In the wake of the #MeToo movement, more women are coming forward with their stories of workplace harassment and inequality, and more men are hearing them. In the tech industry, where a significant disparity exists between men and women and a conversation about these problems has been happening for years already, male allies have begun to make a small dent in the imbalance. Below are the best practices for men who want to become allies to women in the tech industry and beyond.
1. Share the Research
After you’ve studied the issues and heard the stories of gender inequality and harassment in tech, expand your reach and talk with others in your workplace and community—colleagues, team members, friends. Share articles on your social channels and make the issue a part of your public identity. Prepare responses for those who disregard what you’ve learned. For those who believe the industry is an impartial meritocracy, arm yourself with data about the topic. Here are some stark statistics to get you started: Women hold 25 percent of computing jobs and 11 percent of executive positions in Silicon Valley companies, and 9 percent of tech board positions are filled by women, only 7 percent of partners at top VC firms are women, and only 5 percent of startups are owned by women.
Research from Catalyst Bottom Line also shows that the more diverse the leadership, the better the results. Identifying these problems is a good first step. Collecting resources and strategies to pass on to other men helps build momentum. Want more recommendations on where to start finding these resources? Check out AnitaB.org resources, Maleallies.com, the 3% Conference List of 100 Things You Can Do Right Now to Help, and the National Center for Women & Information Technology guide for Male Allies and Advocates.
2. Open the Doors to More Participation From Women
Make sure women literally take seats at the table, rather than standing on the sidelines. David Hornik, a top venture capitalist who serves on the board of GLAAD, a leading nonprofit LGBTQ advocacy organization, says: “My objective as an ally of underrepresented folks in tech has been to do everything I can to give under-represented entrepreneurs access—access to opportunities, access to networking, access to the board room. At my conference, The Lobby, I have worked hard to rectify the gender imbalance in tech conferences. And then, with a more diverse audience, I have encouraged conversation about the challenges under-represented entrepreneurs face.”
Allison Fine, board member of Civic Hall Labs and author of multiple books on social media and social change, tells her story of meeting Micah Sifry, founder and executive director of Civic Hall, in 2000 when she knew nearly no one in this space. “We are most powerful when we speak and act together for the common good. Micah believes this, promotes it, and practices it every day.” She adds: “That’s how I started my second career. … He opened up the door for me.” Sifry not only shared where opportunities were, but he invited her over to be a part of them. “He’s amazing,” Fine said. “If you can hold your own, he’ll be there for you.”
Opening the door for more women includes virtual doors, like inclusion in email groups. Susan Scrupski, founder of Big Mountain Data, was the first woman invited to a group of enterprise tech bloggers. “The guy who put my name forward did it with some trepidation, but he did it nonetheless. It's a badge of honor we both wear to this day.” Stories like these show that even small, seemingly minor acts of inclusion can make a big difference down the road.
3. Amplify Women’s Voices
Unfortunately, many workplaces exude a culture where women are disinclined to speak up in meetings or in general. Data has shown men tend to dominate meeting discussions on average, speaking for 75 percent of the allotted time. When women do speak out, they can be ignored, passed off, ridiculed, shunned, or have their ideas taken. Male allies can prevent this by cutting it off at the pass. When you see it happen, don’t let it go. Turn to the woman and ask her: “What do you think?” Pull her aside after the meeting and let her know you’ve got her back. Another tip, from Christina Knight, creative director at UKnight: “By reiterating a thought shared and attributing it to the woman who offered it, you endorse worthy ideas and ensure the appropriate person is remembered for them.” If you’re active on social media, make sure to share, retweet, and comment on women’s accounts to assure they’re heard.
And when you have the chance to put more women on a physical stage, do it. Laura Klein, principal at Users Know, shared her story of how Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup, was “one of the earliest people to put me on stage at his first conference (Startup Lessons Learned, which is now Lean Startup Week), long before I had any sort of an audience myself. … And the Lean Startup conference is dedicated to a 50% gender split in speakers every year—an initiative that was started by Sarah Milstein several years ago, but that Eric has continued.”
4. Mentor Women in Your Field
Either through organized mentoring programs or via informal mentoring, find ways to take time to mentor women in your field—of all ages, but particularly women early in their careers. If no suggested format exists, ask women what will help them most. Schedule phone appointments or find a coffee shop or office with other people around. Keep it professional. Ask good questions and prepare your advice. Don’t talk down to the women you mentor, even if they come across as naïve. Remember what you were like when you first got started. And recruit other men to become mentors for programs.
Mhaire Fraser, organizer of the Women in User Experience mentorship program every summer, calls the male mentors “rockstars for the program.” Men mentoring women in startup programs can also make a large impact. Sophia Yen, CEO & co-founder of Pandia Health, says, “All my mentors at StartX were male. Steve Atneoson and Pramod John were really helpful. Fellow StartX men (Alexandre Robicquet and Eric Hennings) also introduced me to investors.”
5. Advocate for Fair Workplace Policies
Workplace policies that support women and diversity in general can include small changes, like listing “salary negotiable” in job postings, so women will feel more comfortable negotiating, or they can be massive, like creating sophisticated maternity and paternity leave programs. Another strategy: blind résumé evaluation. Ries advocates for hiring processes that evaluate résumés without names attached in order to reduce potential gender bias. These policies will never be enacted without male allies. Women aren’t the only ones caring for family members. Advocating for flexible hours, working from home, on-site child care helps men and women. Observing how and when colleagues are evaluated and promoted can also be an important area where policies can be adjusted.
Becoming active in these conversations as an employee with a track record or as a decision-maker in an organization will solidify your standing as an ally long after you’re gone from that particular workplace. As Hornik says, “I think that anything we can do to give women a seat at the table and a voice in the conversation will profoundly benefit everyone.”