I know many awesome men who want to support diversity and in particular women in tech, but don’t know where to start. Some say they don’t know how to approach it or that they are afraid to do or say the wrong thing. It can be hard to navigate being an advocate or an ally. So, I’ve decided to create this post specifically for those men.
Diversity in tech is everyone’s issue – because without it we cannot create truly innovative technology that solves problems. We know that diversity brings countless benefits to organisations improving. For example, it helps with financial growth, company performance, company culture, creativity, the product itself, customer satisfaction and so on. I’ll link some articles at the bottom of this post if you want to learn more about it!
We all know that there are a ton of super talented and skilled women in tech out there. And this isn’t a competition, we are all on the same side. We all want to thrive at work and make a difference and the most effective way to achieve that is by doing it all together. However, there are systemic issues and biases that create barriers for women when entering the industry and growing within it.
These systems developed over time representing the needs of the majority group (white men), but they are now disadvantaging employees for whom this environment wasn’t designed for. Change requires everyone’s input. In fact, men in tech are often in a better position to influence these dynamics compared to most women because they’re the majority demographic. It’s mens’ responsibility to help support women.
Now that we’ve briefly discussed why it’s important for men to be allies, let’s talk about how they can do that.
1. Listen to women
Listen to women’s stories and try to understand their experiences. Don’t try to “fix” individual women, but understand what barriers they’re facing in their environment. Practice your active listening skills and be open-minded. To make sure we’re on the same page, active listening isn’t waiting for your turn to express your opinion. Active listening involves hearing and properly processing the information you hear.
National Center for Women and Information Technology has created a very helpful Critical Listening Guide that warns of certain traps and helps with finding language that will enable you to have a very meaningful conversation.
Some of the things that will be helpful to understand as a result of such conversations are:
- What privilege is and think of examples of how you may have benefited from it in your career. Understanding it is an important step to becoming an ally!
- That gender inequality comes in different shapes and forms.
- How the environment is still biased and what barriers women face when advancing their careers in technology.
2. Educate yourself
If you’re serious about supporting women in tech, do your research, read and educate yourself on the topic. There are plenty of resources out there that can help provide context, share stories and direct you towards actionable steps.
Another great way to get into women’s shoes is to read literature written by women in the industry. I’ll link some great lists that I’ve found online at the bottom of this post!
3. Notice and correct unconscious biases about women
We all have biases, it’s unavoidable. However, the question is what we do about them. Being aware and managing your own biases is an important step toward supporting equality – and not just gender equality, it goes far beyond that.
Recognising biases in others and pointing them out is crucial here as well. Biases might also exist in systems like hiring and promotion processes, company culture, project distribution, etc.
They might also exist in technology and the product you’re working on. Again, you can find some interesting resources at the bottom of this post that will be a great starting point to start educating yourself on how to recognise them!
4. Advocate for changing the environment and company policies
I’m talking about unfair interview and hiring practices, biased job descriptions, performance evaluation, project distribution, flexible work policies and company culture in general. There can be many more things since these policies are very specific to the company. So, the best way to identify any problems in the environment is by talking to women.
If you recognise issues in your company, advocate for change. Obviously, just pointing out a problem isn’t enough, the most productive thing to do is come up with a solution that works for everyone. Work together with women on your team – and ideally representatives of other minority groups too, to come up with different options.
Men have the power of the majority to advocate for better and more inclusive systems, women don’t have that power. So we need to work together to better support everyone!
Be careful not to try to focus on any one woman’s specific situation or problems when advocating for change, as this may backfire and end up feeling patronizing even when well-intended. Yes, you may have examples of specific women facing issues or barriers in the organisation, however, look at the bigger picture and at the system that enables that. I’m leaving some resources at the end of this post that will help you navigate this!
5. Adopt a 50/50 mindset
Generally speaking, 50% of the world’s population is male and 50% is female, so there should be equal opportunities for both genders. This means thinking of equal representation in the workforce, equal treatment, recognition, access to opportunities, etc.
Adopt this mentality and treat women as equal in that sense. See your company and its activities through that prism.
6. Hire, pay and promote women
Speaking of equality and gender ratios, try to aim for equal representation, pay and promotion opportunities in your company’s workforce. If you’re in a position to influence hiring processes, make sure that they are free from biases and are fair. Search for talent on recruiting platforms that have a good pool of female candidates and do bias and interview training with team members who will be conducting the interviews.
Ensure that women and men are getting paid equally and fairly – based on their value and what they’ve done for the company. Don’t base their salary on their previous earnings – as that can bring inequality to the table and promote pay transparency. It can be the case that their past companies may have paid them less because they had systemic gender discrimination built into the company culture and therefore the pay structure.
Finally, help women get promoted. Whether by simply giving them credit when they deserve it, or if you see a woman who deserves a promotion but is getting overlooked, thoughtfully mention it to the people in power. And if you are in the position to promote, make sure you’re fair and aren’t overlooking certain people due to biases.
7. Support women through mentorship and sponsorship
Mentoring women is the best way to understand what they’re going through and give back by helping them. Whether as a peer mentor or as a more senior advisor – mentoring is always an incredible way to give back and grow together. Find a female mentee and try to keep the 50/50 gender ratio if you have more than one mentee.
Sponsoring in career terms means advocating for someone and helping them get a certain role, job, etc. It’s done all the time and there’s a good chance you’ve done it before or that you’ve been sponsored. Support women by sponsoring them, adopting a 50/50 mentality.
8. Initiate gender conversations
Whether in meetings or with your male colleagues and friends, bring up gender and diversity in your conversations. It’s much easier for men, as the majority in tech, to start this discussion and will reduce the barriers and perceived risks for women to be heard on the topic.
Don’t be afraid to start conversations with other men and with people in power at your company on the topic. And again, don’t focus on examples of specific women, but on the issues with the environment and systems.
9. Recognise women
Give women credit, share their stories and celebrate their wins. It’s super powerful and motivating when your work and contributions are being recognised, so try to do this regularly with your female colleagues.
Obviously make sure it’s not patronising in any way, consult with your female friends and colleagues on the best way to do that.
10. Amplify women’s voices and ideas
This point goes hand in hand with the previous one: help women get heard in tech. Within your company, at professional events, on social media – any platform where you can amplify and support their stories and voices.
11. Follow female leaders
We get a lot of information by following people and by following female leaders in tech you will get a lot of insight into their realities. You will be able to relate and understand the context of their day to day, barriers and challenges that they face – and that will make you a wonderful ally!
12. Model alternative work/life strategies
As I’ve mentioned, the workplace – especially in the context of the tech industry, has been developed around the majority’s needs. The needs of women and other minority groups are rarely represented in the typical work environment. One of those needs is for flexible work conditions that would support women’s alternative work/life balance needs.
A great way to support women in tech is to model those strategies and take advantage of policies and benefits that are helping address them. This way you will help equalise the perception of lifestyles and those benefits. Some of the examples of what you can do are are:
- Taking parental leave
- Adopting flexible work hours
- Working from home
- Taking advantage of childcare benefits
I’m sure there are many others too! Again, the best strategy here is to talk to women around you to see what benefits they’re using or would like to remove stigma around.
13. Ask for feedback from women
Be humble and ask for feedback. Being an ally can be tricky and it takes courage. You need to get ready to be vulnerable, ask for second opinions and understand that you will probably make mistakes along the way. But as long as you are brave enough to own your mistakes and correct them – not only will you be highly respected for that, but you will grow personally and professionally.
14. Promote diversity beyond gender
Finally, this needs to be said: we need all types of diversity in tech. Diversity among the women on your team and other teammates. True diversity should go beyond gender, including race, sexual orientation, age, background, etc. Once you feel confident as an ally to women in tech, expand beyond that demographic and help promote all types of diversity in tech.
I hope this list of actionable steps will help you become a wonderful ally to women in tech! Again, there are plenty of resources below that will be great next steps.
Let me know in the comments if you’d like to add anything to this list and please share any resources you may have on the topic. Share this post with your male colleagues and friends who are allies and would like to be more involved in promoting diversity in tech!
Critical Listening Guide:
Action Toolkit: Strategies Male Allies Can Start Using Today:
Women in Tech Reading list:
Evaluating Your Male Ally Efforts
Top 10 books for diversity and inclusion in tech:
Benefits of diversity in tech:
How to be an ally: