination. Acknowledge your own blind spots due to the lack of lived experience and go about filling this gap through listening to women on their lived experience and how you can go about showing up for them. Be careful not to place the burden on women to educate you, though. Do your own research.

  1. Who is doing the ‘house-work’?

Whether it be the office admin or the unpaid home caring responsibilities and chores, women spend significantly more time than men on these tasks which inevitably takes time and energy that could be spent on more career enhancing opportunities. This ‘double-burden’ is one of the barriers to women’s progression[7]. Further, assuming women will take on the role of office admin further perpetuates gender stereotypes. How are you showing up for your women colleagues and the women in your life? Creating equality at home is a powerful way of helping accelerate gender equity in the workplace.

Gender disparity is not only a ‘women’s issue’. There is compelling evidence to show us that the role male allyship plays is crucial in making meaningful progress quickly to accelerate gender equity. There is an opportunity here for us all to start with ourselves; ask what it means to be an ally and what could be done to enhance those efforts at a personal and organisational level.

If you’d like to discuss how Shape Talent can support you on this journey, please get in touch.

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[1] World Economic Forum (July 2022), Global Gender Gap Report

[2] Moser & Branscombe (August 2021) ‘Male Allies at Work: Gender Equality Supportive Men Reduce Negative Underrepresentation Effects Among Women’

[3] Eliezer & Major (January 2012) ‘It’s not your fault: the social costs of claiming discrimination of behalf of someone else’

[4] Jennifer Brown ‘The Ally Continuum’

[5] Promundo-US (2019) ‘So You Want to be a Male Ally for Gender Equality? (And You Should): Results from a National Survey and a Few Things You Should Know’

[6] Want More Women in Leadership? Sponsor Them

[7] Three Barriers to Women’s Progression. What organisations can do.