How Men Can Be Better Allies for Women, at Work and Home

BY Angelica Frey | December 13, 2020

Throughout the pandemic, women are the ones who’ve borne the brunt of the distress. The recent Women in the Workplace survey by McKinsey & Company and LeanIn.Org found that one in four women are considering downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce, largely because of the critical shortage of childcare. An alarming number have already left. In September, of the nearly 1.1 million workers who dropped out of the workforce, about 865,000 were women, while 216,000 were men, according to the National Women’s Law Center. We’re in the middle of a she-cession, a mass exodus of women from the workforce, with women of color particularly affected.

Women were already at a disadvantage at home and in the workplace, carrying most of the load as parents and enduring longstanding inequities on the job. Now that the situation has become an emergency, one of the pressing questions is whether women will be expected to solve these issues on their own. They shouldn't, according to the authors of the new book Good Guys: How Men Can Be Better Allies for Women in the Workplace, by professors David G. Smith and W. Brad Johnson. They argue that men, who are often the most influential stakeholders in an organization, need to pitch in–now more than ever. “I think companies are wrestling with, How do we prevent losing two or three decades of progress on diversity and inclusion when it comes to gender? And that's a huge challenge,” said Johnson in a conversation with the co-authors moderated by Faye Penn, executive director of women.nyc. Speaking at From Day One’s recent conference on how employers can help working parents, the authors offered insights from their longtime research on gender equity:

No, It’s Not Just a “Women’s Thing”: “Too often we find that men hear words like women or diversity or equity, or inclusion about gender, and they immediately check out. They assume that's a women's thing: That's not for me, I don't really have a role in that. I don't have a voice. That’s not me. Men have been nowhere in sight,” said Johnson. “We want to flip the script. It’s not about women, this is about leadership–inclusion, equity, making people feel genuine, belonging–this should all be part of our leadership’s brand.” On that note, to some men, it’s quite an abstract concept. “Guys believe in gender equity, but most will say they’re not sure what their role is,” said Smith. “The guys who really do believe in it, they’re not doing as much as what they think they are.”

What About Your Household? Allyship does not end in the workplace. “We’re never gonna get to equity if it’s always women who have to step away from work during the pandemic,” said Johnson, noting that, when it comes to domestic duties that arise during work-from-home situations, women tend to do twice the work of their partner. (Single moms, of course, carry an even greater burden.) “As long as that’s the case, no matter how good we are at work, they’re always going to have this double shift,” he said. So, any man partnered with a woman should ask himself the following questions: Am I doing my share of the housework, of the child care, of everything that comes with that? Am I helping with the emotional labor of running a family? Am I planning the next event? Do I know my children's clothing sizes? These concerns tend to fall on women–and tend to go unacknowledged by men.

Role Modeling Works: At home, seeing their father being engaged in household and family-management chores gives a good example for both sons and daughters, the authors pointed out. Sons will learn that equally heavy lifting in the house is the norm. Daughters, by contrast, will grow up to expect the same from their own partners. At work, Smith said, men who want to be good allies of their female coworkers should talk about having to take one of the kids to the doctor, or having to leave a little earlier for a parent-teacher conference. In the good examples they’ve observed, “They talked about leaving loudly, they made it very visible when they were leaving and why they were leaving,” Smith said. “That’s to role-model for the junior men [at work].” This also means de-stigmatizing flex-work arrangements. “Most of us recognize that these are not women's programs anymore,” he said. “Not that they ever were before, it's just that women took advantage of them more often than men did.”

The Rules Have to Be Backed up by the Culture: If a company establishes equitable parenting policies for men and women, but fosters a culture that discourages fathers from taking advantage of them, the situation tends to prolong the inequity. Fear of being sidelined is strong, especially among men. While young fathers do want to lean in and be better partners at home, knowing that it’s better for a child’s development, they often face this kind of headwind, both from their supervisors and their peers. “If a guy takes two months [to take care of his new baby], men are like, Dude, why do you wanna be home with a baby? That’s something we have to overcome,” said Johnson.

Speaking on allyship in the workplace, clockwise from upper left: moderator Faye Penn of women.nyc and authors David G. Smith and W. Brad Johnson (Image by From Day One)

America Is Not Scandinavia, But We Should Do Better: It’s well known that other countries have better maternity- and paternity-leave policies than the U.S.–120 countries offer paid maternity leave. In the U.S., the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows employees 12 weeks of leave after the birth of a child, but they’re not required to be paid and only 60% of workers are eligible. America’s laws tend to reflect its traditional views toward work and family. “The notion of what work is, and the nature of work–it's this very individualistic perspective that we have that, Hey, having children is your choice,” said Smith. “There’s no collectivist idea that children are a natural thing, that we should have children, and that it's healthy for our country and our families and our society to do that.”

Plus, there’s the conditioning of the American Dream: That if we work hard enough, then we can move up. As a corollary, taking time off is not a sign of hard work. It’s a notion that’s hard to shake off, even subconsciously. “I believe in the American Dream, too,” said Smith. “But I also believe that we have to support our families, because they're going to have children. And part of a healthy society is having that support network there.”

Angelica Frey is a writer and a translator based in Milan and Brooklyn.


RELATED STORIES

Involving Employees in the Journey of Technological Transformation

The abundance of new talent-focused tech tools are changing the way human resources practitioners, recruiters, and people operations leaders do their jobs. But as new tools are adopted, it’s often done with HR users in mind, and omitted from the selection and deployment processes is the end user: the employee.How to create an inclusive dialogue with workers about new tech was the topic of conversation among a panel of talent acquisition leaders during From Day One’s June virtual conference. The group of leaders addressed tech at all points of the employee lifecycle, from recruitment to career development.The Latest in Recruitment TechnologyThanks to the latest in HR tech, people teams now have the ability to hyper-customize the applicant and employee experiences at the earliest points of interaction. “We’re far beyond the days of just being tailored towards persona,” said panelist Shaunda Zilich, senior director of employer brand and talent attraction at hospitality company Marriott. The application experience can now be tailored to individual applicants. For instance, if a job seeker was looking at a housekeeping job at a hotel in the Atlanta area, “when they click on that job, the whole website can then change to say, ‘Here are some other jobs you might be interested in. They have this same skill set, they’re at the Atlanta location, and here’s an associate’s story that is tagged with that experience.’ I think that helps [applicants] self-select out, help them fulfill their purpose, and help us with retention.”According to Nico Roberts, the chief business officer at frontline talent acquisition platform Fountain, this level of customization represents the best in employer branding and recruitment. “Those companies that are absolutely crushing it are the ones that are providing a beautiful, personalized experience to the applicants,” he said. Testing Tools With the End User BaseWhen it comes to identifying new tools and use cases, panelists recommended HR teams get deeply involved as users. The companies that provide the best experience, says Roberts, are “those companies that take their entire teams, not just the workers, and put themselves through the process once every six months to see what’s changed. What’s the experience?” he said.The panelists discussed the topic, "Creating an Inclusive Dialogue With Workers About New Technology" at From Day One's June virtual conference (photo by From Day One)Zilich involves her team regularly. “I challenge my team all the time: When’s the last time you filled out an application on our website or on our competitors’ websites? We should be out there experiencing the technology firsthand and putting ourselves in their shoes.”But don’t forget to include the end users in testing and selection. “If you test with the actual workers or applicants, you start to see where they’re getting hung up. At the end of the day, they’re the ones who are supposed to use this,” said Roberts.Using Tech to Assess Skills and Develop Your WorkforceOne of the most popular applications for HR tech is workforce skill development. Cheryl Petersen, the talent resourcing leader for the Americas region at engineering consulting company Arup, uses regular assessments to gauge technical expertise and identify areas for improvement. Whatever skills and capabilities are most relevant to Arup’s clients get priority. “With all those insights, you can then evaluate your internal capabilities. You’re then determining appropriate workforce solutions and you’re able to say, ‘Are we going to need to recruit new talent? Do we need to develop upskill or deploy current talent? Are we going to have to utilize temp labor or subcontractors to address skills gaps?’” Petersen said. These assessments also help workers identify their current skill inventory–and where they need to develop new skills to stay sharp and relevant. “We want our employees to be improving and focusing on skills development that allows them to be addressing client needs,” she said.As an employer introduces new tools it expects workers to use, it’s natural to meet some resistance to change and even trepidation about how it might affect workers’ future job prospects. At media company Hearst, senior director of talent programs Maris Krieger works hard to assuage workers’ worries about being replaced by the latest tools, like artificial intelligence. “We always are doubling down on this idea that this tool is in your toolbox. It’s not taking over your jobs. It’s not replacing you, it’s augmenting and it’s freeing your time to do more valuable things.” Still, she said, workers should be aware of the skills they need to develop to stay relevant. Long-term resistance could put them at a significant disadvantage. Further, don’t overlook internal applications. Krieger pointed out that skill-development tools are just as relevant to boosting internal mobility as they are for recruiting. Recruiters and HR practitioners aren’t insulated from worry that their jobs are in jeopardy, of course. There are plenty of HR tech tools leveraging AI to improve processes, and it has some in the department concerned about their roles. But, Zilich says, talent acquisition professionals should see it as an opportunity. In particular, using the recruiting and skill-matching tools to take arduous tasks off their plates.“If recruiters really think back to why they got into recruiting, they probably got into recruiting for the coaching and the human side of it, the relationship side of it, and helping people find their fit and organization,” she said. “So if they can actually use the skill-matching and see the impact, they’re no longer going through hundreds of resumes, they’re spending their time coaching the hiring manager, coaching the candidate, and helping the person find the right fit.”Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza is a freelance journalist and From Day One contributing editor who writes about work, the job market, and women’s experiences in the workplace. Her work has appeared in the Economist, the BBC, The Washington Post, Quartz, Fast Company, and Digiday’s Worklife.

Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza | July 01, 2024

What It Takes to Put the Employee at the Center of Remote Work

Be tenacious. Be authentic. Be inclusive. Be “un-boring.” These are just some of the stated cultural values of Yelp that first attracted Chief People Officer Carmen Amara to the organization. So was the opportunity to work fully remotely. Thanks to its vibrant corporate culture and agility in employee listening, Yelp has been able to establish a remote-work policy that puts employee well-being first.Studies suggest that remote workers tend to get less mentoring and fewer promotions than their in-office colleagues. But by investing in employee experience, companies committed to their remote workers can provide equitable opportunities for career advancement and professional growth. Amara offered an inside look at how Yelp does it during a fireside chat at From Day One’s May virtual conference.Recognizing Remote Work as a Viable StructureMany companies have begun instituting return-to-work policies, said moderator Jessi Hempel, senior editor-at-large at LinkedIn and host of the “Hello Monday” podcast. But Yelp “has really gone the other direction and held firm,” remaining fully remote. This aligns with Yelp’s value “to be ‘un-boring,’” Amara said.Amara herself was attracted to the organization because of this policy. “I was excited about the fact that this really opens the aperture for us to be able to attract great talent, regardless of where they are,” she said. “It also helps me as a professional to develop my own work and life fit, and live in the place that’s most conducive to my life.” She is able to use the time previously spent commuting to pursue her own personal interests and passions.Despite remote work’s popularity among employees, the prevailing belief among many corporations right now, Hempel says, is that “energy is lagging, people are not connected, learning is not happening, and innovation is not happening.” But Yelp has the data to prove that remote work really works. In February, Yelp released its Remote Work Report, which showed that 90% of Yelp employee respondents found effective ways to collaborate remotely, 86% said they found ways to connect as a team, and 91% felt they had pathways to career progress.Keep Listening, Stay Agile, and Cultivate Cultural ValuesThe key to developing a remote work plan that works is listening to employees and being prepared to respond to feedback quickly. “What led to this decision [to go fully remote] was really to understand from our employees what was working and what they were struggling with, very early on,” Amara said. Yelp conducted a series of carefully tailored surveys to dig deep into what employees felt they needed, then took immediate action. “Rather than wait until we had figured out how to develop this perfect program, things were moving quickly. So we had to reimagine the experience and work with our employees to co-create what the new reality was going to be,” she said. Yelp had to be “willing to get it wrong, and then iterate and change.”Even while building a new remote structure Yelp kept “leaning into the culture that we've already established” she said. When Yelp was first founded, its offbeat corporate identity was wrapped up in its San Francisco location. But now employees are beaming in from all over the world. “We try to frame the narrative about our company through the employee experience and the employee lens. So we let our employees tell their stories about what it’s like to work for Yelp, and it’s always grounded in those values,” Amara said.Carmen Amara of Yelp, left, was interviewed by Jessi Hempel of LinkedIn, rightYelp prioritizes making sure employees feel connected to one another. “We enable our managers to do what makes sense for their teams, because they know their employees best,” Amara said. “But we are very focused on deliberate and intentional connection.” Yelp accomplishes this through regular team meetings and quarterly town halls, both at the department and the company level. It also has employee resource groups to bring workers together, united by topics they are passionate about.And even being fully remote, it’s not all virtual, Amara says. “There still is a place for purposeful in-person connection. We also have a strategy that we call IRL, ‘in real life,’ where leaders get their teams together in-person once or twice a year, simply to have fun and form more of an emotional connection.” “Fun is so key to a cohesive culture,” Hempel agreed.Focusing on Professional DevelopmentYelp is still perfecting its remote professional development opportunities, Amara says, which are, as always, driven by employee listening data. Initial surveys had shown that employees were eager for coaching, mentorship, and skill-building opportunities, which led to the development of a program for exactly that. But participation has now tapered off. “We have a disconnect around when we say, ‘coaching’ and ‘mentorship.' We may be thinking differently about that than what some of our employees are actually looking for,” Amara said. But, unafraid to try and fail, Yelp is taking that information back to the drawing board to develop a stronger program for the future.Amara also cites AI as an potential opportunity for HR to explore in the coming years, particularly its ability to positively impact the employee experience. “It’s something that we all need to stay connected to. It’s not the domain of the engineers. Having the ‘people’ people at the table as we're making decisions around how we’re going to implement this technology is critical,” she said.Ultimately, Amara and her team are driven by a focus on positivity and leaning into success. “The biggest lesson that I’m trying to apply in my current role is that focusing on people’s strengths will get you a lot further than focusing on their weaknesses or opportunities,” she said.Katie Chambers is a freelance writer and award-winning communications executive with a lifelong commitment to supporting artists and advocating for inclusion. Her work has been seen in HuffPost and several printed essay collections, among others, and she has appeared on Cheddar News, iWomanTV, and CBS New York.

Katie Chambers | June 19, 2024

Trust and Transformation: The Role of Coaching in Employee Development

Sarah Sheehan, founder and CEO of Bravely, says her most memorable coaching story involves a young woman of color who was having difficulty finding the confidence to ask her manager about getting a promotion or a raise.“She had put in the work over time and had done multiple jobs,” Sheehan said during an executive panel discussion at From Day One’s May virtual conference. “This is a case where we were pretty sure on the coaching side that if she were to move forward and talk to her manager, that would propel her to a better place.”The end result was “that she did, in fact, get a promotion, much to her surprise,” Sheehan told moderator Lydia Dishman of Fast Company. “This is a great example of the huge gap where we often give coaching to the people in more senior roles, when really everyone deserves coaching, from your first job to the C-level.”Coaching is the most powerful resource a company can provide its employees because of its individualized nature, says Sheehan. Having a coach is somewhat like having “a work therapist, because what is impacting us in our personal life translates to our professional life and impacts how we show up at work.”Building a Relationship Based on TrustAny coaching relationship must be based on trust. The employee “has to believe you’re there for them and working with them, and really understanding what will be shared or not shared,” said William Agostini, senior advisor, strategic HR at SABIC.The employee also has to have faith that the coach “understands the realities of where they are,” Agostini said. Additionally, “coaches should not be projecting their own culture onto someone else. There are realities of different cultures and situations.”However, coaches also need to see and hear employees as individuals, versus whatever gender, age, or cultural label you might want to put on them, says Agostini. In addition, he recommends giving employees “the opportunity to give you feedback about your assumptions.”Building an atmosphere of trust pays dividends in terms of employee retention, says Isobel Lincoln, SVP of HR for Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield. Over the past two and a half years, every team member who received executive coaching is still there.“They come into it feeling like, ‘Wow, this is something really for me. I can transform personally and professionally,’” Lincoln said.The panelists spoke during a session titled, "Conscious Coaching: Guiding and Recognizing Talent with a Holistic Approach"Support from key stakeholders, including management, ensures that the employee receiving the coaching is getting feedback “which means that they're also helping to rewrite the script in whatever way they need to, whether it's just elevating and building confidence as a leader or changing some of those behaviors,” Lincoln said.Determining Who to CoachSean Allen, a SVP of strategy & talent solutions, at MDA Leadership Consulting, says he’s been asked to coach employees whose performance issues are so severe that they triggered an HR investigation. “That’s not what I would consider a good application of coaching,” he said.Coaching works best when it is designed to be more aspirational, says Allen. The goal should be to “create role models in change, and change champions,” he said. “But beyond that, from a macro perspective, one thing I know we really rely on is broad and objective assessment based on formalized high potential models. That’s important because objectivity talks to fairness in a way that washes out bias as much as you can, and gives everybody a fair chance.”This approach ensures companies invest in a diverse group of employees, says Allen. He said it also helps determine “who has what kind of ceiling and what kind of potential.”The Role of Mentors and SponsorsMentors and sponsors also have a crucial part to play in helping employees advance in their careers.Sarah Waltman, VP of global talent management and organizational development at Dentsply Sirona says that while coaches assist individuals along their journey, mentoring involves sharing your experiences with mentees. Sponsoring “is really about opening up some doors or finding some access to experiences that they wouldn’t otherwise have,” she said.Coaching, mentoring, and sponsorship can all take place simultaneously. However, an employee might switch lanes, such as going from coaching into mentoring for a little bit, and then returning for more coaching or entering into a sponsorship, says Waltman.Allen says that coaching, mentoring and sponsoring “can and should coexist in a complementary fashion to form a powerful ecosystem of development support.”“For example, as a standard practice we leverage something called the growth network inside of a coaching engagement,” he said. “That brings into play sponsors, mentors, people who are in real business situations with the leader and can give them feedback. So it’s not coaching in a vacuum.”Coaching Remote EmployeesEven though pandemic restrictions have ended, working from home has not for some coaches and the employees they work with.“For me, it’s actually been amazing to have the coaching contacts because even though I'm not in person with a lot of my peers and hires, having some of those coaching engagements has allowed me to get to know them,” Waltman said.But remote work also presents certain challenges for employees when they try to show how they have grown as a result of coaching, says Lincoln.“How can you support them to think through proactive ways for them to demonstrate this new mindset, this new leadership capability, and strategic thinking?” she said. “I think strong ownership and promotional campaigning in an authentic, positive way is something to be extra mindful of, because it’s going to take them extra time and effort to be able to showcase that change they’ve undergone.”Mary Pieper is a freelance writer based in Mason City, Iowa.

Mary Pieper | June 14, 2024