I’m writing this on International Women’s Day whilst sitting with a mixed bag of feelings. On the one hand, I have always loved this annual celebration of women, because it’s an opportunity to celebrate the amazing women I work with, amongst my team, and across the sector. And it also needs to be a day when we realise how much more work there is to do, and commit to change.
This week alone The Guardian has reported on new research showing that the gender pay gap between mothers and fathers with post-school education has increased in the UK since the late 1970s. And the Met Police were forced to apologise for their failure to arrest Wayne Couzens for indecent exposure, with one of these incidents occurring just a few days before he murdered Sarah Everard.
So yes, it’s great to see the celebratory posts on social media and the women’s conferences. But we need more than a day. We need consistent, steadfast action to make change, even when it is difficult or painful.
The thing that keeps me optimistic is that I know I am not alone in my frustration. Over the last two years an increasing amount of male leaders have asked me, ‘What can I do to help?’ These men genuinely want to make a difference and do not know where to turn to do it.
If you are one of these men, thank you for asking this question. Here are 5 things you can do today- and every day- to help the women around you.
Ask women to share their stories
This sounds simplistic but I really believe that asking people about their experiences is the first route to understanding what you can do to help. I myself have started asking others ‘What is your experience of the sector as a man/person of colour/any other category? I’d love to hear your story.’ When I have these conversations I am often struck by how others experience things very differently to me- and I also become aware of the similarites between the challenges that people from minority groups face. By asking this question, you then open the door to finding out how you can be a better ally.
Read about women’s experiences
Last year I wrote a blog about what it’s really like to be a woman of colour in tech for good, and was astonished by the response. I had lots of feedback from men who were shocked by what I had experienced and were keen to support their female colleagues. Some of them sent the blog to the women they worked with and asked them if they had experienced anything similar. There are tons of blogs, books and reports out there about women’s stories. One of the best I’ve read is Runnymede’s report ‘Broken Ladders’ about the experiences of women of colour in the workplace. It revealed that 75% of women of colour have experienced racism at work, and 61% had changed themselves to ‘fit in’.
Make your meetings inclusive
This International Women’s Day, look at who is around the table in your meetings, and who is doing the talking. Are women well represented? Which individuals and groups are getting the most airtime? What needs to change? Does your chair need to moderate their style, or are they a beacon of best practice that others can learn from? Harvard Business review have a helpful guide to how to make meetings more inclusive.
Turn on your TV
Some of the best discussions I’ve seen about gender equity are happening in TV and film. She Said, the recent film about the two female reporters who investigated Harvey Weinstein, is a fascinating exploration of toxic power and how to dismantle it. I also found Chivalry, the Channel 4 drama about gender politics, a really refreshing take on what’s happening in the workplace post Me Too.
Focus on practical action
Another question I get asked a lot by men is ‘What do I do if I need to challenge other men?’ The Mayor of London has created a guide for men about calling out sexism.
I hope these steps are useful for the many men out there who want to support women today, and every day.