“Mr. Beaver, I work in the financial services industry, and the manager is not very nice to our female employees. He is a character from a 1940s movie, not addressing women by their first name, instead, calling them sweetie, honey, darling, and it gets worse,” William’s email began.
“During staff meetings, if a female employee has a really good suggestion, he just laughs. Then, days later, he steals her idea, claiming it was his all along.
“I fear his behavior will lead to a hostile workplace lawsuit against the company that could cost us all our jobs. How I can convince the guy to quit being such a jerk?”
William’s email could not have arrived at a better time, as I had just finished an interview with David Smith and Brad Johnson, authors of Good Guys, How Men Can Be Better Allies for Women in the Workplace (being published on Oct. 13, 2020).
Both hold Ph.D.s, Smith in sociology and Johnson in psychology. They are dedicated to helping foster equality and fair treatment of all people in the workplace. Their plan set out in Good Guys is to help men become allies of women in the workplace, mentors, friends and to help them excel.
Their book blew me away by what still is going on in today’s America when it comes to how women are treated — and underpaid — on the job.
Good Guys was a real eye-opener, as I was raised in a home where my mom had a very important role in the family business, and she was respected for that. Those early childhood experiences led me to always treat women with respect for their abilities and competence. The authors agree that how children are raised can have a significant impact on the way they view and treat women. “Modeling by the parents is critical to developing a sense of fairness that will reach way out into the workplace,” they stress.
So, we know that women at work often do not get a fair shake, but where does it all begin?
The Invisible Knapsack of Privilege
Well, Smith and Johnson give readers oodles of “aha” moments, and one that got my attention was the fact that I have had privileges all my life that most women do not, just because I am a man.
“As a man you have an invisible knapsack of privilege — of man perks — that you don’t have to think about,” according to Johnson. “For example, you are less likely to be interrupted when speaking; people do not expect you to smile all the time; you can forgo grooming while traveling; you are praised for performing ordinary parental duties. You will likely never be asked, ‘Why are you focusing on your career instead of your family?’”
To the authors, this “inborn” privilege sets the stage for women to be undervalued on the job, or their motivation to achieve professional success — instead of staying home with the children — leads to ridicule.
But when was the last time you heard some guy chastised because of excellent job performance and dedication to his employer?
A touching aspect of Good Guys is the idea of becoming an ally of women, not only making the workplace more inviting, but at home, valuing the tremendous resources that women offer society.
To help create a level playing field, Good Guys provides a by-the-numbers approach to help bring that about. Of course, when you know what not to do, the rest comes more easily, and so here is a list of things for men not to do:
- Don’t make gender assumptions; “Because she is a woman, she must need or want XYZ.”
- Don’t steal women’s ideas. We call that bro-appropriation.
- Don’t interrupt women. Men tend to do that a lot in meetings.
- Don’t flirt with her in the workplace. Don’t call her your work wife.
- Don’t have physical displays — putting your arms around women who you want to be better allies to. This creates a creepy vibe and a basis for rumors.
- Don’t exclude women from events or meetings where insider knowledge is shared, making everyone feel like a true team member. Often these events center around sports outings (golf, etc.), but these also include the happy hours after work, lunches with the guys or getting together at a sports bar for Monday Night Football. Plan events with inclusion in mind. So, if this is a work-related event, is beer and football really the best social venue for a gender diverse team? Maybe, but include women in the planning conversation so that the venue, event and timing work well for everyone.
- Don’t always give her the office housework. Don’t always assign women to take notes, to organize and plan an event, bring the coffee, etc. Do not repeatedly assign her work with no benefit to her or her career or that is not valued.
- Don’t keep secrets from her, especially about pay. Transparency and public disclosure around pay equity helps in creating a more level playing field and shows that your company values women.
As far as what William can do — as a junior employee, rather than a person in a position of power — to foster an inclusive environment in his own workplace, the authors of Good Guys had several suggestions:
- David Smith: I’d recommend that he first start by amplifying his female colleagues’ ideas in meetings to ensure they receive credit. He needs to be proactive in doing this so his boss can’t take the credit. Speaking up in this way is usually non-threatening and powerful in demonstrating to the women in the room that William is an ally. In addressing the boss’s language for how he refers to women, William may want to consider doing this in private, depending on his relationship with the boss. Often a personal story that demonstrates how a woman’s expertise and competence as a leader is diminished by using this type of infantilizing language can be effective. In any case, William has to own the feedback to his boss, or it is more likely to fail.
- Brad Johnson: Great ideas here. I agree that junior men can have a big influence when it comes to changing the behavior of more senior men. Sometimes, a Socratic question can be useful — in public or in private — to get the offender thinking about their behavior: “When you said ______, or called her ______, or referred to women as _____ in the meeting today, I wonder what you were thinking? I’m curious about whether you noticed how the comment impacted people in the room, myself included.”
Good Guys should be required reading for all business majors, owners and managers at all levels. I mailed my copy to William.