In July, I was thrilled to give my talk in NYC to a standing room only audience and it felt great for a zillion reasons. One being that there is still interest and a fire to understand where we are at as women, as woke men, and as a culture at large. The Q & A portion is always an interesting and exciting moment for me because I get to hear and feel where the talk has landed -- where is the rubber hitting the road? Where is there confusion? Fear or concern? Where is there inspiration? Hope? Excitement? A-ha's?
Many things are the same talk to talk, but there are always different themes that pop out and I've come to notice they capture a center of gravity about what's happening in that particular place and/or moment. 3 and 4 years ago, for instance, in London there was a theme where many women expressed concern how the men in their lives would 'feel' about all of this, and that we should think about that and maybe tread lightly as not to alienate them or upset them too much.
As you can imagine, that thread has not popped up since. 😉
To me, it represented the group who was present AND what the bigger culture was grappling with, where there was an unconscious 'push back' of the social norms that would be threatened by the kind of change that we talk about in the 2 hours. It's never right or wrong, good or bad, I have come to understand...just fascinating and REALLY great intel.
So, in NYC I was noticing a few themes but one more than the others -- it was coming from the men in the room. More and more, men are coming to the talk which is not only fabulous, it's vital. Because in order for change to REALLY occur, this is a joint venture. It's a change not just across gender lines, it's a change in VALUES. And for the men who are on board with a set of values based on total and complete inclusivity for all, and respect for all, we desperately need them. And they, like they rest of us, will benefit from an increase of inclusivity and acceptance because they are trapped by 'SHOULDS' of masculinity too. (see Terry Crew's video about TOXIC MASCULINITY here...holy moly.)
MEN AS ALLIES is a term I've heard more and more. Interestingly, a week before the talk, I was asked to give my corporate version GOOD GIRLS AREN'T CEOs at a high-powered accounting firm in Manhattan. It was a summit attended by women employees of all backgrounds, job titles, experience, and location. They were part of a movement at this company - a FUNDED and SUPPORTED movement - to make real and lasting change across gender lines. One of their key elements of that strategy was the MEN AS ALLIES group -- male employees of all levels who had volunteered to be supporters and allies in this 'fight', a concept that has caught on and is integral to the success of these missions (articles are listed below). I was able to attend their portion of the summit before my own. Threads emerged.
AND they also emerged a month prior when speaking with Jules Munn (founder and A.D. of The Nursery Improv Theater) on his podcast about all things improv when I was in London. He specifically wanted to go into gender and the podcast ended with a discussion about 'what men who WANT to help (be allies) need to do?'
It's a tremendously important topic -- how can men BE allies to women in this post #MeToo world? We have seen how silence is NOT a good strategy. It's not even a strategy really, more of a cop out, let's be real. Men who want to be part of the NEW and the INCLUSIVE world that we are all responsible for building may not know exactly HOW to be an ally. I saw it in the men at the accounting firm...I heard it in the questions and comments at my talk...and in discussions with fellow improvisers and teachers. The answer I have given the MOST is this:
Listen and don't assume you understand the issues. We know you want to fix it or solve it but I'm not sure you even grasp what IT is yet. And a quick fix IS NOT it. It requires introspection, investigation, and probably some rewiring. (which is why I love Terry Crews' AWE-INSPIRING and COURAGEOUS Makers Conference 2019 talk...he nails this point on the effin' head!) (It's ALSO not that far off from a list I found--included below--in a HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW article below, which also nails it on the effin' head!)
Once again, the magic of improv teaches us MUCH MORE than how to be mildly funny on a stage for 2 minutes. One of the ways we like to explain the "art of listening" at Improvolution is by saying to be a good improviser, you must listen to understand not listen to respond. The world needs a LOT of good improv right now.
And if you have some amazing MEN AS ALLIES in your life right now - friends, family, co-workers - consider sharing that list with them, or even creating a dialogue at yours & their places of work and create a MEN AS ALLIES team!
Gender Expectation effects us all…this is no longer “women vs. men”…it’s about values, shoulds, and co-creating a world based on respect and inclusivity. THAT will take all of us working together.
First, just listen! Consultant Chuck Shelton reminds men that listening to women’s voices in a way that inspires trust and respect is a fundamental relationship promise you must make, and then keep, with women who invite you to participate around equity. Generous, world-class listening requires focus, sincerity, empathy, refusal to interrupt, and genuine valuing of both her experience and her willingness to share it with you.
Respect the space. Women’s conferences and ERGs are often one outgrowth of experiences of exclusion, marginalization, and discrimination. Many of these experiences are painful. Large events and local resource groups have afforded women a powerful platform for sharing experiences, providing support, and strategizing equity initiatives. Tread respectfully into these spaces and before you utter a word, revisit the recommendation above.
Remember, it’s not about you. Ask women how you can amplify, not replace or usurp existing gender parity efforts. A large dose of gender humility will help here. Decades of research on prosocial (helpful) behavior reveals a stark gender difference in how it is expressed. While women often express helpfulness communally and relationally, men show helpful intentions through action-oriented behaviors. Sometimes, we need to rein this in. Refrain from taking center stage, speaking for women, or mansplaining how women should approach gender equity efforts.
Get comfortable being uncomfortable. Developing psychological standing requires a commitment to learning and advocating for gender equity. Learning about the professional challenges of women may produce feelings of self-shame or self-blame that cause anxiety. The solution is more interaction and learning, not less.
Engage in supportive partnerships with women. The best cross-gender ally relationships are reciprocal, and mutually growth-enhancing. Share your social capital (influence, information, knowledge, and organizational resources) with women’s groups but ask them — don’t assume — how you can best support their efforts.
Remember the two parts to allyship. Keep in mind that committing to express as little sexism as possible in your interactions with women is the easy part of allyship. The hard part requires you to take informed action. Use your experience in women’s events and initiatives to learn how you can best become a public ally for social justice around gender. When the time comes, this may require you to upset the status quo.
MEN AS ALLIES articles:
*from my August 2019 newsletter