Byline: Written by Vinciane de Pape, Lead, DEI Advisory at Bloom.
As an organization that provides context-specific DEI training and fractional DEI advisory, we get a lot of fascinating insight into who is championing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion efforts internally and who isn’t. An overwhelming majority of the reach-outs we receive about corporate DEI training and strategic initiatives come from women, and we observe an over-representation of women and femmes in both our community sessions and Bloom Academy for individuals.
This year, we intentionally hosted a session just for men in observance of Women’s History Month in March for two reasons:
- We positioned this as an opportunity for men to act in solidarity with women. Men are our peers, managers, leaders, and often the executives at our work organizations. And men still overwhelmingly hold positions of power at work, which means that men have an outsized influence on the workplace experiences of women and other marginalized genders.
- We wanted to see if men would show up.
While we had a few men sign up (thank you!), as expected, our other sessions saw much higher attendance, reflecting a pattern we’ve observed across all of our DEI programming: It’s the women and gender-diverse folks who consistently show up to do the work.
So… where are all the men?
Every year, like clockwork, we observe men make grand declarations on International Women’s Day about their commitment to supporting gender equity and equality. Too often, these statements ring hollow. They come off as performative and insincere when it’s all talk and no action.
To be clear, there are many ways men can work to support women at work. These include:
- Actively listening to and working to understand the experiences of women.
- Acting as an active bystander.
- Amplifying women’s workplace contributions.
- Advocating for organizational change.
However, acting in solidarity with historically marginalized communities also includes engaging in ongoing education. Even folks who are well-versed in anti-oppressive practices can benefit from learning specifically about how we can challenge and dismantle current ways of working and create more affirming workplace experiences. This is why DEI training (for example, the sessions we offered throughout Women’s History Month) is so valuable.
We’re not saying that men don’t do the work of supporting their women colleagues in other ways, but curiously, so few show up to learn.
There are likely a number of reasons for this.
We speculate that it’s because there is no incentive or motivation for men (particularly cishet white men) to engage in DEI work. Our existing workplace systems were built by men and directly benefit men. From rigidly structured work hours to even the temperature at which most physical office spaces are kept, work was designed to suit the needs of the dominant group.
Persisting biases, often left unchecked, also allow men to benefit from traditional ways of working. These can lead to inequities in these key areas:
- Compensation, due to gender bias in hiring, promotion, performance evaluations, and salary negotiations.
- Opportunities, whether for important projects or advancement within the organization.
- Distribution of “office housework” (i.e. non-promotable, non-revenue generating tasks), which pulls time and focus away from more meaningful work.
- Gendered stereotypes, like the competence-likability trap or the belief that women are too soft or emotional for leadership positions.
So if our current systems directly benefit men in these ways (and more), why would men want to challenge or even change the status quo?
All too often, it’s folks from historically marginalized communities who are the ones advocating for more inclusive and equitable ways of working and putting in the (largely unpaid) labour to move the dial. This is not entirely surprising, given that workers with historically marginalized identities are the most impacted by biased and discriminatory workplace practices.
Interestingly, men are celebrated more for engaging in this kind of diversity-valuing work, whereas folks from historically marginalized communities are often perceived more negatively when advocating for the same things. Why? Because they are perceived to benefit from crafting more inclusive workplaces over cishet men. This is all the more reason why we need the men in our workplaces to be loud champions for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. You have the least to lose, and you still stand to benefit from change.
This is one of the most common misunderstandings around anti-oppressive workplace practices. Many people, particularly those who historically have benefitted from the most power and privilege, incorrectly assume that a more equitable distribution of power leads to adverse outcomes for dominant groups. As Franklin Leonard so eloquently put it, “When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.”
The truth is that we all benefit from implementing more just ways of working — including men. When we push for more flexible work environments, working fathers are better able to balance and support childcare duties. When we implement more equitable hiring, promotion, and compensation practices, men who may have previously been overlooked due to racial bias, height bias, or other forms of discrimination have access to more opportunities. Moreover, organizations with genuinely inclusive workplace cultures tend to demonstrate higher employee engagement, making work more positive, supportive, and satisfying for all.
We’re curious — what has been your experience with men demonstrating authentic allyship at work? What might be getting in the way of more men meaningfully acting in solidarity with women and other marginalized genders?
We hope that as we continue to have these conversations, men become better able to acknowledge their essential role in advancing gender equity and equality. Men — we need you. We hope you show up next time.
We recommend signing up for our 2-hour workshop “Exploring the Intersections of Women, Race, and Work” which examines the workplace experiences of racialized women and how we can build more inclusive and equitable workplace systems that support all women. Get in touch to learn more.