What Guys Could & Should Do About Gender Bias


The first thing men can do is recognize the limitations of women advocating for themselves à la Sheryl Sandberg. In her famous TED talk, Sandberg acknowledges the biases successful women face—success and likability are positively correlated for men but negatively correlated for women—and tells women to self-promote anyway, to make the culture change around them. But Brescoll points out that women don’t self-promote as much because the research shows that when they do, it simply doesn’t work as well. It can even harm them. “I think a lot of these pieces of advice that we give women really ignore the context that they’re in,” she says. If a workplace is receptive to women who bluntly speak up? Great. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. In a less welcoming environment, it’s helpful to have male allies.

If you’re a man, there are three simple ways you can support the women in your workplace:

#1: Invite women out. (Not that way.) Whether you’re going to lunch with a bunch of people or organizing a weekly poker team, ask women if they’d like to join. Including women in these informal work-related social networks isn’t about not hurting women’s feelings, Brescoll says—it’s about not hurting women’s careers.

#2: Be mindful when hiring people and putting together teams. This page on hiring more women in tech applies to business in general. A few tips: Rethink the language in your job posts, track the gender of your applicants, and reach out to women’s professional groups.

#3: Examine your own biases. This point actually applies to women as well, because you don’t have to be blatantly sexist to buy into gender bias. When you react negatively to a woman who seems too pushy, too angry, or too out-for-herself, try to imagine a man behaving the way she does. Would you still disapprove? The answer might still be “yes,” but it’s worth thinking about.

Are there consequences for being the guy who invites women to the poker team? Brescoll says it probably isn’t cost-neutral in terms of social reputation. But if you’re a man and you don’t want women to face bias in the workplace, “taking a very, very small hit to your social reputation in the long run is worth it if you’re behaving in line with your values,” Brescoll says. Thinking about ethics when you’re just trying to unwind after work can be inconvenient, but it’s important to consider the bigger picture. “We don’t do that enough, which is natural and normal, but it can unfortunately lead to us not being the leaders we should be, not being the coworkers and humans that we should be,” Brescoll adds. “Not even should be—that we want to be.”


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