A 7 minute read on how men can help in the fight for equality in the workplace and 10 strategies to help them become an authentic ally.
All Welcome Round the Table
I hosted a Roundtable event in London for International Women’s Day 2023 to discuss, between law firms, successful gender-based initiatives and what more could be done to promote the retention and elevation of women to senior positions within law. Whilst invite only, the invitations extended to a Diversity, Equality and Inclusion Head and a Managing Partner plus one. Men were encouraged to attend. Yet no man did.
Feminism for All
I feel strongly that an important piece in the Diversity, Equality and Inclusion conversation is being missed when it comes to women in high places, or more precisely the lack of them. More men could, and should, be doing more, not simply because they are “fathers of daughters”, but because they are genuinely concerned about the challenges presented from this lack of diversity at the top. “Feminists” themselves, in its purest form, advocates of women’s rights based on equality between the sexes.
Gender Diversity Benefits
Research has demonstrated time and again the benefits of achieving gender-diverse boards and senior leadership teams. Increased financial performance is one; improved non-financial performance too, contributing to overall company growth. For example, better reflecting the client bases served; bringing new ideas and perspectives to the table; and attracting a wider talent pool across the whole business, positively influencing organisational values and culture, whilst at the same time creating a strong pipeline of future leaders.
Strategies to Support Allyship
So what more CAN men do? Here, 10 Strategies for becoming an authentic ally.
1. As with charity, start at home.
In 2016, Office for National Statistics analysis showed that women carried out an average 60% more unpaid work than men, whilst figures from as recently as last year showed little, if any, improvement. In March 2022, employed women with dependent children were spending more time on unpaid childcare (an average of 85 minutes per day) and household work (an average of 167 minutes per day) than employed men with dependent children (who spent in comparison just 56 and 102 minutes per day, respectively).
One year on, and business leaders at the British Chamber of Commerce reported in 2023 that two-thirds of women with childcare responsibilities believed they had missed out on career progression as a direct result: https://amp-theguardian-com.cdn.ampproject.org/c/s/amp.theguardian.com/society/2023/mar/08/two-thirds-of-women-say-childcare-duties-affected-career-progression
If you’re a working parent, can you honestly say that childcare and domestic chores are shared equally, and if not, what more can you do to ensure a fair and equitable split?
2. Be aware of language
As a working father, have you ever been the one to joke that you’ve never changed a nappy in your life? And when your partner is away, do you take up the childcare mantle as “babysitting” or shared care?
How about not inviting your female colleague to a client meeting and, when challenged about it, offer the explanation, “I’d assumed you were at soft play.” (Yes, really. True story.)
Ask yourself whether your language is helpful or feeding into unconscious bias around the fair division of duties around parenting and the workplace. If the latter, change it. If the former, be an advocate as well as an ally: call out any poor language or sexism from other colleagues. Be a mouthpiece and catalyst for change.
3. What or who is the problem?
Extending the language point still further (and this is the hard truth) if you say there IS no problem with gender diversity within your organisation, then likely you ARE the problem. Could you have come to this conclusion through denial or, worse, protecting your own privilege?
Before concluding no problem, check on your firm’s gender pay gap and board level/ senior management representation.
Don’t assume, if there is a pay gap, that’s because women don’t ask for a pay rise. Flip it. If pay were transparent, no one, from either sex, would need to ask.
Then check with yourself again, “Is there a problem? What is it that I now see? What WILL I do?”
4. Year-long learning
Go to International Women’s Day panel events with female colleagues to demonstrate genuine support, and with the intention of being open to listening and learning. And by that, I mean, not just to hear, but to understand, by gaining an awareness of the challenges, and consequently become part of the solution.
Your presence as an ally in support is hugely valuable. And not just on the day, or for the month of March. Allyship shouldn’t begin and end with International Women’s Day, albeit an excellent starting point for creating sustainable change. It could, for example, include extending that support by pro-actively responding to annual Employee Engagement Surveys on inclusivity.
There’s constant work to be done, not just at home or locally, but globally as you will see next too.
5. Global not only local challenge
Stick your head above the parapet. Look more worldly-wide than your firm. Get moved and galvanised to act. Recognise the stark and shocking truth that, according to Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary General, without collective action, gender equality remains 300 years away: https://amp-theguardian-com.cdn.ampproject.org/c/s/amp.theguardian.com/global-development/2023/mar/06/antonio-guterres-un-general-assembly-gender-equality
Show genuine appreciation for your female colleagues. Let them speak in meetings without talking over them or claiming their ideas. Be generous in giving positive feedback.
That support and encouragement might make all the difference to women deciding whether to throw their hat into the promotional ring.
7. A problem shared
Take ownership of the “office housework”. Do the minutes for meetings. Arrange the non-billable events with which women most commonly get stuck. Share the burden, don’t become one.
8. Break new ground
Be the change you want to see. Be a role model. Allow others to follow suit.
Be the antithesis of “toxic masculinity” by demonstrating vulnerability instead. Daniele Fiandaca’s thought-provoking article on the topic explains that by showing more vulnerability, it’s possible to not only change the perception of what masculinity is, but also make more room for women: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/why-im-talking-mens-vulnerability-international-womens-fiandaca/
9. Culture change, inside and out
Returning to the organisational benefits of gender-diversity, be aware of the role to be played by your firm in driving cultural change both internally and externally, and how much more expeditiously this can be achieved when leadership/ management work in partnership across the genders.
What more could be done to ensure the underpinning of equitable values within your organisation, for example, around fair pay, equal parental leave and flexible/ hybrid working?
10. Adopt a growth mindset to clarify and close developmental gaps
Where uncertain of the challenges or the best approach, consider how to gain clarity. Through open conversations, areas of development may very well be exposed. The firm becoming more aware of and sensitive to these challenges, and working towards positive solutions, might, for example, expose a need for Diversity, Equality and Inclusion training/ coaching.
Don’t fear it. Adopt a growth mindset towards learning.
An equitable workplace for and by all
Responsibility for creating a more fair and equitable workplace lies with us all — not just women. These strategies offer more than pause for thought. Used wisely, they are the starting point for genuine, action-orientated, allyship.
What will YOU do next, and when?
Nikki Alderson Biography
Nikki Alderson, specialist coach, speaker, author, and former Criminal Barrister:
- supports legal organisations retain female talent; and
- empowers female lawyers to achieve career ambitions.
Nikki specialises in:
- Women leadership;
- Enhanced career break returner support; and
- Workplace resilience, confidence and wellness.
She is the author of Amazon No.1 Bestseller Raising the Bar: empowering female lawyers through coaching, (https://amzn.to/3fodKQX), nominee for 2019 Inspirational Women Awards, and finalist in 2020 Women in Law Awards and 2019 International Coaching Awards.