- Recognize Biased Assumptions about Leadership
- Recognize & Stop Microaggressions
- Challenge tokenism & an end to ‘Manels’
Ally Toolkit to Support Men as Allies
According to the British Columbia’s Teachers Federation : “ Allyship is not an identity—it is a lifelong process of building relationships based on trust, consistency, and accountability with marginalized individuals and/or groups of people. Allyship is not self-defined—our work and our efforts must be recognized by the people we seek to ally ourselves with.” See the BCTF website for more information.
Another checklist from Pete Gombert (2017) highlights in the following textbox how men can begin to be allies by undertaking four key things:
Common across these lists is the importance of recognising and unlearning biased assumptions about who is and can be a leader.>Top
Recognise Biased Assumptions about Leadership
We have all been socialized from an early age into thinking of men as leaders - both men and women. The images below show a typical picture of what a leader looks like - drawn by a young child - picturing a man.
The following cartoon, although it does conjure up assumptions about men and women leaders, visually depicts some of the gender-based barriers women experience in their leadership journey. Although these focus on the situation for women at home, barriers also exist for women at work.
The following image prepared by the American Association of University Women (AAUW) depicts some common (and incorrect) assumptions that affect women’s path towards leadership in the article Barriers and Bias: The Status of Women in Leadership.
Bias indeed matters. Take the following example:
“Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the pervasive gender associations documented by researchers, academic scientists who evaluated identical résumés belonging either to “John” or “Jennifer” perceived Jennifer as less competent. They were less likely to offer to mentor Jennifer and were more likely to say they would hire John to be a lab manager. What’s more, when asked what starting salary they’d offer the two candidates based on the same résumé, scientists proposed a salary that was $4,000 (13 percent) higher for John than for Jennifer. And female scientists showed the same type of bias against Jennifer that male scientists did”. ( AAUW, 2016)
According to a recent United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) study, “ despite decades of progress closing the equality gap between men and women, close to 90 percent of men and women hold some sort of bias against women, providing new clues to the invisible barriers women face in achieving equality, and a potential path forward to shattering the Glass Ceiling.”
Corroborating these assumptions is a recent study in the Academy of Management Journal. These researchers revealed that getting noticed as a leader in the workplace is more difficult for women than for men, even when speaking up with similar ideas. This strongly suggests that unconscious assumptions about gender affect people’s abilities to recognize emerging leadership.
Similarly, Bill Tholl, Founding Executive Director of the Canadian Health Leadership Network, details in the quote below how women lead differently: ‘women health leaders tend to lead from who they are and where they are rather than the position they occupy.
In the article Women Rising: The Unseen Barriers from the Harvard Business Review, Herminia Ibarra, Robin J. Ely and Deborah M. Kolb describe how... “ Becoming a leader involves much more than being put in a leadership role, acquiring new skills, and adapting one’s style to the requirements of that role. It involves a fundamental identity shift. Organizations inadvertently undermine this process when they advise women to proactively seek leadership roles without also addressing policies and practices that communicate a mismatch between how women are seen and the qualities and experiences people tend to associate with leaders.”
The National Health Service (NHS) Confederation and NHS Employers in the United Kingdom recently established the Health & Care Women Leaders Network. This was part of the call by the NHS for collective action to drive gender balance and inclusivity in senior leadership roles. A short 12-page report by the Health & Care Women Leaders Network explores some of the important actions and behaviours men can take to support the development of women leaders in the NHS. The report compiles information from conversations with senior men in leadership positions, as well as feedback from a Men as Allies Tweet Chat on the same topic from January 2019.
Several factors senior male NHS leaders see as holding women back include men recruiting in their own image, women not putting themselves forward, a lack of networking, and long-hours culture. One of the barriers that still persists is a tendency of some individuals in positions of power to recruit in their own image and such bias is highly likely to be unconscious. Several interviewees felt that women put up barriers to their own progression, primarily related to imposter syndrome or a lack of confidence in their own abilities. Networking is seen as one of the ways men advance and get their next job however, women’s ability to benefit from joining networks or networking events may be adversely affecting their changes of progression. Lastly, women promoted to high-level jobs may be expected or believed they will be expected to work excessive hours, potentially conflicting with other family commitments to children and elderly relatives.
The report highlights how male leaders have an important role to build support and encourage constructive change. What men can do to help includes learning why greater diversity and gender balance is helpful, and encouraging different models of working. Greater awareness of the evidence base of the business benefits brought by a diverse leadership team can help leaders to make the case for diversity in their organisations. Furthermore, balancing work and home is a challenge for anyone at a senior level however, historically, women have often taken the burden of caring responsibilities for both children and elderly relatives and may not want to work in the way previous leaders have. Leaders also need to ensure that flexible working is valued as equal to the traditional model and does not hinder career progression.
Recognise and Stop Microaggressions
Microaggressions are “brief, everyday exchanges that send denigrating messages to certain individuals because of their group membership” (Sue, 2010, p xvi). They are the commonplace verbal or behavioral indignities which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative slights or insults. Microaggressions are often unconsciously delivered by people who believe they hold egalitarian views. These can be “subtle snubs or dismissive looks, gestures and tones” (Sue, 2010, p xvi) and can be related to race, Indigenous status, gender, sexuality, ability and other systemic inequities. The subtlety to microaggressions makes them difficult to address. Learning skills like interrupting harmful messages, which are taught in bystander training, can be a first step to stop the repetition of harmful stereotypes.
Candace Brunette-Debassige, is a Special Advisor Indigenous Initiatives to the Provost at Western University. Between minute 26:23-29:40 of Candace’s Empowering Women Leaders video on YouTube, she describes the different types of microaggressions commonly experienced by women and Indigenous women leaders working in mainstream organizations, such as public institutions and higher education. Candace describes three different types of microaggressions which include:
Adapted from Eleven Things Not to Say to Your Female Colleagues.
One form of microaggression is mansplaining. Mansplaining is defined by UN Women as “The practice of a man explaining something to a woman in a way that shows he thinks he knows and understands more than she does. Although it may not be intended to cause harm, they go on to describe it as “a patriarchal act that trains women in self-doubt and self-limitation just as it exercises men’s unsupported overconfidence.”
In a follow up tweet, UN Women provides tips on how men can avoid mansplaining. Ask yourself the following questions:
Clearly, the words you say matter. UN Women suggests using more gender-inclusive language, as detailed in the following text box.
Challenge tokenism & an end to ‘Manels’
Allies recognize the harmful psychological impacts of tokenism. Tokenism is “. . . the practice of making only a token effort or doing no more than the minimum, especially in order to comply with a law” ( Collins English Dictionary, 2003, “Tokenism”). “Tokenism is most likely to occur when members of the minority group in any situation account for fewer than 15 percent of the total” (Gutiérrez y Muhs, 2012, Pg 449). Recruit so as to develop “a pool of faculty of colour,” this includes wording job advertisements to attract people of colour. Make use of affirmative-action policies and be wary of opportunity-hires which usually end up being occupied by white men.
Similarly, the Lancet has made a public commitment not to participate in panels with only men as participants:
The Lancet Group is committed to no all-male panels (“manels”). Our editors will not serve as panellists at a public conference or event when there are no women on the panel. For events that we organise or plan, we aim for at least 50% female speakers. Our preference is for women to be included as panellists, not only as chairs or moderators.
Equally important, however, is to ensure that all health care and health science decision-making tables represent the broader community. A number of recent articles have questioned this. In the 2018 Healthy Debate article, In health care, do the people in power reflect the people they serve?, authors Dafna Izenberg & Maureen Taylor question the lack of diversity among hospital boards. More recently, in The missing voice of women in COVID-19 policy-making, Dr. Ivy Bourgeault argues that having more women at decision-making tables would help ensure the gendered effects of the pandemic are fully examined and part of recovery policies.