Experts say forceful and explicit actions are needed — not friendly pablum. Stop any subtle slights and make women’s advocacy a priority.
By Sandra Guy, SWE Contributor
Male executives need to show up forcefully and explicitly to make good on their promises to be allies to their female colleagues in the new COVID-era work world, experts say.
Researchers say it’s all about the details and the multi-tasking, traditionally considered women’s strengths. It means, for example, that men must stay extra aware to stop Zoom-meeting slights against women. They need to set work priorities with exactitude, so women don’t end up doing the equivalent of housekeeping; and act in real time to keep women colleagues in the loop. Studies also indicate that the same levels of heightened awareness are needed to ensure that LGBTQA+ and other historically marginalized colleagues reach their potential, too.
Men who have demonstrated their allyship of women at work say the following examples show how they’ve ensured visibility and responsibilities for their female colleagues. Many of the women continue to work from home because of child care, eldercare, and other priorities amid the highly contagious COVID delta variant now circulating worldwide, making these actions even more important.
- Notice every aspect of video calls, watching for ways that women and other marginalized workers are excluded.
- Eliminate side chats.
- Be clear and specific about your expectations.
Countering new avenues of exclusion
Researchers found that virtual meetings open a new avenue of exclusion: the invisible side conversation. “Managers can easily have ‘chat’ in a different window right alongside the actual meeting, perhaps even coming up with plans that undermine group decisions or making inappropriate remarks about colleagues,” wrote Colleen Ammerman and Boris Groysberg, DBA, co-authors of Glass Half-Broken: Shattering the Barriers That Still Hold Women Back at Work.
“Even if not actively discriminatory, these invisible conversations cement relationships and are impossible to break into,” said the researchers. Ammerman is the director of the Gender Initiative at Harvard Business School, and Dr. Groysberg is the Richard P. Chapman Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School.
“Your impulse might be to huddle with smaller groups, but this instinct will not serve you well,” the co-authors wrote. “You’re likely to find yourself looking at a gallery of faces very similar to your own — those you feel most comfortable with.”
That’s why it’s so important to make your expectations clear. “Prior to meetings, remind people that they should be sharing their views with the full group and not carrying on side conversations that exclude others,” they wrote. “And if you get wind of problematic comments and conversations, make it clear that these exchanges are unacceptable and merit serious consequences.”
Colleen Ammerman, director of the Gender Initiative at Harvard Business School and co-author of Glass Half-Broken: Shattering the Barriers That Still Hold Women Back at Work
Photo Credit: Evgenia Eliseeva
Jesus Garrido, general manager of farm equipment maker John Deere & Co.’s Motores division in Coahuila, Mexico, and a 2020 recipient of the SWE Rodney D. Chipp Memorial Award
Photo Credit: John Deere
Scrap ideas of gender-based roles and benefits
Jesus Garrido, general manager of farm equipment maker John Deere & Co.’s Motores division in Coahuila, Mexico, said he took a page from his personal history being raised to take on family responsibilities that had no gender roles.
“We as a family had no sex segregation of duties. If my mother asked me to wash the dishes, I would,” said Garrido, a 2020 recipient of the SWE Rodney D. Chipp Memorial Award. Garrido earned his bachelor’s degree in chemical and metallurgical engineering from Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México.
When his parents sent Garrido, his two sisters (one was older, the other younger), and four older brothers to Mexico City, where the metropolitan area population stands at more than 20 million, from their hometown of 5,000 people, the siblings divided chores. Garrido ended up cleaning restrooms and divvying up the weekly income that their parents provided for food and transportation. “I was 13 at the time,” he said. “The experience made us work as a team.”
In a similar vein, Garrido said he makes sure to have weekly virtual-contact meetings with employees who work from home. He also meets one-on-one with most of his administrative employees, and he frequently walks the shop floor to make contact with production employees.
The key, he said, is to let employees have “hyper-flexibility” to do their jobs, knowing that he can trust they will do their best work. That lets each person administer their time. And, as an extension, the company acknowledges and accommodates the challenges that working parents face.
Garrido has hired women — several of whom are mothers to small children — as his top advisors. He hired Jockabed Garcia as his human resources manager at Deere & Co.’s Motores division and promoted Yuriko Tanaka, a senior manufacturing engineer, into the operations manager’s role. Tanaka’s husband’s work requires travel, so she shoulders much of the day-to-day responsibility for their two elementary-aged children.
Garrido also hired women for the first time as the division’s safety professional, IT product owner, and loss-prevention engineer. Moving beyond expectations of gender roles, since Garrido took over the Deere operation in Coahuila, Mexico, four years ago, there have been significant increases in women’s representation:
- He hired women as 25% of his staff, compared with none when he started
- Women’s representation as senior managers has grown by 3.6%
- The percentage of women in management with supervisory responsibilities has increased 1.9%
- Female production employees’ numbers have increased 5.68%
Indeed, Garrido said he saw the coronavirus pandemic as an opportunity to do better or to find new ways of doing work. Employees were provided the tools and training they needed to transition during COVID to do their jobs remotely. And he kept Motores John Deere factory’s 450 employees in mind when teambuilding, and social events transferred to virtual technology, rather than being canceled.
Voluntarism events leveraged innovative activities such as asking employees to make videos of themselves singing or dancing or playing an instrument. The participants were rewarded with a gift, and the events’ earnings were donated to a community group.
And during monthly communications meetings, all 450 workers joined virtual sessions to hear about results of projects, programs, and operations. The forum let the workers hear directly from factory management and provide their input and opinions. Garrido also oversaw a program that lets employees rotate from home into the factory and back home so they can stay up-to-date with the latest health and safety protocols, as well as engineering, accounting, and supply management tools and projects that are available only inside the factory.
The book Glass Half-Broken recounts the efforts of former Campbell Soup CEO Doug Conant, who started the company’s first employee resource group, Women of Campbell, to show support for women’s role in helping a company perform better. He saw diversity as central to his turnaround strategy for the then-struggling company when he took over in 2001, according to the co-authors.
“We had to craft an employee value proposition that worked for everybody,” he told the co-authors. Conant also saw cultivating women’s careers as an individual responsibility.
“Denise Morrison succeeded Conant as CEO in 2011, the first woman to hold Campbell Soup’s top post; Conant had mentored Morrison for a number of years before Campbell’s board began looking at its CEO succession role,” according to the chapter “Allies on the Sidelines: The Role of Men.”
Conant told the book’s authors: “I hired Denise Morrison in a staff role as our first chief global customer officer, but then I got her into a profit-and-loss role, and she had a chance to show that she could run line businesses for six or seven years before the board had to have a discussion about my successor. At that point, she had a clear track record of contribution and experience.”
David Smith, Ph.D., left, and Brad Johnson, Ph.D., professors and co-authors of Good Guys: How Men Can Be Better Allies for Women in the Workplace and Athena Rising: How and Why Men Should Mentor Women
Interested in Learning More About Male Allies?
The following resources are available from the SWE Advance Learning Center:
- Diversity in Engineering Matters (2) Confronting Gender Bias – Men and Women as Diversity Partners
- Empowering Women at Work: Why and How to Sponsor Others
- Difficult Conversations about Race & Gender: Building the Skills for Productive Engagement
- Closing the Leadership Gender Gap