Celebrating International Women’s Day: How to be an ally in the workplace and combat gender inequality
Celebrating International Women’s Day on 8th March 2022 and the #BreakTheBias campaign, in this blog Grace Randall shares her insights into how to be an ally in the workplace.
“I am a strong woman because a strong woman raised me.”
I am very fortunate to have been raised by the strongest and most independent woman I know, my mother. Throughout my life, I have been very aware of gender bias, the lack of female representation and the microaggressions that women face in everyday life. I’m passionate about achieving gender equality and working to #BreakTheBias, and you can help support this change by being an ally.
An ally will recognise their privilege and help act on these inequalities by taking responsibility in supporting others to bring visibility and tangible change to the systemic issues that differently impact individuals, groups and communities. Anyone can be an ally – whatever your job role or class/socio-economic background, you can support women in the workplace and make a difference.
Even though I have lived experience of facing bias as a woman, I am very aware that I have privilege as a white, cisgender, heterosexual and non-disabled woman. It’s important to be mindful of intersectionality as women of colour, LGBT+ women and disabled women all face further compounded discrimination.
Being an ally in the workplace
Here are my recommendations for how to be an ally to women in the workplace:
- Be mindful of your privilege: Recognising and acknowledging your own privilege isn’t something to be ashamed of and it doesn’t say you haven’t experienced hardship, it’s simply recognising that you haven’t faced discrimination due to one (or more) of your identity characteristics. Be empathetic and try to think of how you can use your position to help raise awareness of inequalities and encourage positive change. Actively call out inappropriate behaviour and stand up for those less heard and recognise when it is appropriate to say less to give others space.
- Be informed and ask questions: It’s okay to not know all the answers or understand everything about gender bias. Being comfortable with the feeling of being uncomfortable is very powerful! It’s a big step to be inquisitive when trying to educate yourself, but make sure you do so in a sensitive and respectful manner. Take responsibility for your own learning and undertake research and read to extend your knowledge. Ask questions but be mindful of the cognitive and emotional load that sharing their experiences may have on women and minoritised groups.
- Language: ‘You’re strong for a girl’ ‘Only a man could do that job’ ‘Boys will be boys’. Call out ‘banter’ that has sexist stereotypes or remarks as it’s punchline. It can be uncomfortable to challenge others, but it is important to do so. Language and the phrases we use are crucial and can perpetuate stereotypes and bias. The words we choose speak volumes about how we view women. It is also important to be avoid using terms such as ‘girls’ or ‘guys’ for adults at work when addressing mixed gender groups.
- Listen: Active listening is a crucial element of being an ally. Take a moment to pause and reflect, then acknowledge those feelings or reactions and that you might be biased with your response. Be empathetic rather than dismissive when speaking with women, understand other possible reactions by reframing your thoughts. Try to search for the most empowering, productive way to deal with the situation.
- Speak up: If you witness bias in action, don’t be just a bystander be an active bystander. When challenging behaviours, you do not need to be aggressive in your approach – be assertive and ask questions such as ‘What makes you say that?’ or ‘Why do you believe that?’. Reflecting their statement back to them can also force them to reflect on what they’ve said, and how this may have been received. Another powerful method is not respond for a while – silence will speak volumes and potentially leave the individual feeling awkward about their behaviour, which also encourages reflection and a response. If you do not get a response, ideally still raise the point of concern – silence in itself may not make the point.
Reflecting their statement back to them can also force them to reflect on what they’ve said, and how this may have been received. Another powerful method is to simply not respond – silence will speak volumes by filling the void and make them feel awkward about their behaviour.
Championing other women
It’s also important for women to champion each other, and it’s something I personally strive to do every day. From supporting other women at my gym in a typically male environment, celebrating success stories of women, encouraging women to be bold and sharing resources to raise awareness. Small and constant conscious actions contribute towards the fight for equality, and I’m very fortunate to be able to work for a company such as EW Group who are champions for real cultural change.
“Here’s to strong women. May we know them, may we raise them. May we be them.”
- Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado-Perez
Why ‘We Should All Be Feminists’ by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
- The Persistence of Gender Inequality by Mary Evans