Here’s the thing, allyship is hard and it’s messy. It requires one to risk the consequences of standing up for women in patriarchal environments. It’s not as simple as just “building relationships” with more women or publicly promoting their work. The truth is, creating systemic and cultural change within any organization is hard – and it takes a long time.
If you’re just now casually dipping your toe in the “ally waters”, you might start with building more relationships with women at work, attending events hosted by women’s organizations, or even promoting the work of women or women-owned businesses. That’s a start.
If you want to wade on down to the deep end of the pool, we welcome you. That work is a little more challenging and requires a lot more risk. If you want to be an ally, here’s where you might go next:
- Intentionally seek out women to listen and hear their stories of harassment, bias, and mistreatment in the workplace – and believe them. It’s common for men to be totally oblivious to the injustices women – and particularly BIPOC women – face in the workplace. We often hear male leaders say, “we don’t have a problem with harassment or bias. We have no reports of it.” The truth is the data tells a different story. It’s happening; it’s just going unreported by most women (because of fear of retaliation). A great step would be to start trying to understand the experiences of women at work – and believing them when they tell you.
- In meetings that you have control over, ensure that female (and historically marginalized) voices are equitably represented and are given equal voice. It’s easy to just call a meeting and invite the usual suspects. Allyship asks us to challenge the status quo and take hard look at the people in the room. What voices are missing? We know that diverse teams are more creative and more successful. If you’re calling the meeting – you get to decide how diverse the room is.
- In meetings where you are a participant, pay attention to the women in the room. Are they sharing? Are they being interrupted? Are their ideas given equal weight and consideration? If not, use your privilege to ensure those voices are heard, their ideas are considered, and credit is given.
- In hiring practices, don’t settle for a pool of male candidates because your hiring managers said, “this was the best talent available”. Require diverse candidates and more than one woman in the hiring pool. A recent study discovered that when there is only one woman in the hiring pool, there is statistically no chance she will be hired. But when the pool increases to two women, she has a 50/50 shot. Push your recruiters to look harder for talented women and demand more diverse hiring pools.
- Ask women you supervise, what their career goals are, what roadblocks or hurdles they’re currently facing, and then use your privilege to help remove them. Studies show that too few women are being sponsored by male supervisors and leaders, and as a result aren’t getting high stakes assignments and promotions that are critical to advancement into senior leadership roles.
- Connect women to powerful men in your organization and network through personal introductions, not just casual ones.
- Every time you have a negative reaction to something a woman says or how she says it, asking yourself, “would I be reacting this way if it was a man?” Confronting our own personal bias is critical to allyship. If you’re not sure if bias is at play, take the time to build a relationship with that woman or talk through your interaction with her to raise your own awareness.
Allyship shows up in places where no one is watching, when there’s no women present, when there’s no other allies in the room. Allyship speaks up and shuts down the comments, the bias, and asks why there are not women in the room when decisions are being made.
Allyship makes space for women at tables they’re not at. It ensures women are in the room. It uses personal privilege to make space for more female voices. It doesn’t settle for the status quo and it demands greater diversity, greater equality (and equity) in every room they are privileged enough to sit in.
This is allyship.
Allyship is not exclusive to men and in fact, women need just as many female allies, as male ones. Cultural and systemic change requires constant and persistent effort by lots of individuals to truly make the shift. So whether you’re new to ally conversation or in the deep end of the pool, we welcome you to the work of allyship.