How to be an ally: Say “I believe you”

“The problem is not him nor the woman who works for him. It’s that the pervasive atmosphere of anxiety around gender issues has everybody walking on egg shells and avoiding important truths.”

-Kim Scott

When an issue creates egg-shell anxiety, that’s a sign to me that the issue is critical. 

That we need to talk about it—and bring everyone into the conversation. 

Male managers avoid meeting with women

After the #MeToo movement, 60% of men said they were uncomfortable having mentoring relationships or even having one-on-one conversations with women. 

While #MeToo raised a ton of awareness around the prevalence of sexual harrassment in the workplace, this fear-based backlash hinders women’s ability to rise. 

As Sheryl Sandberg pointed out, “Women already weren’t getting the same mentorship that men were, particularly women of color. And no one has ever gotten a promotion without getting a one-on-one meeting.”

There are other problems with this: 

  • Mathematically, there aren’t enough women in leadership for female-only mentorships.
  • Financially, women are more likely to make more money and receive promotions when they have a male mentor. 
  • Statistically, men also experience benefits from mentoring women—from increased access to information to better interpersonal skills. 

But what about the uncomfortable feeling? What about the attraction issue?

David Smith and Brad Johnson made me laugh out loud with their response to this dilemma: 

Turns out, men have a frontal lobe. 

You can mentor a woman (attractive or not) and still have good judgment. 

You can believe a woman when she brings up a concern—especially if it’s related to harassment. Women are unlikely to make false accusations. 

Allies at work: Say “I believe you”

So what can allies do to alleviate egg-shell anxiety and build professional relationships?

When a woman comes to you with a concern in your workplace, aim first to build trust, second to solve problems. 

Say “I believe you.”

When a woman brings you feedback or asks for advice, be a generous listener—let her share her story. 

Say “Tell me more.”

When a woman is trying to make a decision about her career, don’t assume intentions for her. 

Ask “What do YOU want?”

The more men let women speak, the more equitable our workplaces will become.

We have to do this together. As Kim Scott pointed out, it’s not a male or female problem. It’s a gender politics problem, and we all need to do the work. 


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