When we started Career Queens, both Tess and I assumed that the vast majority of our audience would be other like-minded, career driven women. I’m happy to say that we’ve found a lot of our readership to also be men, who are interested in becoming more engaged and supportive of their female colleagues.
So by popular request, please read on to see some tips and tricks to be an ally of a woman in the workplace.
Build her up
Something that I see, particularly as a younger woman is that people automatically assume that I’m not the one in charge when I enter a room. For Tess, this is particularly common because her industry is so dominated by men. People don’t expect her to be the boss at 26, despite the fact that she’s been in the industry for 6 years – longer than most of her male contemporaries. (Excuse my proud best friend moment for a second!)
One of Tess’s biggest allies is her boss Brendan. Whenever the two of them go into negotiations with a third party, it’s often assumed that Tess is an administrative assistant – not the one leading the objection. Brendan will often sit back and say ”Talk to her, not to me”.
This confidence that Brendan has in Tess has built up her own personal confidence to walk into a room and take charge. I remember talking to Brendan at Tess’s wedding, and he told me that with Tess he always felt like she was the winning horse in the race – he just had to pull her back a bit so she didn’t tire herself out too much. It was amazing for me to hear her boss speak of her so highly and honestly – proudly.
To be a great ally, challenge others who assume that the woman with you is not in charge or capable. It’s sometimes less about making the other person think about their assumptions, and actually more about building that woman up and giving her your support.
Be a mentor
I think there is sometimes this belief that people can only find mentors from their own identified gender. This can actually be really limiting, particularly in male-dominated industries where female leadership can be unfortunately limited. I would encourage men to consider mentoring women, not just because you may be the only option, but also because you have really valuable experience and advice to pass on.
I also think it’s valuable getting a different point of view, from someone who has had completely different experiences to yourself. To my mentees searching for a mentor out there, don’t be afraid to approach someone and ask for their help and advice. Most people love the opportunity to pass on their lessons learnt.
It’s worth asking the women around you about their experiences in the workplace – keeping in mind that they may not be comfortable sharing those experiences.
I had an amazing experience lately where I was discussing with male colleagues some challenges that I have personally faced as a woman in the workplace. They were really engaged and were also shocked by some of the experiences I shared.
I think that sometimes there can be an assumption that things are ‘all better’ now, that gender equality has been ‘solved’. Men often are shocked to hear about the challenges I’ve personally faced because they assume that I’m too young, that I managed to skip the bad times.
The truth is, bad experiences still happen. I’m so happy with how far we’ve progressed as a culture and that my colleagues were shocked that I am still experiencing gender oppression. I hope that we can continue to make these strides forward so that I don’t have to listen to young women tell me these stories when I’m older.
Listening up leads to speaking up. If you see or hear something that’s not okay – say something! Again, sometimes this is not about correcting the person making an inappropriate comment (though it certainly helps foster a positive culture), but actually about supporting the person who is the target of the comment. If you’re not comfortable speaking up in that moment, which is understandable, raise it with your manager after the fact.
This also doesn’t have to be in those extreme, uncomfortable moments. There can also be things like calling out an imbalance in your team. For example if your boss is putting together a team to work on a special project with all men on the team, suggest to them that the project could benefit from having a different perspective. Or if there’s a new role coming in your team and you’re the hiring manager, make sure that women make up some of the applicants that are interviewed.
As a result of Career Queens, I’ve had a lot of compelling conversations with male colleagues who have been engaged and interested in hearing what I’ve had to say on the challenges and triumphs of a woman in the workplace. I want to thank them for participating and listening to my experiences. I encourage you to discuss your own experiences with your male colleagues to engender a culture of openness and transparency. Perhaps even share this post with them if they’re not sure where to start on being your ally. And to any males or male identifying people reading this article, thanks for being an ally of Career Queens.
I know that in this post I’ve spoken a lot about people who identify as men and women – purely because this is where most of my experience is. If your gender identity doesn’t fit neatly into those descriptions I can imagine how this post might seem clumsy and out of touch. If you’re comfortable reaching out, I’d love to hear from you on how I can make these discussions more inclusive.