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Male Allies - Knights in Shining Armour or Reducing Accidental Sexisms?

Male Allies - Knights in Shining Armour or Reducing Accidental Sexisms?

Mark.Freed / 28 Jan 2022

I am preparing to sit on some ‘male ally’ panels and deliver some keynotes in connection with International Women’s Day in March. This years theme is ‘Break the Bias.’

On these panels I quite often hear women talking about the time that a man helped them in their careers and visa versa, men talking about a time they helped a women. When you hear the details these acts are quite often one off, large and welcome interventions. For example: “He helped me get the promotion” “I helped her by including her in external meetings” “ He mentored me” “ I championed her.”  It often leaves me thinking well that’s his day job and why is he on a platform sharing this?

Instead of focussing on these grand gestures, should we be looking at solving and changing the underlying challenges and problems – the causes.

Our research shows that it is the daily ‘accidental sexisms’ that have the biggest negative effect on women’s careers. As male allies we need to understand the lived experience of our female colleagues. Next we should accept that we have a male relative advantage and that this no-doubt make us blind to how these everyday accidental sexisms have a comparatively greater negative impact on our female colleagues.

Let me share some examples of accidental sexism so we are clear:

•             Interrupting and talking over

•             Not crediting for contributions

•             Side-lining in social and work networks

•             Making judgements about strengths and weaknesses based on gender stereotypes

•             Judging the same behaviour by different standards

•             Not offering opportunities due to benevolent assumptions

•             Not giving direct and clear feedback because you are afraid of upsetting an individual

•             Giving ‘office housework’ jobs to women

  Some of these subtle attitudes and behaviours may seem trivial but if they are happening on a daily basis result in the lack of diversity in many roles and senior positions we see in our firms today. We, men and women, all exhibit forms of accidental sexism, it is engrained in us from the social expectations of different genders. However male accidental sexisms create barriers to equity of opportunity in the workplace for women.

Helping more of our male colleagues to understand this is the first step to becoming a true male ally and the key to breaking the bias. The next step is to get them to do something about it – not just big gestures but lots of small ones – day in day out.

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