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International Women’s Day 2021: How men can be better allies in the workplace

08 March 2021

By Laura Griffiths and Nick Jessup

This International Women’s Day theme is choose to challenge. Not only should we be advocating for women across the global stage and championing their successes, but we should also speak up and speak out in our workplaces to help pave the way for equality and parity. One way this can help be achieved is by being an ally. An ally who advocates, supports, listens and understands that not everyone in the workplace is moulded the same way and shares the same experiences. The importance of being an ally in the workplace cannot be overstated. A workplace in which all colleagues feel valued, and their contributions are recognised is one which naturally lends itself to higher productivity, better working relationships, and happier workers.

Being an ally does not just apply to supporting women in the workplace, it can apply to those wanting to be an ally for LGBTQ or people of colour - anyone who experiences systemic inequality because of how they identify. By working together and listening to one another, we can all be better allies. 

Listen but don’t stay silent

One of the most important skills for being an ally, which is so often overlooked, is listening. In today’s hyper-competitive world, the temptation to talk the loudest, “contribute” the most and have your ideas heard must be fought if we are all to act as better allies. Being a better ally means listening – communication is as much about engaging and talking in the same way as reflecting on what is being said. Active listening is key to being an ally - actually listening to what is being said to you, rather than what you think was said or wanted to hear. By listening to what female colleagues are saying, you are making yourself more approachable should more difficult issues or complex problems need to be raised.

Equally, when listening, it is important for good allies to ensure that they aren’t silent when things need to be challenged. If you see undermining, misogynistic or sexist behaviour in your workplace, be it in a meeting, in an email, or in a casual conversation, challenge it. A good ally is not afraid to constructively challenge a fellow colleague whose behaviour is unacceptable.


Additionally, it is important for male allies in the workplace to listen for what is not being said. In group discussions, especially those dominated by men in senior roles, a good ally looks for opportunities to bring a broad range of colleagues into the discussion, and acts in an inclusive way, ensuring that the views of his female colleagues are heard, and their contributions recognised. If you are responsible for facilitating the conversation, ask yourself if you have truly gathered the views of all participants present – and if you haven’t, ask yourself why that is.

With many of us working from home and only having real engagement with colleagues via a video link, it is not as easy as engaging in the office. If you have not heard from a colleague for a while, do not hesitate to pick up the phone and check in, rather than just send an email. A supportive voice may be all that is needed to help people refocus and re-engage more strongly. Likewise, if you find yourself engaging more with male colleagues than female colleagues because you have more in common, challenge yourself and be more inclusive.

All too often, we attend meetings with few women present, and where women are present, they are often talked over or their ideas heard and then passed over as a man’s own, (see below) potentially stifling their ability to speak and make their voice heard. We can all work to foster a better workplace culture if we present the opportunity to attend meetings to as broad a range of colleagues as possible. Leave the door open for your female colleagues and create an environment where they know that they can join meetings, and have their contributions valued.

As for events, we have all experienced a ‘manel’, where all of the invited speakers are men. If you are invited to speak at or attend an event where no women have been included as panellists, challenge the invite and ask why this is the case. If you are an invited speaker to an all-male panel, suggest that one of your wonderful female colleagues attends in your place.

Credit and amplify the voices of others

One of the worst workplace behaviours is that of a colleague who takes credit for someone else’s idea, or else presents the ideas of a colleague as their own. A good ally gives credit to the person who comes up with the idea, regardless of how others may, unconsciously or not, seek to claim the idea as their own. Many women have reported expressing a view or an idea in a meeting and having it passed over, only for the same view or idea to be expressed by a male colleague and accepted by the group at large. A good ally is aware that this is a serious concern, looks for ways to constructively point out where ideas or views of female colleagues have been co-opted, and makes clear who was responsible for the idea.

Don’t make assumptions

A good ally does not make assumptions about their colleagues and their experiences. Don’t assume, for instance, that the meeting is being run by the male member of staff present, or that the woman present must be there to take notes. Don’t assume that female colleagues will have a lot to say about fashion but nothing to say about football. Valuing diversity in the workplace means valuing the experiences, knowledge, skills and specialities of all of our colleagues. A good ally understands this.

International Women’s Day provides an opportunity to reflect on what our workplaces are like and how they could be better. Being an ally is not difficult. Equally, being an ally is not optional, so long as our colleagues continue to experience forms of systemic inequality. We must all think carefully about how our behaviour affects those around us, and what we can do to make our workplaces better.