8 Ways Men Can be Better Allies for Gender Equality

Men need to do more to advance gender equality in the workplace


  • Workplace
November 16, 2021 Anna Beard

21 years into the 21st century, it is safe to say that the majority of men support gender equality. They would not hesitate to agree that more women should be in leadership positions, both in politics and in their own workplaces. Research carried out by Promundo in the US on male allyship for gender equality found that two-thirds of men agreed that women continue to face “major barriers” in their chosen professions. But there is a chasm between belief and reality. Aotearoa New Zealand’s pay gap has stayed stubbornly at around 9% for the last 5 years and currently just 19% of large organisations have a female CEO. The #MeToo movement championed by Ali Mau’s reporting has exposed how entrenched sexual harassment and bullying is in NZ workplaces. Men claim they are allies but they are not necessarily taking all the steps they can to help reduce gender discrimination and harassment.

Ensuring that men and women share the same responsibilities and opportunities requires real, sustainable change – at the policy and institutional level, and in the attitudes and behaviour of individuals. Here are eight ways men can become better partners and allies in creating a more equitable world for all.

  1. Actively listen to women’s perspectives.

Women are the experts on their own life experiences, so seek out opportunities to hear women’s stories – and take their concerns seriously, without interrupting or trying to downplay incidents of sexism. Amplify women’s voices, acknowledge their experiences – and take on the role of educating other men – in a way that inspires trust and respect; these are fundamental commitments men can make.

  1. Reflect on your own power and privilege as a man.

Being an effective ally starts with self-awareness: How has your gender influenced the opportunities you’ve had in life? What are you able to do only because you are a man? Beyond gender, listening to individuals with different backgrounds from your own – in terms of race, sexual orientation, religion or ability – is crucial to understanding how our intersecting identities impact our lived experiences.

  1. Credit your female coworkers' ideas fairly. 

Women are still underrepresented in many workplaces and paid less than their male colleagues, in part because their contributions and ideas are often overlooked. Emphasising the good ideas of female coworkers, mentioning them in front of management, and correcting colleagues who misattribute credit isn’t giving special treatment to women – it’s treating them with fairness.

  1. Advocate for gender-equitable policies in the workplace.

In Promundo’s study cited above, 77 percent of men said they were doing everything they can to advance gender equality in the workplace – but only 41 per cent of women agreed with that assessment. To close this “allyship gap” between intention and action, speak up for policies that remove bias and advance equality, including pay transparency, parental leave, and confidential reporting structures for sexual harassment. Campaign for your organisation to apply for the Gender Tick!

  1. Challenge sexism, and speak up when you hear sexist language.

It’s hard to step in or speak up when you see someone being harassed or treated unfairly, or when those around you are engaging in derogatory “banter,” but men calling each other out sends a powerful message that sexist language and actions will no longer be tolerated.

  1. Step up at home – take on your full share of the housework and childcare. 

Women’s advancement in the workplace is hindered by the disproportionate responsibilities they continue to take on at home: household labour, childcare and all the invisible work behind the scenes that keeps everything running smoothly. While many men say they are equally involved in childcare and chores, their partners generally disagree. In addition to stepping up at home, advocate at your workplace for work-life balance measures, including paid leave for all caregivers.

  1. Support diverse female leaders you believe in.

Support, volunteer for, and vote for diverse female candidates who align with your values in local and national elections. And share your influence and resources with women’s groups – after asking how best to support their efforts.

  1. An organisational commitment to shifting individual attitudes and behaviours

While many men support gender equality, some may feel threatened by it or even actively oppose it. Research by the US nonprofit Catalyst, which supports women’s leadership at work, suggests three reasons for why some men may not engage with the issue: 1) “apathy,” or feeling like gender equality isn’t business-critical, 2) “ignorance,” or the perception that gender bias doesn’t exist in the workplace, and 3) “fear,” either of saying the wrong thing or losing out, such as the idea that asking for parental leave will reduce their chances of promotion.

Since there’s no one-size-fits-all way to address these challenges, businesses should consider a combination of different programmes. For example, unconscious bias training can reduce apathy by raising awareness about how gender and other inequalities affect the workplace, while reciprocal mentoring programs (such as matching senior leaders with women employees working in different disciplines or geographies) can help employees understand inequalities they might not otherwise see. Bystander training and building cultures that reward inclusive behaviour can help build confidence and overcome fear.

Dedicated workshops and employee networks are also helpful, as they create space for open conversations and allow employees to reflect on their own personal reasons for engaging with gender equality. 

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