Kirsty Hulse, founder of Roar Training, is on a mission to level the professional playing field with her confidence, communication and allies workshops. She’s penned us a guest blog on how male colleagues can better navigate the nuances of what it means to be a “good ally” to women in the workplace…

Kirsty Hulse, founder of Roar Training

It is no secret that the number of women in power is significantly less than men. In fact, according to the 2019 Female FTSE Index, only 8.6% of executive directorships in FTSE 250 companies are women. Meaning, that ultimately, over 91% of these positions are held by men. What this means, is that whilst women continue to take up space in business and boardrooms, we need additional support from our male allies to increasingly free up space at the table.

This, however, is no easy feat. Often women (myself included) resist reaching out for help for fear of being perceived as weak or vulnerable and likewise, well meaning men can often have a lack of clarity when knowing what to do in order to better support their female coworkers.

Over the course of my career, I have interacted with dozens, if not hundreds, of well-intentioned individuals who struggle to navigate the nuances of what it means to be a “good ally” in the workplace. In other words, there doesn’t seem to be a universally accepted answer to the question how can men best professionally support women, trans and non binary individuals.

In a world where over half (54%) of women actively feel as though their gender has negatively affected their career progression and 31% of men have experienced a female co-worker being treated unfairly because of their gender, this question is as pertinent today as it was half a century ago.

About a month ago, I noticed a spate of sexism happening in the tech industry and the social response to this varied hugely from person to person. Some people called out the behaviour, intentionally outing and shaming the perpetrators. Others defended the perpetrators as it being old mistakes, stipulating it best to focus on positive change. Others shrugged and said it happens. Some women felt as though we were being spoken on behalf of, others felt supported, some men were outraged, others felt attacked.

The main thing that stuck out to me was that those contributing in the conversation were, for the most part, well meaning, but it was a mess, and the differences in discourse were making it messier.

Roar Training began to research the topic of what it meant to be a good ally for all people, in practical terms. In other words, we tried to define evidence based guidance we can collectively draw upon, when navigating the often complex and nuanced challenge of gender parity in the workplace.

Our findings were both surprising and simple (you can read the full report here) though the key findings were that:

There is a disparity between women who feel as though their gender negatively affects their career and men’s perceptions on inequality. 54% of female respondents believe that their gender has negatively affected their career progression. 65% of male respondents believe that their female co-workers are treated equally in the workplace. In support of this, over half (51%) of female respondents report a general sense of wanting to “be believed” when they discuss or report inequality. This is a pertinent issue that needs to be addressed first and foremost. If men are not believing our stories, then how can we encourage them to become our allies and stand up for us in the face of inequality? We need to support one another in raising our voices and being heard. Create groups and processes where women, collectively, can share their stories, seek support and get advice and help.

Several respondents reported that the “open sharing of salary information” would help gender parity. Whilst most companies continue to keep salary information a black box, it becomes harder to be aware of, and consequently, police, the gender pay gap. Companies need to get increasingly comfortable talking about money, through paying all employees fair and equally in accordance with their experience level and their skillset, and have ways to communicate this effectively, we can take tangible steps to ensuring men and women are paid equally for the same work.

Wanting progression to be primarily “merit based” is cited as important. Most women (and men) were not in favour of quotas or box ticking. We want to be seen and awarded for our merit, we want to be hired because we are as good at the job as our male counterparts and we want to be respected and rewarded for the value that we add. This, however, can only really come to play if we have an “awareness of bias” and openly understand and discuss the inherent differences in perception.

Some female respondents think direct action, for sexist behaviour to be “called out”, is a positive route to gender equality. Others respond preferring to “handle it ourselves”. Based on this, the recommendation for male coworkers is to ask female coworkers how best they can support the individual, based on her preferences and nearly all (92%) of female respondents report wanting an open dialogue, where issues can be addressed together, discussed on a case by case basis.

The first step to achieving true gender parity in the workplace is through open conversation. As women, we can share research and statistics on the inequality, discuss our experiences and ask others to work with us, to allow us to bring all our knowledge and unique perceptions to the table, because it is with fostering a wide range of diverse voices, that businesses will continue to grow and succeed.

Author bio

Kirsty Hulse is the Founder of Manyminds, a marketing agency working with clients such as Virgin Atlantic, Claire’s and IBM and has recently founded Roar Training, confidence, communication and allies workshops that level the professional playing field. For nearly ten years, she has travelled around the world speaking at conferences to audiences of thousands, and is a seasoned stand-up comic who ran a sold out one woman show at the 2017 Edinburgh Fringe.

She has trained with ICF accredited Neuroleadership Institute, to apply the fundamentals of neuroscience to enable better conversations, grow self belief and regulate nerves. She believes, passionately, that a recognised, empowered workforce improves collaboration, creativity and internal and external communication. She is a bestselling author of the award nominated “The Future is Freelance” and lives in Devon with her husband and their baby daughter, Amazon Alexa.