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How can men be better allies to women at work?

What’s men’s role in creating gender equality at work? This was the stirring topic covered in the webinar, ‘Male allies for gender equality’. Chaired by Jon Terry, a passionate advocate of men being proactive on gender equality, it was an inspirational webinar for men and women.

Jon started the webinar by setting out his view that a male ally is a man who actively supports gender equality, meaning all genders have the same opportunities and experience the same ease of attaining these opportunities; and crucially, ally is a verb – it requires action.

The panel examined two key questions – what are the barriers preventing men becoming effective allies to women at work, and the practical question of how can men become better allies to women?

Mark Freed, CEO of E2W, thought men needed to understand why they should be a better ally to women. He said:

“Men need to understand what’s in it for them – more choice, more opportunity, better workplaces, better society, better marriages and better families.”

Mark believed leaders in the investment and savings industry were unanimous that diversity and inclusion was a business imperative but if you look, for example, at gender pay gap reporting the industry was not making great progress.

He said:

“Action is not just saying the right things, signing up to charters or joining industry-wide projects, action is driving bold change, doing the hard things, changing the way you act and ensuring your initiatives are delivered on the ground the way you intended and having the effect you intended.”

Mitesh Sheth, CEO of Redington, said men needed to change the system:

“If we as men are not doing something about gender equality then we are part of the problem.” He felt one of the main barriers for men was their fear of getting something wrong if they spoke out on gender equality. “We need to get past our own ego. We have to take risks. We need to unlearn and relearn.”

So how can men be better allies to their female colleagues? Serai Jacob-Whelan from Macquarie said she personally was looking for male colleagues who “don’t make assumptions about women in your team and about what they want or need.

If you don’t know where to start ask a question to your female colleague and work together to identify what action needs taking.”

She thought men needed to share information freely and embrace different perspectives from their female colleagues. Men should be public in their support of women and talk about what they are doing to support women. They needed to support policies such as flexible working arrangements and paid parental leave, which are good for everyone.

Kathleen Hughes, partner at Goldman Sachs Asset Management, said she wanted to work with male colleagues who had empathy with women and tried to understand their perspective:

“Every man has women in their life … daughters, mothers, sisters, partners, friends – use these women as a sounding board and get their thoughts.”

She also thought men needed to allow women to have their full range of emotions at work, accepting these might be different from their own and without men judging or labelling women.

To conclude, there was some good practical day-to-day advice for men on how to be better allies to women in the workplace. Kathleen Hughes let men into a secret which she wanted them to think about:

“That women count and I mean that as a verb. So every time there’s a list, every time there’s a list of promotions, there’s a leadership team, there’s a board of directors, there’s a special group being formed to work on a project, there’s a speaker agenda for a conference. Every time there is a list, every women will count the number of women on the list and calculate the female representation.”

This point resonated with me as I thought of all the all-male panels I have witnessed at investment conferences. Kathleen went on to explain that men needed to be allies to women when these important decisions are being made.

Kathleen emphasised that male allies need to speak up and call out the decisions at work which do not encourage diversity and, for example, they should not join panels if they are not diverse. She made the very good point that if men don’t speak up for women they are not supporting a diverse industry.

I’m sure this webinar will help men be better allies by actively and publicly supporting gender equality at work. But importantly, it will also inspire women to have the courage to call out unacceptable practices at work which are preventing gender equality.

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