Women’s Advancement in the Law: Small Actions by Male Allies Make a Big Difference

By: Natalie Runyon

Recently, I attended a Male Allies Summit focused on driving greater recruiting and retention of women in the technology industry. The Anita Borg Institute put together the summit to amplify what a male ally for gender diversity looks like and the small actions men can take on a day-to-day basis to drive greater inclusion. The room had an excellent gender mix — 50% of the attendees were men.

What I really enjoyed was hearing about the many daily actions men can take that are relevant across industries, companies, and institutions, and that many of the behaviors are universal in terms of helping to advance women, people of color, and LGBT individuals.

Ask questions.

  • Why aren’t there more women here?
  • Why is it that this meeting is all male and all white?

Another panelist indicated that helping women to advocate for themselves was also important, and could be done simply by privately asking women, “Why are you not speaking up?”

[Related: My Path to Understanding — and Owning — my Feminism]

Don’t make assumptions.

The panelist started by describing that she had worked with a man (not her boss) with pretty traditional ideas about what roles women play in business and at home. He was known for being tough on women — and, because she was the account manager to a highly-valued company client, she had to work with him every day.

Her boss knew that the male colleague had a history of being tough on women, and thinking that he was doing the right thing, told her he was going to take her off of the account. She said, “No, absolutely not. It would set my career back by a year or more.” Her boss had good intentions, but he assumed, wrongly, that she could not work with her male colleague.

The importance of language.

For example, she thought the phrase, “I believe in meritocracy,” is like saying, “I don’t see color” to a person of color. She said the workplace is not a meritocracy, because we all start from difference places of privilege.

(If you want to see how privilege can work to some people’s advantage, this widely-viewed video where a coach clearly demonstrates the point using a foot race is worth seeing.)

Notice power differences.

In these situations, the panelists agreed that the best rule is to “do more listening and less talking.” Giving others the space to talk is tremendously important. If you notice a colleague is sharing too much, note their gender identity or culture, because you as the leader have the responsibility of ensuring all voices are heard.

For example, if someone else is talking too much, interject and say, “Thank you [insert colleague’s name] for sharing your view. I would like to hear from others now. [Call on someone who tends to be quiet], we have not heard from you…I would like to hear what you have to say.”

[Related: 3 Ways Young Women Can Stop Blending in and Start Getting Noticed]

Be aware.

  • Pay attention to who you are mentoring and sponsoring. If it is all men, then you as the leader have some work to do.
  • Analyze who is getting your time and attention.
  • In meetings, examine who are you throwing your support behind. If it is all men, again, you have some work to do.

Get out of your comfort zone.

He went on to suggest that male allies could hang out in spaces where communities of underrepresented groups go, such as employee resource group events and conferences. If “you, as the male leader or ally, are concerned about not being welcomed, ask the leader or organizer of the gathering,” he said. “Don’t assume you cannot attend.”

[Related: You’re Warned. You’re Given an Explanation. Should You Persist?]

Find your diversity story.

One easy way to identify your diversity story is to think about when you have ever felt like a fraud or imposter, which is a very common human experience in the professional context, no matter your gender identity or ethnicity. Write down the details of the situation and share. I guarantee you that every female and person of color has felt like an imposter at some point in their career, and you can use yours as a point of connection.

Natalie Runyon is a inclusion leadership strategist, professional ally of under-represented groups, intrapreneur, recovering entrepreneur, mother of two, non-profit board member, and wife. Her life’s mission is advancing women and colleagues of color to attain positions in the executive ranks of corporate America and political institutions.

This article was originally posted on Legal Executive Institute.

Originally published at www.ellevatenetwork.com.

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