The tech industry certainly has its fair share of those that challenged the status quo—and won. As a team, we take the time to learn about, honor and respect those who did. But even in this industry’s incredible history of taking chances on visionaries, most of these victors are men.
As a son, brother, husband, and father to incredible women who ceaselessly amaze and awe, I cannot help but wonder what our industry would be like today if women had been free of barriers placed by systemic injustices and offered the same opportunity to voice their ideas.
A sizeable portion of human progress can be attributed to leaps in innovation and progress by those who society deemed most unlikely to do so (Check out our Women Who Changed Tech blog series). Those who undertake the uphill battle of challenging the norm and paving the way for future generations in a landscape that works against them deserve our respect, our support, and most importantly, our allyship.
But what does it mean to be an ally? What form does true allyship take, particularly for men who want to encourage female thought leadership?
Surely you can find hundreds of articles on how women can do more—suggestions to ask for more, speak up; ask insightful questions. But this is not a one-sided effort. What can men do, as allies, to support women?
It’s a fact that even in the modern world, with all its woke glory, men are still better positioned to influence workplace change. Instead of shrugging our shoulders at years of gender-conferred privilege and organizational power, we should find opportunities to level the playing field. After all, this is not a ‘them vs. us’ situation. If the future is not equitable, then we are all losing.
Here is what I ask of my fellow men in tech: evaluate what allyship means to you. Allyship is not static. It’s a collaborative journey taken for—not with— those that you support. It’s about being critical of systemic inequities so you can decenter the spotlight and enable women to find their justice. Allyship is action.
An important action that we can take as men is to hold each other accountable. In the spirit of International Women’s Month, I want to share some of the actions I believe can work for you, no matter the size of your circle of influence.
Yes, you can, and yes, you should. So many times, men are intimidated to join because they feel the activities and advice given is meant for women, or a male opinion is not welcome. This is simply not true. Get involved, share, listen, and empathize. Awareness brings empathy and empathy makes you a better ally. If you know what women face on a day-to-day basis, you can identify or even pre-empt a situation when a female colleague might want support or encouragement.
If you are enabled, knowledgeable, and connected in the industry, support early in-career women. Individually, career mentees are more likely to develop their career with strong business acumen and high EQ, while on an organizational level, unique perspectives, experiences, and talents can help companies solve complex problems and better understand customer needs. On a global stage, those who fail to take advantage of this are likely to fall behind in innovation and competitiveness.
Sponsorship and mentorship are conflated, but when you sponsor, not only are you mentoring, you are actively promoting and helping a mentee get to the next level. You must hold yourself accountable for the net outcome of your sponsee’s success: building positive role models for other aspiring women and ultimately creating a thriving network of empowered women that address the gender gap.
It’s easy to oversimplify equity by reducing it to mere numbers on spreadsheets: a quick win for momentary recognition for doing the bare minimum. Equity is far more nuanced and complex than we tend to acknowledge. It is a profound and significant responsibility to consistently engage in addressing the root causes of inequality and provide support and resources to underrepresented groups to overcome these barriers.
Diverse opinions, ideas, and thoughts are meant to be celebrated and encouraged. Thoughts should not just be spoken; they need to be heard as well. We cannot level the playing field until the foundation upon which it rests remains unbalanced.
You can shape the culture of any environment you are a part of, be it a household, workplace, or even a community. By questioning your assumptions and shared beliefs and taking the initiative to challenge stereotypes and inequitable practices, you can unlock the full potential of diversity, complexity, and vibrancy needed to face the challenges of the future.