Why is today special? Today is the birthdate of former Associate Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. In her memory, we celebrate her accomplishments and her passion for gender equality advocacy.
According to Kim Elsesser in Forbes, “How did Ruth Bader Ginsburg become such a feminist rock star? Ginsburg learned about gender discrimination firsthand at school and in the workplace. At Harvard Law School, Ginsburg and other female students were questioned by the dean as to why they felt they were entitled to take the spot of an aspiring male lawyer. Ginsburg realized that women could never achieve equality with men if outdated stereotypes were holding them back. Prior to her tenure on the Supreme Court, she challenged law after law where women and men were provided different rights due to gender stereotypes.”
Today is also Equal Pay Day, an annual observance that symbolizes the ongoing issue of pay disparity and the wage gap between men and women. The date itself symbolizes how far into the year women must work to earn as much as men during the previous year.
As a member of the Twitterverse for more than 13 years, I always enjoy meeting new people and learning from them. To quote Matthew Kobach (@mkobach), "Twitter is a key that unlocks thousands of doors, some of which you never even knew existed." Recently, I connected with David Smith from Baltimore, Maryland, and invited him to appear here on my Blog in a Q&A discussion about men’s role in promoting gender equality in the workplace, diversity, and leadership. Highlights of our conversation follow a brief introduction.
David Smith, PhD, is co-author of the book, Good Guys: How Men Can Be Better Allies for Women in the Workplace and an Associate Professor at the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School. A former Navy pilot, Dr. Smith led diverse organizations of women and men culminating in command of a squadron in combat and flew more than 3,000 hours over 30 years including combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. As a sociologist, he focuses his research in gender, work, and family issues including allyship, inclusive mentorship, gender bias in performance evaluations, and dual career families. He is the co-author of Athena Rising: How and Why Men Should Mentor Women and numerous journal articles and book chapters that focus on gender and the workplace.
QUESTION: You wrote a book entitled, Good Guys: How Men Can Be Better Allies for Women in The Workplace. Can you please share some key highlights or take-aways you hope readers have?
DAVID SMITH: Our goal for Good Guys is to engage men in doing gender equity work WITH women and develop the skills they need to help create sustainable workplace change. Framing allyship as gender collaboration and partnership helps avoid potential perceptions by men that women need rescuing or that men can do this work without women. Men are an important piece of the gender equity puzzle because they are still the majority in positions of power and influence.
The benefits of men engaging in gender equity work is often overlooked and can be instrumental to their involvement. Men who engage as allies in doing gender equity work have more diverse networks, access to different information, and have better interpersonal skills—more empathy, EQ, humility, and better communication skills that make them better leaders—and better partners and parents! Recent research showed that men who participated in allyship programming (training, education, communities of allies) were more likely to observe and recognize biased behavior and take proactive ally actions as reported by women.
My co-author, Brad Johnson, and I operationalize allyship into three areas of action that are also helpful in understanding where someone is on their allyship journey.
 The first is interpersonal allyship and this can be understood as how someone individually holds themselves accountable for how they show up in the workplace. This includes the kind of relationships they have with coworkers to include being collegial, supportive, collaborative, and supporting equity and fairness initiatives. This is the easy part of allyship because you only have to focus on holding yourself accountable for developing your awareness and relationships.
 The harder part of allyship where men feel like they are really putting some skin in the game is public allyship—publicly disrupting status quo, biased behaviors and language, and public advocacy and sponsorship. Public allyship requires men to not only hold themselves accountable, but also people on their team, and their leaders.
 Finally, as men develop awareness and understanding of how biases operate in everyday practices to create systemic inequities, such as, the gender wage gap or a lack of representation of women in senior leadership positions, they also have an obligation to change those practices to make them more equitable so everyone can thrive.
SHARE THIS: Men are an important piece of the gender equity puzzle because they are still the majority in positions of power and influence. ~@davidgsmithphd #DebbieLaskeysBlog
QUESTION: Susan Colantuono (@SusanColantuono on Twitter) wrote, "If women aren’t proportionately represented throughout your organization, you aren’t facing a women’s issue, you’re facing a talent development issue with business implications." What do you think about that statement?
DAVID SMITH: The outcomes for businesses and teams that have a more diverse and balanced workforce are unquestionable: better places to work, more successful, make better decisions, more innovative, more creative, and more profitable. The business case for gender equity couldn’t be stronger. A lack of representation is a clear indicator that an organization is not achieving its potential. Many organizations recognize the value and importance of creating a sustainable pipeline of talent, but few have also solved for how to retain and advance women as leaders and managers equitably. This will require change to their internal talent development processes. The status quo is not working.
QUESTION: When I was in graduate school in the mid-1990's, one of my tenured professors said to the class, "Women don't belong in grad school. They belong at home in the kitchen" How would you have responded if you’d been in my shoes?
DAVID SMITH: First, I’m sorry you experienced this and unfortunately it was all too common. I still hear these biased and sexist comments today. All too often, when these comments are made, it falls on women to respond despite men being in the room (and many of them recognizing the sexism). Even more challenging, as in your situation in grad school, is the power dynamic involved and the potential negative impact of saying anything.
So, if I were in your shoes as a female grad student, I hope I would have used a Socratic question. For example, “Why do you feel that way”? This can be an effective way of addressing sexism and forcing perpetrators to justify and explain their comments. Often this forces them to see the error in their ways or at least have them think about the impact it had on others. This technique also feels less confrontational and can alleviate some of the concern about backlash.
Having said that, what needed to happen was for an ally and especially a man in this case, to step up and disrupt this sexism. Research shows that men who disrupt are not penalized in the same way as women and in some cases can benefit from being seen as an ally or gender advocate. There are many techniques for disrupting depending on many of the situational and relational factors involved, but unfortunately bystander paralysis keeps most people from doing or saying anything. It is crucial that allies disrupt the status quo of sexism and highlight what many people in the space were thinking or feeling. Actively disrupting can help validate others who were offended and give them the self-confidence to disrupt in the future. Systemic and cultural change demands that all of us disrupt status quo workplace behaviors.
SHARE THIS: Men who disrupt are not penalized in the same way as women and can benefit from being seen as a gender advocate. ~@davidgsmithphd #DebbieLaskeysBlog
QUESTION: Two quotes serve as an introduction to my question. According to Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook: "If you're offered a seat on a rocket ship, don't ask what seat." And according to Shirley Chisholm: “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring in a folding chair.” Despite recent successes, how can women earn more top leadership positions at the C-Suite table?
DAVID SMITH: There are a lot of systemic practices involved but let’s focus on one that I think is key—sponsorship. It is well-documented that women don’t receive the same amount and type of sponsorship that men receive. One of the programmatic interventions that has proliferated in companies is formal sponsorship programs. Formal programs are helpful in creating intentionality, visibility, and accountability in organizations. Of course, the goal is to eventually transition to making sponsorship equitable for everyone and a part of the organizational culture. But until that day, formal programs help to focus attention on the wealth of talented women at all leadership levels.
While having more women in senior leadership positions is the goal, it’s helpful to simultaneously focus on where we can have the most impact—at the first rung of the managerial/leadership ladder. The McKinsey Women in the Workplace annual studies continue to find that the most significant change in gender balance occurs when we reach the first level of leadership. This varies by industry but is consistently the career point where we find a dramatic decrease in women. If we’re going to create real and sustainable equity in the C-Suite, we need to make sure we are sponsoring and providing stretch opportunities for women into the first managerial/leadership level.
SHARE THIS: If we’re going to create equity in the C-Suite, we need to provide stretch opportunities for women in the first managerial/leadership level. ~@davidgsmithphd #DebbieLaskeysBlog
QUESTION: Amy Diehl (@AmyDiehl on Twitter), a gender equality advocate who we both admire, recently appeared on my blog in a Q&A about leadership, gender bias, and gender equality. When asked which Ruth Bader Ginsburg quote was her favorite, she responded, “This RBG quote is a reminder that women should not be the exception on boards, teams, and leadership: ‘Women belong in all places where decisions are being made. It shouldn't be that women are the exception.’” Which RBG quote inspires you, and why?
DAVID SMITH: Here’s my favorite RBG quote:
“If you have a caring life partner, you help the other person when that person needs it. I had a life partner who thought my work was as important as his, and I think that made all the difference for me.”
We can’t achieve full gender equity at work until men show up as allies at home. Until men do their fair share of the domestic responsibilities, caregiving, homeschooling, emotional/cognitive labor associated with this unpaid labor, and be fully supportive of their partner’s career, we will continue to endure the painstakingly slow progress that leads to estimates of 200+ years to close the gender wage gap.
The family norm in the US has long been dual-earner or dual-career families, even more so when children are present. As women flocked to the workplace over the past 60+ years, they continued do double duty at home. Yes, men have slightly increased the amount of unpaid work during the same period, but the gap still remains with women doing 1.5 to 3 times what men do at home. Most male executives of Fortune 500 companies have a stay-at-home partner. There has been little pressure for leaders and organizations to change workplace culture or how/when/where we work to create an equitable workplace for men and women. Although the pandemic has certainly refocused this conversation. But where will it go?
The good news is that most fathers (nearly 70%) want to have an egalitarian relationship at home and be equally involved in raising and caring for their children. Yet, half of these fathers are “conflicted” because they are not able to combine work and family equitably because of workplace norms, policies, managerial support, and stigma. If we can change workplaces to acknowledge that we all have caregiving responsibilities, families (yes, even single people provide caregiving), and personal/emotional needs to be able to perform at our best, this may be the next step toward a much brighter future and one that I aspire to.
My thanks to David for sharing his equality, diversity, inclusion, and leadership insights and for appearing here on my Blog.
Image Credit: Ashkan Forouzani via Unsplash.
Connect with David at these links:
Read some of David's inspiring posts in Harvard Business Review:
Research: Men Are Worse Allies Than They Think
Stop Protecting “Good Guys”
How Men Can Confront Other Men About Sexist Behavior
Men, Stop Calling Yourselves Allies. Act Like One.
Read Kim Elsesser’s (@kimelsesser on Twitter) full article in Forbes (referenced in this post’s introduction):