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Four easy steps to being a feminist ally in the workplace

I’m aware of the inherent irony of having a man write a blog for International Women’s Day. Particularly when written on behalf of a company where 70% of the senior leadership team are successful women with far more interesting things to say.

I know this because I’ve worked with these brilliant women for six years and spent my professional career modelling myself after them, far more convinced by their considered expertise than the posturing masculinity I’d encountered in so many other professional environments.

As such, it’s with great regret that after so long, I still find myself rolling my eyes skyward to the latest toe-curling comment made by someone who at best is implying that someone’s working style is somehow inextricably linked to their gender and at worst, is making some sort of crass menstrual joke while nudging me emphatically with their elbows.

It’s true that women in the workplace have a long way to go and one of the most important steps in that process is for their male colleagues, clients and allies to recognise their part in rehabilitating the British workplace.

Below, I’ve shared four easy steps to being a feminist ally in the workplace:

  1. Do not tacitly endorse a male colleague’s bad behaviour

Despite recent reports to the contrary, your ‘locker room’ talk is rarely harmless.  So often, the sort of low-level misogyny that manifests as risqué jokes or ‘laddish banter’ can be dismissed as unimportant if a woman isn’t there to be personally offended. But I’m here to tell you – when a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to hear it – you’re still a sexist pig.

These lazy attitudes can permeate a businesses’ culture and start to impact how decisions are made at the most fundamental level. We have a responsibility to represent our female colleagues even when they are not around and hold our male colleagues accountable for what they say – no matter the environment.

  1. Challenge the gender opportunity gap

Women are still getting a raw deal – any cursory look at the figures will tell us that much. The gender pay gap for women in the UK with no children is slightly more than 7% – for those with at least one child it leaps to 21%.

While anyone who has the option to influence pay and promotion opportunities should do their best to make sure these are a true meritocracy, this is not purely an issue of money. Too often women are excluded from high-level or sensitive conversations.  It is also vital to make sure those new challenges and interesting projects are distributed fairly. 

  1. Do not assume to know your colleagues’ experiences

Time and time again we assume that true acceptance and tolerance is the result of adopting an attitude which effectively amounts to the sentiment of ‘we are all the same’. While parity and equality are obviously the goal, this attitude is idealistic to the point of naiveté. An important part of respecting your female colleagues is accepting that their journey and experience of the workplace has been markedly different. Just last year, for instance, researchers from the Trades Union Congress and the Everyday Sexism Project found that 52% of women had experienced unwanted behaviour at work including groping, sexual advances and inappropriate jokes

Sometimes the most valuable thing you can do for a female colleague – or indeed any colleague from a minority – is to acknowledge that you can’t full understand their experience. Instead, encourage them to feel comfortable to share their grievances and do not be dismissive of these. 

  1. Commit yourself to female leadership – and act as an example to other male colleagues

Roxanne Gay, author of Bad Feminist (2014) put it best: ‘often times the only thing women are allowed to be experts on is themselves’. Women’s insights and recommendations are often ignored, despite years of work and experience that speaks to the contrary.

You might hope that this is not the case but in society where sexism is so inextricably weaved into our culture, we must look frankly at ourselves and ask if we are really doing enough. We should make active efforts to address latent and lazy stereotypes. Question people when they begin to tell you what ‘women’ are like. Listen when people relate their experiences to you. And most importantly of all, make your personal advocacy and support clear.

This blog is part of a series we are doing to mark our support of International Womens Day