What do seat belts, bulletproof vests, medicinal research, office room temperature, hard hats, power tools, voice recognition, pianos and smartphones all have in common? They have all been designed, tested, and trialled in accordance with the average male size, tone, and weight.
At each and every stage of any woman’s life and career, gender inequity acts as a metaphorical handbrake and disadvantages them. Prejudices often go beyond gender — intersecting with class, race, ability, religion, economic status, and sexual orientation. These challenges are often compounded for women with disabilities and special needs, transgender women, or those whose genders are nonbinary
Many organisations miss the mark on gender equity efforts by focusing gender initiatives solely on changing women — from the way women network to the way they lead. Individualistic approaches to solving gender inequities overlook systemic structural causes and reinforce the perception that these are women’s issues. Effectively telling men they don’t need to be involved in disarming long-standing gender bias.
However, 96% of gender inclusion programs that do include men experience greater change (source). Unfortunately, the most powerful stakeholders in large corporations are often male and without the avid support of men, significant progress in ending gender disparities is unlikely.
What does this mean for the events industry? What does this mean for your industry? And in particular males in those industries?
Simply put, men need to challenge and dismantle the systemic barriers to gender equity. Anyone who cares about improving the status of women around the world should be working to create a women’s movement that resonates with women as well as men, collaborating and partnering with women to create change. Sexism not only privileges men but it is also policed by them, understanding this is important to change the system.
“Unfortunately, the most powerful stakeholders in large corporations are often male and without the avid support of men, significant progress in ending gender disparities is unlikely.
One way to start the revolution and break down the gender disparity is by becoming a male ally. (source) Male allyship can be defined as an advantaged group committed to building relationships with women, expressing as little sexism in their own behaviour as possible, understanding the social privilege conferred by their gender and demonstrating active efforts to address gender inequities at work and in society. Tempered radicals, catalysts for change, challenging organizational structures that disadvantage women while remaining committed to the success of the organization.
Understandably women may be skeptical about efforts to include men in women’s fight to overcome systemic gender bias. In the events industry, women-only conferences and Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) have traditionally offered a sense of community and camaraderie, a safe space for sharing experiences and formulating strategies for achieving equality in the workplace. These communities are inestimably important and male allies need to respect them. We need to focus on dismantling the gender hierarchy status quo and not strengthening it as male allies.
Equally, some men may feel reluctant to engage in gender equity conversations. Why would they want to join a movement that’s routinely framed as women’s issues where men are identified as the problem? Many men claim to support gender inclusion and equity but at the same time struggle to see gender discrimination and harassment in their day-to-day life. Those who resonate with the above, lack situational awareness and acknowledgment of their privilege. A key element of male gender intelligence and becoming an ally.
For those new to allyship, here are six simple steps to becoming a better male ally
1. Sharpen your situational awareness
This requires greater vigilance to the gender dynamics operating in the workplace. Read up on gender issues at work, and notice nonverbal language that signals something is not right. Notice sexist words and phrases both in meetings and in banter/side conversations. Focus on interactions of other people and pay attention to who is included and importantly who is not. Engage in generous listening to female colleagues. Do you hear condescending or patronising language? Who is the target? Is inappropriate humour / sexual innuendo forgiven in the context of “bro banter”? Who is not laughing at those jokes? Who is avoiding eye contact? Notice who speaks the most in meetings? Who starts discussions? Who is left to finish? Situationally aware men become more acutely attuned to gender inequalities and are more willing to address them in real life. Asking, listening, and learning in this way will benefit everything you do as an ally, as a leader, and as a man. Sharpening your situational awareness and developing a deeper understanding of women around you will inevitably and irrevocably transform your perspective.
2. Listen to women’s voices
Men that listen to women’s voices in a way that inspires trust and respect is a fundamental relationship promises that must be made and kept with women who invite you to participate around equity. Generous listening requires focus, sincerity, empathy, refusal to interrupt and genuine valuing of both a woman’s experiences and willingness to share with you. Remember it is not about you. Ask how you can amplify not replace or usurp existing gender parity efforts. A large dose of humility will help here.
3. Get comfortable being uncomfortable
Learning about the challenges women may experience both professionally and personally may produce feelings of self-shame or blame that cause anxiety. The solution is more interaction and learning, rather than less. Commit to learning about and advocating for gender equity.
4. Engage in supportive partnerships with women
The best cross-gender ally relationships are reciprocal and mutually growth-enhancing. Share social capital (influence, information, knowledge and organisational resources) with women… but ask. Don’t assume how you can best support their efforts.
5. Remember the two parts of allyship
Committing to expressing as little sexism as possible in your interactions with women and men is the easy part of allyship. The hard part requires you to take informed action. Use the tools listed above and practice and learn how you can best become a public ally for social injustice around gender. When the time comes, this may require you to upset the status quo.
6. Don’t be a fake male feminist, donning your superhero cape to impress the boss
As an ally, you are not rescuing, mansplaining or even attempting to become the spokesman for women. When aspiring male allies fail to understand the critical importance of partnering and collaborating with humility, there is a real risk that they may ultimately undermine women’s initiatives by attempting to dominate them.
Ultimately, it is up to men to do the work to understand how to be an ally. Yes, ask, but don’t expect women to do the emotional labour for you while you figure it out.
As mentioned, more interaction and learning are key to becoming the best ally one can be. Below is a great reading list to begin your journey to allyhood.Will Francis (he/his),
member of the GPJ ANZ DEIB Collective
Highlights the gender bias in our everyday lives
Me and White Supremacy
A reflection piece encouraging people to recognise and
examine their white privilege
Everything is F*cked
Questions our assumptions on what makes life worth living