“Yes, but does the workplace actually encourage women?”
The question has become common, especially since the #MeToo movement, as more women have been prioritizing safer and more encouraging work environments. The pandemic has pushed this conversation further, as it forced more women to consider quitting their jobs as burnout and caregiving took focus. According to one study, one in four women considered leaving the workforce since the pandemic began.
Finding a safe and comfortable workplace has always been a challenge for women, but there is something men can do to be better allies at work.
A new study by the University of Kansas shows that women can be made to feel safer and more included simply by a single male co-worker expressing solidarity and support for a more gender-equal workplace.
When women saw that they had a male ally present at work, they felt more included and respected.
The study conducted three separate reviews, where groups of over 1,000 women were asked how they identify allies at a workplace and analyzed their responses. The women said they felt less isolated and less afraid of harassment, when even one male colleague said simple, encouraging words, such as “I am committed to creating a gender-equal environment and will be an ally for women colleagues.” Of course, there are many instances, where allies will say reassuring and encouraging words but not walk the talk. However, the study doesn’t account for performative words and instead, focuses on how affirmative statements of support make women feel more welcome in the workplace.
“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,” Charlotte Moser, a co-author of the study, said in a statement.
When women saw that they had a male ally present at work, they felt more included and respected, and were more reassured that they would be treated fairly. According to Moser, this indicates that men are still seen as the deciders of workplace culture norms, and hence women will naturally look to them to set the tone of how they will be treated.
What is notable, however, is that the same phrases of allyship coming from a female coworker did not have the same impact as when it was coming from a male coworker. The study, thus, underlined the amount of influence men can have in creating a more open and equal workplace as most women anticipate workplace harassment and inequality, when taking up a new job or project.