Following an unsettling surge of sexual harassment scandals shaking up big business — and the ensuing #MeToo, #TimesUp, #AskMoreofHim and #HeforShe campaigns, society is calling on men to be allies for women, especially in the workplace.
In fact, the #AskMoreofHim movement — started by more than two dozen male actors, producers, and writers in Hollywood — specifically calls on male allies. The men in the movement have joined forces with anti-sexual harassment and sexual abuse activists in an effort to "express their support and solidarity" with the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements. The Representation Project, whose mission is to use film and media as catalysts for cultural transformation, founded the movement, and David Arquette, David Schwimmer, Justin Baldoni and Matt McGorry are among the long list of actors who signed the open letter, released by The Hollywood Reporter, that demands that more men stand up for the survivors of sexual misconduct.
"As men, we have a special responsibility to prevent abuse from happening in the first place," the letter reads. "After all, the vast majority of sexual harassment, abuse and violence is perpetrated by men, whether in Hollywood or not. And in entertainment — like many industries — men continue to hold most of the decision-making power."
Likewise, #HeforShe "is an invitation for men and people of all genders to stand in solidarity with women to create a bold, visible and united force for gender equality," according to the website. At the time of writing this, 1,948,835 have signed the pledge committing to gender equality.
"The men of HeForShe aren’t on the sidelines," the site reads. "They’re working with women and with each other to build businesses, raise families and give back to their communities."
Male allies are critical for promoting safety and gender equality, especially in the workplace — after all, the Society for Human Resource Management has witnessed a spike in questions pertaining to sexual harassment from its members and, thanks to a recent surge in allegations, ever more women are feeling comfortable speaking up about their own experiences with sexual harassment and violence in the workplace. But because of the light being shed on these scandals, studies have also shown that many men have shied away from all sorts of relationships with women at work.
In fact, some men are evading engagement with women altogether, such as individual meetings with female entrepreneurs, potential recruits and women who ask for informational or networking meetings. In total, 64 percent of senior men and 50 percent of junior women avoid solo interactions, according to the Center for Talent Innovation. A May poll by Morning Consult also found that nearly two-thirds of men and women agree that people should take extra caution around the opposite sex in the workplace, and about a quarter think that private work-related meetings with colleagues of the opposite sex are inappropriate. This is because many men are concerned that a single misunderstood comment, an accusation, the risk of rumors or unclear motives could jeopardize their careers.
And the avoidance of women in the workplace not only sets women back even more, but it also means that women are lacking powerful allies: male colleagues.
According to a study by the Center for Work-Life Policy, women with sponsors are more likely to earn challenging assignments and raises and to say they are satisfied with their career progress — and sponsors may also provide valuable candid feedback, which a wealth of research already says that women are less likely to receive than men. In general, research suggests that establishing a genuine rapport with senior staff is perhaps the most important contributor to career advancement — and because most senior staff are statistically male, women are missing out on forging those sponsorships when men avoid them in the workplace.
In short: Male allies are critical for gender equality.
Male allies are defined as men who associate with, cooperate with and support women. Sociologist and gender studies expert Michael Kimmel has said that "we cannot fully empower women and girls without also engaging men and boys, and when we do, we find out that gender equality is a good thing for men, as well as women."
Male allyship in the workplace is the presence of male coworkers and bosses who associate and cooperate with, support, advocate for, believe, mentor and sponsor women. When this happens, these respectful relationships between men and women improve workplace satisfaction, boosts productivity and yields better financial results.
Male allies are important for both gender equality and workplace morale, in general. Of course, when men support and advocate for women, they've a better chance of shattering the glass ceiling set for them. And when believe women, they'll face less penalties (read: retaliation) for speaking up against sexual assault and harassment in the workplace. In fact, if more women can reach leadership positions, perhaps there'd be less sexual harassment and violence in workplaces to begin with.
But male allies are also important for businesses themselves. There's substantial evidence that gender diversity at the management level enhances a company's performance — the Peterson Institute for International Economics completed a survey of 21,980 firms from 91 countries and found that having women at the C-Suite level significantly increases net margins.
"A profitable firm at which 30 percent of leaders are women could expect to add more than 1 percentage point to its net margin compared with an otherwise similar firm with no female leaders," the report notes. "By way of comparison, the typical profitable firm in our sample had a net profit margin of 6.4 percent, so a 1 percentage point increase represents a 15 percent boost to profitability."
Likewise, a study published by the University of California, Davis has revealed that big California companies with at least some women at the top perform considerably better than ones with mostly male boards and executives. Among the 25 firms with the highest percentage of women execs and board members, researchers found that median returns on assets and equity in 2015 were at least 74% higher than among the overall group of companies surveyed.
The more women in leadership, the better for everyone.
It's important to be a male ally, even if it hurts. New research by Janine Bosak of Dublin City University suggests that when men do act as advocates and allies, they're faced with backlash — both from other men and from other women. According to the research, men who stand up for victims of sexism and sexual abuse (or anyone in the workplace other than themselves), are perceived as less likable, less competent and less suitable for certain jobs than men who carry on focused on themselves and their individual success. That's because they're essentially behaving contrary to the stereotypes with which they're associated, and that doesn't sit well with people because of prescribed gender roles.
Nonetheless, it's important for men to become allies or better allies to their female coworkers — and, the more they do, the less it'll be perceived as unnatural and, therefore, the less unlikable they'll become.
According to the InHerSight community, here are five ways men can be allies to women.
"It means a lot when men in other departments speak to my direct supervisor regarding my quality of work and when they talk to me about promotions and growth within the company. It helps me to feel recognized and understand better ways to advocate my position."
"Men should have frank discussions with their male subordinates about appropriate conduct in the workplace. If they see a direct report putting their hand on a woman's shoulder or being overly complimentary or affectionate, take them aside and let them know they shouldn't interact with women any differently than their male colleagues when it comes to touching and paying compliments. If you mess up, apologize. Most women don't expect anyone to be perfect, but it means a lot when you acknowledge a lapse in judgment. Also — question women (especially female leaders) when they say things that you think might be sexist (such as 'I prefer to work with men' etc). Don't just assume that because they're women they can't contribute to a misogynistic workplace."
"Men should actively promote women into positions of leadership at the highest levels. This kind of support trickles down, as more women have the power to promote women. Men who supervise entry-level women should actively advocate for better working conditions and wages, as well as advancement opportunity."
"It would make a difference if every man picked a female to mentor and ensured diversity on succession plans. Men should ask themselves, am I man-spreading my role, responsibilities, or decision space? Pause for women to speak up in meetings and reinforce the behavior by agreeing or supporting the comments vs. restating the ideas as your own. When you head out to lunch or drinks with the men from work, add a female who may benefit from that network."
"Acknowledge our experiences. If a female coworker says 'he called me sweetheart and it made me uncomfortable,' don't come back with 'Oh, that's just Tom!' Remember that you don't walk through this world like we do. If she felt uncomfortable, that's how it made her feel and that's valid."
Men can mentor each other to become better allies. They can do this by setting examples for each other to learn from. LeanIn.org also suggests more ways both men and women can be allies for women. Here are three suggestions of examples mentors can set.
"Set a good example by sitting front-and-center and speaking up in meetings — and encourage other women to do the same," the site reads. "Then look for ways to shape the conversation. When a woman is interrupted, interject and say you’d like to hear her finish. When a coworker runs away with a woman’s idea, remind everyone it originated with her by saying, 'Great idea . . . thanks to Katie for surfacing it.' If you see a woman struggling to break into the conversation, say you’d like to hear other points of view. When you advocate for your female coworkers, they benefit — and you’re seen as a leader. Moreover, meetings are most effective when everyone’s best thinking is heard."
In a recent study of performance reviews, 66 percent of women received negative feedback on their personal style such as, “You can sometimes be abrasive,” compared to less than one percent of men.
"When you hear a woman called 'bossy' or 'shrill,' request a specific example of what the woman did and then ask, 'Would you have the same reaction if a man did the same thing?'" the site reads. "In many cases, the answer will be no. When you’re having a negative response to a woman at work, ask yourself the same question and give her the benefit of the doubt. Odds are she’s just doing her job."
A recent Harvard PhD candidate in economics found that men get about the same amount of credit when they write a research paper with a coed team as they do when they’re the sole author. Women, however, get almost zero credit if they write a paper as part of a team with a man on it.
"Look for opportunities to celebrate women’s accomplishments, and point out when women are being blamed unfairly for mistakes," the site reads. "Better yet, get together with a group of women and agree to celebrate one another’s successes whenever possible. Although women are often penalized for promoting ourselves, you can lift up other women, and they can do the same for you. When you introduce female coworkers, highlight their credentials and accomplishments—for example, you might say, “Katie was in charge of our most recent product launch, and it generated more sales than any other initiative this year.”
AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog, HerReport.org, and follow her journeys on Instagram @her_report,