“Sir. Castor, I work in the financial services industry, and the manager is not very nice to our employees. He’s a character from a 1940s movie, not addressed to women by their first name, but calls them my darling, darling, darling, and it’s getting worse, ”William’s email began.
“At staff meetings, if an employee has a really good suggestion, they just laugh. Then, a few days later, he steals his idea, claiming it was his from the start.
“I am afraid that his behavior will lead to a hostile workplace lawsuit against the company that could cost us all our jobs. How do I get the guy to stop being such a jerk? “
William’s email couldn’t be better, as I had just finished an interview with David Smith and Brad Johnson, authors of Good guys, how men can be better allies for women in the workplace (published October 13, 2020).
Both have doctorates, Smith in sociology and Johnson in psychology. They are dedicated to helping promote equality and fair treatment of all people in the workplace. Their plan established in Good guys is to help men become allies of working women, mentors, friends and to help them excel.
Their book blew me away with what is still going on in America today when it comes to the way women are treated – and underpaid – at work.
Good guys was a real eye-opener as I grew up in a house where my mother had a very important role in the family business, and she was respected for it. These early childhood experiences have led me to always treat women with respect for their abilities and skills. Authors agree that the way children are raised can have a significant impact on the way they see and treat women. “Parent modeling is essential to develop a sense of fairness that will extend to the workplace,” they stress.
So, we know that working women are often not shaken up well, but where does it all start?
Well Smith and Johnson give readers loads of “aha” moments, and the one that caught my eye was the fact that I’ve had privileges all my life that most women don’t, just because I’m a man.
“As a man, you have an invisible backpack of privileges – of human benefits – that you don’t have to think about,” Johnson said. “For example, you are less likely to be interrupted when you speak; people don’t expect you to smile all the time; you can forgo grooming while traveling; you are congratulated on the accomplishment of ordinary parental duties. You will probably never be asked, “Why are you focusing on your career rather than your family?” “”
For the authors, this “innate” privilege paves the way for an undervaluation of working women, or their motivation to succeed professionally – instead of staying at home with the children – leads to ridicule.
But when was the last time you heard a guy berated for his great job performance and dedication to his employer?
A touching aspect of Good guys is the idea of becoming an ally of women, not only by making the workplace more welcoming, but also at home, by valuing the tremendous resources that women offer to society.
To help create a level playing field, Good guys provides a numbers approach to help achieve this. Of course, when you know what not to do, the rest comes more easily, and so here is a list of things men should not do:
- Don’t make assumptions about gender; “Because she’s a woman, she must need or want XYZ.”
- Don’t steal ideas from women. We call it bro-appropriation.
- Don’t interrupt the women. Men tend to do this a lot in meetings.
- Don’t flirt with her in the workplace. Don’t call her your working wife.
- Don’t have physical exposures – put your arms around women you want to be better allies with. It creates a scary vibe and a basis for rumors.
- Don’t exclude women from events or meetings where insider knowledge is shared, making everyone feel like a real member of the team. Often times, these events revolve around sporting outings (golf, etc.), but that also includes happy hours after work, lunches for guys, or reuniting at a sports bar for Monday Night Football. Plan events with inclusion in mind. So if this is a work-related event, are beer and football really the best social place for a coed team? Maybe, but include women in the planning conversation so that the venue, event, and schedule work out well for everyone.
- Do not always give him the chores of the office. Don’t always assign women to take notes, organize and plan an event, bring coffee, etc. Do not repeatedly assign his work without any benefit to his career or which is not valued.
- Do not hide secrets from him, especially on the salary. Pay equity transparency and public disclosure helps create a level playing field and shows that your business values women.
Regarding what William can do – as a junior employee, rather than as a person in a position of power – to foster an inclusive environment in his own workplace, the authors of Good guys had several suggestions:
- David Smith: I would recommend that she start by amplifying the ideas of her female colleagues in meetings to make sure they get credit. He needs to be proactive in doing this so that his boss cannot take the credit for it. Speaking in this manner is generally non-threatening and powerful in showing to the women present that William is an ally. Approaching the boss’s language on how he refers to women, William may consider doing this in private, depending on his relationship with the boss. Often a personal story that demonstrates how a woman’s expertise and competence as a leader is diminished by the use of this type of infantilizing language can be effective. Either way, William needs to make his boss’s comments his own, otherwise he’s more likely to fail.
- Brad Johnson: Great ideas here. I agree that junior men can be a big influence when it comes to changing the behavior of older men. Sometimes a Socratic question can be helpful – in public or in private – to get the offender to think about their behavior: “When you said ______, or called her ______, or referred to women as _____ when talking about meeting today, I wonder what you were thinking? I’m curious if you noticed the impact of the commentary on the people in the room, including me. “
Good guys should be required reading for all business leaders, owners and managers at all levels. I sent my copy to William.