Gender inequality is an issue that effects everybody, yet the onus is almost always on women to fix what they invariably didn’t start in the first place. Hira Ali, an executive career coach and leadership trainer who specialises in giving minoritised women the knowledge and confidence they need to navigate the male-dominated professional world, feels it’s about time men shouldered some of that burden.
That’s why she’s written Her Allies: A Practical Toolkit to Help Men Lead Through Advocacy. Backed by an impressive array of male leaders – from Mayor of London Sadiq Khan to former chief prosecutor Nazir Afzal OBE – Hira’s book does exactly what it says on the tin: gives those well-meaning guys in our lives the language and techniques they need to address the ever-widening chasm of disparity between the sexes.
Of course, there are plenty of benefits to be had by getting involved. “Men have a lot to gain from gender equality,” Hira says. “Freedom from beliefs in toxic masculinity, that they must provide, that they must always be strong. This has a very bad effect on mental health. There is evidence that countries that are more gender diverse, for example, have lower suicide rates.”
And then there are copious business arguments. “Having more women in the workforce increases the economy and productivity,” she continues. “Men may also find they have much better relationships with their partners and friends, as well as a collaborative advantage – if you work well with women, women will choose to work for you.”
To make life even easier, Hira has provided a cut-out-and-keep guide to being a great male ally below. Feel free to send to that boss, colleague, brother or partner next time you’re asked the million dollar question, ‘What can we do?’, and lack the energy to explain for the hundredth time.
“In order to be a good ally to women, you need to really understand the challenges women face inside the workplace, at home and on the street. This is particularly important in terms of the Covid pandemic which has had an adverse impact on women. Productivity has declined, they have been overwhelmed by chores and childcare, and of course suffered as key workers.
“It is also important to understand the concept of intersectionality – how women face a number of different challenges based on identity characteristics such as race, gender, sexuality, class and faith, and how those aggressions intertwine with sexism in an inextricable way.”
2. Recognise your privilege
“Men don’t look around. You are so used to the way things are, you wouldn’t notice something like a woman being excluded from a conversation in the first place. That takes awareness. That is a privilege. It is a barrier others face that you as a man do not.
“I don’t want people to be embarrassed about their privilege, I just want them to recognise them. We are all biased, no one isn’t. And it doesn’t mean you have never faced hardship, it simply means you haven’t faced the same impediments as others have. Instead, I want men to think about how they can use their position to encourage positive change in the workplace and at home.”
3. Ask questions - and don’t be afraid of the answers
“You will not know or understand everything straight away, so ask questions to improve. You will feel uncomfortable, but that’s fine. If you make a mistake, just apologise and don’t worry about trying to mask it. Move on. Remember that women are exhausted by sexism, so being transparent and authentic about what you know and don’t know is important.”
4. Learn to listen
“Have you already formed an opinion or decided in advance what the speaker is going to say is uninteresting? Are you getting distracted? Are you tempted to speak over someone or jump in to share your expertise or advice? Are you making assumptions about superior knowledge? To be a good ally you must practice actively listening to women – and withholding the desire to interrupt or ‘mansplain’. Instead, empathise with her concerns. Do not be dismissive or assume positive intent on behalf of the perpetrator.”
5. Be an ally at home
“If you profess to be an ally at work, but don’t share the same enthusiasm at home, then you have what the authors of manual Good Guys, David G. Smith and W. Brad Johnson, have coined ‘ally dissonance’. This occurs when there is a conflict between what you say and what you actually do in private when no one is looking.”
6. Engage outside your circle
“Female colleagues can feel very isolated in male-dominated environments. Expand your social and professional circles, and reach out to people who are missing from your circle and make an effort to know them personally. Listen to them and support them if they need it. Sometimes micro-aggressions occur simply because we are unaware of them. Make sure any network events are inclusive - not all women want to go to play golf or to the pub.”
7. Challenge others
“Bystander apathy is very common. Sometimes you might not feel comfortable with intervening directly, but you could deploy a distraction or interruption strategy to start a conversation with the perpetrator and allow his potential target to safely exit the scene. Sometimes by asking a reflective question, when you repeat the offensive statement, others are forced to retreat or reflect on what they’ve said and how it might be received. Or you could simply stop talking altogether. People often do not like silence and will invariably speak up to fill the void. They may well feel awkward enough not to do it again.”
Her Allies: A Practical Toolkit to Help Men Lead Through Advocacy by Hira Ali is availble to buy now via Neem Tree Press.
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