March was Women’s History Month. Even though it ended, let us not forget that it is now more important than ever to foster a culture of safety, not just physical but emotional, to ensure everyone feels heard and included. Women cannot be the only ones advocating for gender equity, and I firmly believe that men are a vital part of this effort; they need to be part of the solution.
According to the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), nearly 2.2 million women left the workforce in 2020 between February and October, and while women gained 188,000 jobs in January 2022, they are still short by more than 1.8 million jobs lost since February 2020.
Women in tech who share their experiences with me often feel isolated in their fight against prejudice because people around them are too afraid to speak up, especially men. It is time for all males to show up explicitly to make good on their promises to be allies to their female colleagues, especially in male-dominated industries such as tech.
The question now is, how can we retain our employees and support the women in our workplace as we continue to address the challenges presented by the pandemic? One way is for companies to address bias and update their hiring practices. Another is to foster a culture where men and nonbinary individuals become allies to the female and transgender women working alongside them.
Allyship involves constant learning. Here are five ways that men can show up for their female colleagues:
1. Educate Yourself And Learn The Facts
The women’s rights movement goes back hundreds of years, and educating yourself on it is a vital element of the fight against inequality. It is crucial to resist the urge to enforce your ideas and listen more than you speak as an ally. This is an excellent opportunity for men to practice not taking up space. Men who want to help, give your undivided attention to your female colleagues when they speak, give credit when credit is due, and don’t expect women to take notes, organize events, or schedule follow-up meetings all the time. Microaggressions add up to wear down women’s confidence. Please pay attention to them and speak up.
2. Amplify Women’s Voices And Celebrate Their Accomplishments
I am intentional about actively promoting and elevating women in tech because they often don’t get it from anyone else. I was fortunate to have a male mentor who did that for me, and it helped me change the way I saw myself. Men don’t need to be in a leadership position; you can do it in a meeting, a group chat, or when speaking with other colleagues. The same goes for housework, but because housework is unpaid, it often goes unnoticed. It is crucial for men to assist with household chores and even out the load in two-parent households, including participating in childcare duties.
3. Provide Support Through Mentorship And Sponsorship
As previously mentioned, my mentor helped me believe in myself, but the work he did as a sponsor is what propelled my career. Sponsors offer opportunity, connection and, more importantly, visibility. As a sponsor, men have a unique ability to create tangible opportunities for others as they have a vested interest in their protege’s success. Sponsorship is also important because “those who report having a sponsor also tend to be paid more.”
4. Speak Up Against Stereotypes Publicly
I’ve learned over the years that silence is complicity and its only purpose is to perpetuate the cycle of acts oppressing women as microaggressions. It may feel uncomfortable at first, but you can lead by example when women get interrupted and perhaps interrupt the perpetrator or ask reflective questions to help them think about their actions. A great example of speaking up is refusing to participate in male-only panels (Manels) and pushing back for more diversity and inclusion. Another one is to be aware of stolen ideas and be mindful during meetings and ask women to share their opinions if they haven’t spoken at all to make sure everyone is heard.
5. Let Go Of Your Ego And Be Ready To Feel Uncomfortable
Your commitment to learning and advocating for gender equity must be greater than your need to feel comfortable at all times. Research shows that a man’s willingness to confront sexism increases when they learn to reflect on their privilege. It will be impossible for men to understand everything women go through, but you can ask questions, listen and take time to reflect. It is OK to make mistakes; we all do, and you can apologize instead of trying to mask it.
Gender diversity across all levels of organizational leadership leads to more innovation, profitability and better decision-making. Achieving gender equity requires men to be engaged as gender advocates and question the power dynamics in their words and actions. The constant oppression of women, including sexism, has always been presented as a women’s issue when these are men’s problems. The only question is, are you ready to accept the challenge and work with us to bring about change? I don’t think women would be fighting for equality at all if men weren’t fighting back. Being a faithful ally isn’t about the label. It’s about showing up and making space for the voices that some have been taught to tune out.
Today, I ask all men to look for opportunities to give the women they work with input that can help them learn and grow. I ask men to help us promote healthy and respectful manhood. I ask men to realize that by helping us, they are also supporting and liberating themselves. I invite men to join us in demonstrating that emotions are a strength and vulnerability, a new superpower.
This article originally appeared on Forbes and has been republished with permission.