This piece was posted by Megan Blaine, AIA, Founder of Blaine Architects. It was written by a former colleague of Megan’s as a call to action.
Believing in gender equity is not just a female issue. We need support from everyone, including men. We know most men believe in equity, but they often aren’t aware of gender discrimination in the workplace, and perhaps more importantly, they don’t know what to do about it.
We're recruiting male allies or “Manbassadors”, if you will, to help combat the subtle ways that gender discrimination creeps into our workplace. You don't have to sign up, declare your intent, or march with a sign. By doing any one of the small actions below, that's it; you're part of the movement.
Take a look at this list of surprising things that happen to your female coworkers, and the small steps you can take to be an advocate for gender equity:
- THE MENIAL TASK: We get asked to do many more non-work-related menial tasks than our male counterparts, from fetching everything from coffee, picking up prints, making copies, and breakfast to organizing parties and planning social events. If a woman in your group is asked to do something that isn't her job, don't turn and look at her expectantly, or avoid her eye contact. Say "Oh Michelle doesn't need to grab coffee, I'll do it."
- THE MENTION: Frequently women have a hard time gaining notoriety for the quality of their work. A lot of this is because we're not as good at self-promotion, but that's on us, we're working on that. What you can do: Recently my husband took 60 seconds out of his annual review to say "I think Amy and Kristen feel under-appreciated here, and it's really going to suck for all of us if they leave. I just want to put in a plug for them that I think they're doing stellar work above and beyond what their job description is and what they're being compensated for." There were zero negative repercussions for him, they didn't give his raise to Amy and Kristen. And he said his boss seemed surprised like he hadn't yet considered all the these women had been doing for their department.
- THE CONFERENCE CALL WALL OF SOUND: Studies actually show that people just do not hear women's voices as well as men's, so we get talked over and interrupted in conference calls... a lot. If you notice a female team member struggling to be heard in a conference call, use that deep, baritone of yours to say, "Hey guys I think Kate has something to contribute here." It works like magic.
- THE PUNCHLINE: Laughter in the workplace is a necessity, but be wary of jokes at the expense of women. Femininity is the butt of the joke far too often. Whether it’s playful banter with other guys for playing with Barbies, or joking about women talking too much at a board room table, it communicates to women that we’re less respectable by nature, while elevating masculinity as the more respectable trait. A couple of male colleagues used to joke around by challenging the masculinity of the other, often putting each other down through feminine qualities, until one of the men privately messaged the other, “Hey man, what’s wrong with being a girl? You’re putting me down by saying I’m a girl, but why is being a girl an insult?” There was no big show of it, but the guys still work together and still get along.
- THE CC DROP: This happens all the time, someone sends an email to the group, and on the Reply All the woman in the group is dropped from the thread. If you notice this, add her back in on your reply. Extra credit: say "Adding Sarah back into the thread, think you guys accidentally dropped her."
- THE SWEETHEART: We get called things like 'girls' and 'sweetie' a lot, especially on site. We get asked if we’re “going shopping” during site observation walks. Crude jokes are often made at the expense of women, right in front of us. Like, you would be shocked how much. Unfortunately it's often when we're by ourselves. This is a tough one to fix, so you get lots of extra ally points if you can do it. If you hear someone call your female team member 'girls', 'sweetheart', or basically anything they wouldn't call you, try to find a private moment with that person to say "Hey, I know you didn't mean anything by it, but as a firm policy we try not to call the women in our organization 'girls', and I'm wondering if you might do the same. I'm sure you understand." This has so much power coming from you in a non-confrontational way.
- THE EMAIL TO 'GENTLEMAN' OR 'GENTS': Yes, even if you are writing to a group of all men. Chances are very high that women will be added into the thread or have the email forwarded to them, and it feels incredibly exclusionary to see that no one considered a woman might be able to contribute to the topic. Unless you are planning a bachelor party, try using gender neutral terms like All, Everyone, Team, or even Folks if you want to get cute.
- THE LEAP OF FAITH: This one is the most important: Just believe us. It takes a lot of guts for a woman to speak up and say she feels unfairly treated. She's probably not making it up! Instead of immediately defending the behavior she is relating to you, try the mental exercise of "What if she's right?" At a minimum you will be a more supportive ear, and at best you'll be fostering a better, more inclusive workplace.