Why Don’t Men Advocate For Women in The Workplace?

Well, sometimes men just hate women. Sometimes men love women as long as they aren’t in a position of power over them. But sometimes men want to be allies and advocate for women but don’t, for fear they won’t be taken seriously, or that it isn’t their place. The first two types of men are banned, but the last type is worth a closer look. Here is organizational psychologist Adam Grant, writing for the Atlantic:

Some men want to voice their support, but fear that no one will take them seriously because they lack a vested interest in the cause.

Is this just an excuse, an elaborate self-deception designed to disguise sexist beliefs? I don’t think so. There’s evidence that when a cause seems inconsistent with our self-interest, we fear that we’ll incur a backlash, so we hold back. Research by a pair of psychologists-turned-business-professors, Rebecca Ratner at the University of Maryland and Dale Miller at Stanford, shows that such fears are not without reason. Across a series of studies, when men took action to promote women’s rights, people responded with surprise and anger. Both men and women were shocked and resentful toward the men: What business did they have speaking up for women?

I saw this happen recently when I facilitated a conversation for a group about gender and leadership. A man raised his hand to share his support for bringing more women into leadership positions. I expected enthusiastic reactions from his female peers, but instead, his comment was greeted with skepticism. One woman directly questioned his intentions: What was his ulterior motive? Was he trying to ingratiate himself with women to improve his dating prospects?

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3 Comments / Post A Comment

Allison (#4,509)

I can see this, but let’s all remember that you’re a shitty ally if the only reason you’re supporting a marginalized group is for the kudos.

gyip (#4,192)

@Allison Agreed. But I don’t see the harm in supporting each other too … if we’re in a place to.

I’m OK with telling someone “thanks” for their alliance, though I’m not about to believe they’ve gone above and beyond. I don’t think I need to pretend a man who supports equality is a shiny unicorn.

Allison (#4,509)

@gyip Definitely for mutual support! And I’m still getting better at recognizing that I don’t get cookies just for not being a terrible person/ascribing to a certain level of human decency.

(Also if women are suspicious of a man’s motivations in a scenario like this, I feel like that’s probably because a man in the past has done something to cause that suspicion.)

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