Now, I’ve written before about what it’s like for professional women in male-dominated industries (especially for women in tech), but my friends who want often ask how male allies can support women in technology and other professional fields. They know it’s about more than just not contributing to the problem, but they’re often at a loss as to what they can actively do to help.
This article is all about how male allies can support women in technology and other professional women in their fields—the right way—without being patronising, mansplain-y, or just plain unhelpful.
1. Male allies can support women in technology by believing them.
If a female colleague tells you someone is harassing her or behaving inappropriately, don’t dismiss her. When you witness harassment or inappropriate behaviour, report it and be willing to go on record to do so. If a woman confides in you about a negative experience with a male colleague, offer to support her however you can—this may include going to any meetings with her where HR will take a statement about the incident, etc.
When I first started my PhD, we had a literal predator in our cohort (like literally criminally charged and who has since been dismissed) who was harassing several woman. One of my friends offered to go with me when the person in charge of the case against him which I really appreciated. In contrast, a female in a position of power in my programme more or less dismissed my experience saying, ‘well, that’s probably not the last time you’ll be harassed’, which was NOT the right response and not a good example of being an ally to other women.
2. They can actively promote professional women and their accomplishments.
Even if they’re not in a position to offer a professional promotion, men can go out of their way to give credit to women for their accomplishments, such as sending an email to their boss, etc.
At my old job, several men did this when I went above and beyond at work, which I really appreciated.
3. Speak up if a woman is speaking and someone interrupts her.
Male allies can support women in technology by speaking up and calling out their male colleagues’ rude behaviour.
4. Men can support professional women by acknowledging their own biases in work distribution.
Don’t ask women to do all the admin work on a project. We had an ethics training the other day whereby the leader specifically called out men for often making women in their research groups do all the ethics applications because it was subconsciously perceived as ‘a woman’s job’. Pay attention to your own unconscious biases and make an effort to distribute work more equally.
5. One of the best examples of how male allies can support women in technology is by talking about their salaries.
We all know that women tend to be paid less than men and companies have created this whole culture of not talking about salaries. Guess why? Well, because they don’t want to pay everyone equally, of course! They can tell you you’re not supposed to talk about your salary or bonuses with others all they want (and the laws on this vary by jurisdiction), but it’s SUPER helpful to women to know how much they should be being paid so they can negotiate their pay accordingly.
6. How can you support professional women as a man? Ask them!
Every woman is different and every workplace has different issues. Ask your female colleagues how you can best be an ally to them in your particular environment.
7. Men should actively listen to women in meetings and engage with their ideas.
Just not interrupting a woman when she’s speaking in a meeting isn’t good enough. To be an ally, you should actively listen to her ideas and engage with them throughout the discussion.
8. Make it known to the ‘powers that be’ that this is an important issue.
This will depend on the company’s culture, but if you ever have a town hall meeting or something similar, this is a good opportunity to bring it up. Similarly, if you’re in a position of power, you can suggest something like a diversity committee to help address issues women face in the workplace (though, make sure it’s ACTUALLY going to help them).
9. How can male allies support women in technology? DON’T HIT ON PROFESSIONAL WOMEN COLLEAGUES.
People may disagree with me on this and I know there are exceptions, but, generally just leave women alone. It’s super uncomfortable for men to hit on you at work (especially when they’re married, ugh). Just don’t do it, even if you’re so totally convinced she’s interested (she’s probably just trying to be nice, which is NOT an invitation).
10. Finally, male allies can support women in technology by mentoring young women in their company—IF THEY WANT IT.
There’s nothing worse than unsolicited advice from a male colleague. If a woman is open to your help and advice, then support and mentor her. If not, leave it!
Those are my top 10 answers to how male allies can support women in technology. Did I leave anything out? Let me know in the comments below!