How men can help

After reading or hearing about yet another horrid experience for a woman in the workplace, sometimes my male friends will ask “How can I help make this better?”  I have now been asked this often enough that, finally, I have answers that work for me.

  1. Listen to women. When a woman tells you about a situation at work, listen to her.  Wait until she pauses on her own before you ask questions.
  2. Believe women. If a woman describes a situation at work, believe what she says happened actually happened. This doesn’t mean that she is never wrong or that someone can’t have another point of view about the same incident; it means you believe her version is worth of belief and support and as valid as any other.  This is one of the most important thing any man can do for any woman in any situation.
  3. Ask “what can I do to help?” Sometimes women will know what they would like you to do in those situations and will tell you. Ask for clarification: “would you rather I say X now, or wait until I see this happening again?”  Sometimes they will not know, or not know right then, so you can say “If you think of what you want me to do later, tell me then.”
  4. If you do follow up as you discussed with a woman, and she isn’t there to see it, let her know. Hearing or reading an email that says “hey, just to let you know, I told [person] that idea was yours and you should be on that project team” is incredibly helpful and helps counterbalance the negative crap she may be subject to.
  5. Elevate women’s presence in the workplace. An article recently describing how women staffers in the Obama White House did this recently made the rounds, and it is worth a read; many of the techniques are the women used easily adaptable to male speakers.  Here are some simple techniques to make sure your women colleagues’ ideas are heard, valued, and credited to them.
    1. Say “thank you.” Saying “thanks so much for helping with [complicated thing]; that was great” reminds everyone that she did that and implicitly that she can do that and things like it. Saying it out loud and in email with appropriate people on copy are both important.
    2. Assign ownership of her ideas to her. When a woman raises an idea, make sure that as discussion goes on, it gets assigned to her: “Another really valuable part of [named woman colleague]’s idea is [this].”
    3. Acknowledge her expertise. “Let’s ask [named woman colleague]; she was so smart about [last related problem].”
    4. Ask to have women included in public workplace events. Saying “why aren’t there any women on this panel?!” can help, but a better approach is often “Can we add [named woman colleague]? She’s so smart about [topic].” The latter elevates expertise and authority, while the former sometimes raises accusations of tokenism.
    5. Call out colleagues who dismiss women’s intelligence, authority, or expertise. Counter their dismissals with statements like “actually, she’s really smart,” “I always ask her first about [topic],” “she killed it on [project].” The calmer and more fact-based you are, the more the dismissive comments sound silly and petty.
    6. Call out colleagues who make sexist remarks about women colleagues. Challenges from men to sexist ways to talking about women are critically important, as women who object are often accused of merely being thin-skinned (!).  “Don’t call [named woman colleague] a bitch.” It’s particularly important for relatively senior men to call out other relatively senior men in front of junior men: the behavior you tolerate at work is the behavior you will get.
  6. Read the comments section of a woman’s article on the internet. Read what male readers say in the comments section about women’s articles: pay particular to comments on articles about science, technology, or sports.  I asked you to believe women: you should also believe the men mean what they say if they call women cunts and hope they are raped.  To feel the weight of the comments, read them out loud, and imagine them directed to your mother, sister, wife, daughter, or any woman you love and respect.