The study, published in Social Psychological and Personality Science, finds that men can have major influence on workplace gender equality – if they appear to support women, they can change dynamics of hostility and isolation
When women or non-binary people enter a male-dominated workplace, there is a quiet imbalance of power at play. Sometimes, the imbalance is loud.
Even in 2021, gender equality in the workplace is often ambiguous. The COVID pandemic highlighted certain issues, such as women ending up with extra domestic work on top of their fulltime jobs, or how remote working could remove interpersonal opportunities that present themselves organically in the workplace. Pre-COVID, women might be left out of decision-making or excluded from office socialisation. They may face a more difficult climb to progress in their career.
Now, research by the University of Kansas suggests that men can step up effectively to help women in the workplace.
‘Communicating’ values of gender equality
Lead author Charlotte Moser, a graduate student at the University of Kansas, said: “Simply communicating that you care about gender equality and intend to act as an ally for women can make a difference for women’s feelings of inclusion in male-dominated spaces.”
Researchers conducted three studies in which women were asked to imagine that they had received a job offer and were randomly assigned to view a slideshow of their future co-workers, displaying either all-male co-workers or a gender-balanced staff. Certain slideshows included a man expressing support for gender equality, whereas no co-worker mentioned gender equality in the no-ally group.
Participants then completed a questionnaire to indicate the degree to which they would feel isolated or supported by co-workers at the company.
Paternalistic or empowering?
Moser said that while allyship from men could be interpreted as paternalistic, her research found that women perceived an ally to be an empowering figure. Future research, she notes, would do well to explore men’s perceptions of male allies in such workplaces.
Women found that male allies made them feel less isolated and susceptible to hostility.
“We found that stating allyship intentions significantly reduced women’s anticipation of workplace harassment and hostility,” Moser commented.
“Our work also demonstrates that these male allies set norms of equality for an organization.”
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