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Becoming a better ally in our fight against gender bias and inequality

We are living through a historic moment; a time when women across the world are feeling empowered and encouraged to speak up, tell their stories and say #MeToo.

Becoming a better ally in our fight against gender bias and inequality

These strong women are braving exposure, ridicule, blame and disbelief in the hope that their voices will inspire change and put an end to gender bias and inequality.

This movement is not just confined to Washington and Hollywood. It has provided a platform and a sense of solidarity for millions, with a global outpouring of stories and support for victims of workplace bullying, sexual harassment and assault.

In Australia, women are finding their voice and speaking out against the culture of harassment and the protection of powerful men that has been pervasive in many corporate, media and political institutions.

Are such revelations a surprise? No.

Gender equality and empowerment has been a part of the discourse for many years now. But the Time’s Up movement has paved the way for important conversations on the social and moral accountability of individuals, governments and businesses, in particular, of how business leaders need to build a more people-focused workplace that is able to detect and act on signs of gender bias and sexual misconduct.

Earlier this year, I attended Bluewolf’s Women Innovators Network (WIN) breakfast in Sydney, to hear from influential female leaders and advocates on how we can break down the barriers to women’s career advancement in businesses worldwide.

One of the key barriers addressed was how few women there are in top leadership positions; Australian women continue to be underrepresented in leadership roles, both in the public and private sectors.

While our guest panellists explored the issue of women ‘self-selecting out’ at mid-level roles and the importance of mentors and networks, there was an interesting discussion on creating an environment and workplace where women can flourish. What does that mean? And what would it look like?

There was an interesting discussion on creating an environment and workplace where women can flourish. What does that mean? And what would it look like?

For me, it’s an environment that is inclusive, an environment that recognises some of its biases, and an environment that creates dialogue and awareness on these topics, from both women and men.

It also highlights the important role men play as an ally in the fight against gender bias and discrimination. But if you’re a man, like me, it’s tough to know where to start. Gender bias and inequality are particularly hard to fight because their effects are subtle and hard to spot individually.

Also, because men are not directly affected by these biases, it’s even more difficult for us to see them. Difficult, but not impossible.

If we want to achieve real progress, we need men to advocate and be part of the solution.

Here are some steps that you can take to become a better ally in your organisation today.

Talk to women about their experiences and believe what they say

The first thing you can do, and perhaps the most important, is to talk to your female colleagues about their experiences with biases, in and out of the office, and believe what they have to say. This openness is the primary reason so many women in the #MeToo movement are overcoming their fears and speaking out. We believe you. We support you. We want to help.

Internalise your female colleagues’ stories and use them to identify subtle biases in your everyday life, outside work. When you practise this, you may be surprised by what you start to notice.

For example, one of the guests at the WIN event picked up on biases in the primary education system, where their daughter was asked to choose between “learning ballet” or “learning how to code”. Most girls chose ballet and most boys chose coding, and the school accepted this. Why can’t boys and girls do both?

Use your newfound awareness to become an advocate

Daily instances of gender bias and inequality don’t need to be front-page news to be worthy of attention and correction. If your female colleague is interrupted during a meeting, stop the interrupter and invite the original speaker to keep going. If you’re in an all-male leadership meeting, ask your fellow attendees why women weren’t invited. Get women in the room when making hiring decisions.

One thing I always make sure I do, when invited to speak or sit on a panel at conferences, is not accept the offer unless there is diversity and women are well-represented. I also take an active role in speaking about diversity and inclusion and how important it is to your business. This helps create an internal culture of openness and progress from the top down and, in turn, it encourages employees to reinforce that culture, from bottom up.

Leverage your network and partnerships

The power and importance of networks cannot be underestimated. Use your professional standing and friendships with men to speak up and apply pressure. Lasting change can’t happen without the dominant in-group’s participation and support. If you’re in a leadership position, start conversations now about how your organisation can support high-potential women to take that next step, and take that next risk, or introduce them to people in your network.

Partnering with organisations designed to encourage and support gender diversity in business is another way to amplify efforts. At Bluewolf, we partnered with ChickTech, whose mission is to retain women in the technology workforce and increase the number of women pursuing technology-based careers.

Businesses thrive when there’s diversity – whether it’s gender, race or age. This movement isn’t about tearing anyone down – it’s about collectively building ourselves up by including women and men on equal footing. It’s crucial that we use this newfound openness and awareness to understand our strengths, weaknesses and opportunities regarding gender diversity, and how we can use them to make real changes in our businesses.

You can join Bluewolf in Melbourne to learn more about how men can be better allies.

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