How to Be a Male Ally and Build an Inclusive Work Culture — From an Engineering Manager

Sponsored by Mercedes-Benz Research & Development North America

James Shimada

Photo courtesy of Mercedes-Benz Research and Development, North America.

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Fairygodboss
July 14, 2024 at 2:52PM UTC

Dedicating time to listen and learn from others is a crucial step for James Shimada, Engineering Manager in Seattle, in contributing to an inclusive culture at Mercedes-Benz Research and Development, North America

“I have a responsibility to help build the right culture in our workplace,” says James. 

He explains that, while creating such a culture is a never-ending goal, it’s something he continues to keep in mind in everything from hiring and promoting employees to “minding the airtime” he takes up in meetings. It’s thanks to these kinds of efforts that MBRDNA is such a great place for women to work.

MBRDNA prides itself on not only being an automotive company, but also a technology firm dedicated to groundbreaking innovation. It’s a place where employees are free to push the boundaries.

We caught up with Shimada to learn more about how MBRDNA is working towards a more gender-balanced workforce and supports all employees in their careers at the company. Here’s what he had to say.

How long have you been with your company? What about it made you first want to join?

I have been with MBRDNA for two years. The thing that attracted me most was when, during the interview process, I had a chance to sit down with three of the people that were on the team I’d be managing. We hit it off well from the very beginning! I was able to learn about what drove them and what they look for in a leader and, by the end of the conversation, I knew this was a place where I could make a meaningful impact. I really appreciated their presence during the hiring process; it gave me confidence that this is an organization where employees’ voices are heard. 

What are your main job responsibilities, and what about your role most excites you?

As an engineering manager in MBRDNA’s Cloud & Connectivity business unit, it is my job to enable our engineers to create the technology solutions that will power the future of the connected car. I collaborate with product owners to envision cloud-based products that solve key problems for our business, and I build great teams of engineers to design and deliver these products to our customers.

At first, I was excited to work for such a loved car brand, and I soon learned how much of a role software and cloud-based technology plays in the experience of this luxury brand — even in the things you don’t see. Ultimately, the most exciting thing is to be at the center of Mercedes-Benz’s transformation from a car company to a technology company. 

While we’ve made progress toward achieving a more gender-balanced workforce, there remains a lot of work to be done. What kinds of actions do you incorporate into your day-to-day routine at work (or beyond) to serve as a male ally?

Perhaps the most valuable part of my job is the regular one-on-one meetings that I have with my team. This is where I learn the most and, to me, being a male ally is all about learning. I’ve learned about gender discrimination by listening to, asking questions about, and observing the experiences of others. In the process, I’ve been fortunate enough to learn about some of my own blind spots and understand how my words and actions as someone in a position of authority may affect others.

Learning needs to be routine. That approach causes you to do more than merely give someone an opportunity to speak their mind, but actually have meaningful conversation to the point where you learn something new. Still, learning in and of itself doesn’t do much, but it’s where it all starts. 

Why do you believe your company is a particularly supportive place for women employees? 

It’s one thing to say that we offer a supportive environment that embraces diversity, equity and inclusion. Everyone says that, and I’m sure that most everyone means it, but it’s another thing to be in an organization where DEI is practiced so intentionally.

At MBRDNA, we have a strong DEI Council that has made an impact on our interviewing practices, our mentoring program and, overall, made it a fun place to be. We are by no means perfect, but I’m proud of being part of a company that makes DEI a priority.

What’s your #1 tip for men who want to be allies to women at work but aren’t sure of what to do or where to start? 

The first thing to realize about being an ally is that it’s not about you. You don’t need to be an expert, but you can’t be ignorant. In fact, forget about how you measure up because that self-consciousness only gets in the way. Remove yourself from the picture and learn about the experiences of women around you as genuinely and actively as you can. Whatever you do with what you learn, you’ll be a better person.

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