Alessandra Wall “why are good men still finding is so hard to be great allies?”
Mark.Freed / 01 Mar 2019
Last week, as part of our International Women’s Day #Balanceforbetter post, we published an article by Mark Freed on why men should become allies on the road to equality.
This week our friend Alessandra Wall, responds with “why are good men still finding is so hard to be great allies?”
As a woman who speaks to mixed audiences about gender equality, female leadership, and empowerment, I am confronted with my fair share of push backs. Sometimes, it's the women in the audience who, frustrated, ask me why my focus isn't primarily on getting men to change their behaviors; after all, they're the real problem, right?! Other times, many other times, it's from men who are tired of being perceived as the enemy. Men who struggle to understand why there's so much talk about women being held back when they aren't actively doing any of the holding.
Every man knows a woman who is directly impacted by gender bias, so why are good men still finding is so hard to be great allies?
This article is for you, gentlemen. I do not believe you are the enemy. I understand most of you do not mean to actively dismiss or hold back the women in your lives. I even believe that at times you are our greatest champions, supporting and encouraging us to speak up and step into our value. Yet you are the source of the problem, and that fact seems both incredibly hard for you to admit and actively address. Why is that?
It's All About Awareness
There is a difference between knowing something and actually understanding it. For example, most of us know that today's women still lag behind their male colleagues simply because of gender. Whether it's the pay gap (aka the earning potential lag), our abysmal representation at the highest levels of leadership, or the fact that female-owned businesses are far less likely to get funded by venture capitalists, the inequity is well documented and therefore we know it exists. Yet many men and women still don't get it; they don't fully understand the depth and breadth of this gap and how it impacts all of us on a daily basis. That lack of understanding is what makes it so hard for some men to actively participate in diversity and inclusion efforts in and out of work.
I missed it
I will call myself out right here as proof of that knowing is not the same as understanding. As a woman who has been in business for herself all but two years of her career, I knew of but didn't really understand gender inequality until fairly recently. This, despite the fact that I worked on a daily basis with smart, driven, talented professional women who came to me seeking psychological help and coaching to address the stress, insecurity and resentment that was directly related to their inability to be valued or heard in the workplace. There was a gap in my awareness.
When gender equality is played out as us v. them in which the 'them' is a vile, repressive and domineering individual, men distance themselves from the issue and reject the discussion.
It wasn't until I actively chose to educate myself (learning about the psychology, sociology, history and current data relating to women in the workplace) that I got it. Now that I do, my eyes are open. I not only know, I understand what it means to deal with gender bias in the workplace. Once seen it cannot be unseen. Once understood, you can't but take action to right the balance.
If you think women are making a big deal out of nothing, you're missing it too.
Until recently calls for gender equality were regarded as an overreaction by ardent feminists who didn't appreciate that women were already out of the kitchen and in the workforce. That has changed. Today, most men I speak with (patients, clients, business acquaintance, friends, family, etc) know the numbers, and if they don't the statistics are easy to come by. Better yet, a quick online search will bring up a myriad of female perspective and a first-hand account of what it means to experience inequality. It's so much easier to both be informed and understand why this issue is still relevant. Every man knows a woman who is directly impacted by gender bias, so why are good men still finding is so hard to be great allies?
Not The Enemy!
One big reason men push back when the topic of gender equality pops up in their LinkedIn feed or at the dinner table, is that they don't identify as the enemy. Unfortunately, that's often how they're portrayed in the media. Men are branded as villains, plotting to repress women at all costs in the name of Patriarchy and male domination! It's an exciting narrative, certainly more exciting than simply talking about a systemic problem that is upheld consciously by some, and unconsciously by most. It's inflammatory and divisive, two things that sell very well these days.
Are there men who wholeheartedly believe that women are inferior and should, therefore, be held back? Absolutely. Are there men who actively undermine, dismiss, belittle and hold back women? Again, yes. Take a minute to scroll the comment section of any article written on the issue of gender equality and you will find them. They are the minority.
Most men I talk to are better than that. They are fathers and husbands, uncles, cousins, brothers and best friends who want to be there for the women in their lives. As long as gender equality is played out as 'us vs. them' in which the 'them' is a vile, repressive and domineering individual, men will distance themselves from the issue and avoid discussing it. In psychology, we would say it's because this portrayal of men is ego-dystonic (i.e. it creates an image that is felt to be repugnant, distressing, unacceptable or inconsistent with their self-concept), so they reject it. As long as we keep this "man is the enemy' narrative up, we're unlikely to see a willingness, even from good men, to discuss and address an already difficult topic.
Dr Alessandra Wall, a psychologist and coach and now a guest contributor to E2W’s Blog and Newsletters. Alessandra is going to help us in our continued mission to support you in your career path by, over the next few months, contributing a series of articles surrounding career progression, managing work scenarios, overcoming self-confidence issues and other pertinent topics. Some of you may already know of Alessandra thanks to her social media presence, or you may have heard her speak.
Alessandra is based in California and she will be visiting us & the E2W community in 2019. In the meantime, please digest and embrace her articles, engage with us and Alessandra – let us know your thoughts, and help us help you reach your career goals.
Alessandra can be contacted via E2W
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