Are you doing your part for gender equality?
I thought that I was. If you’d asked me last week, I would of said yes. I treat everyone equally. I recognize my biases and take them into account. Yes, I would have said that I’m doing my part.
And I would have been wrong.
In a recent study, 77% of men said they believe that they’re doing “everything they can” to support gender equality. Yet only 41% of women agree.
And in this situation, women get the final say.
To a lot of men, doing “everything they can” is modeling the right behaviors. By not contributing to inequality, they feel that they’re doing their part for gender equity.
But that’s not enough. It’s great to not be a part of the problem. But that doesn’t mean that you’re part of the solution. And it doesn’t mean that you’re doing “everything you can.”
The study also reported that nearly 60% of men and women agree it’s rare to see men speak out against discrimination in the workplace.
That’s an embarrassing number. If true, then we’re not doing enough. Addressing bias is not a personal choice. It’s a moral stance. And in order to be a part of the solution, this needs to be a critical area of focus.
“To sin by silence, when we should protest, makes cowards out of men,” the poet Ella Winter wrote in her 1914 poem, Protest. We all own the actions that happen around us. Our silence allows them to continue. And our speech can have the opposite effect.
Silence and neglect are contagious. If we allow these instances of inequity to go unchallenged, we encourage them to happen again. As Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel wrote in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech,
“Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”
Silence and neglect are contagious. But so are courage and speech. We need to make sure that we’re promoting one and not the other.
Speak Up Immediately
Think about the last time someone made an offensive comment at work. There was likely an awkward silence, and while people probably disagreed with the statement, no one spoke up.
In Influence, Dr. Robert Cialdini shows how people tend to use a social proof bias to determine their own behavior when they find themselves in unclear situations. In general, when we’re unsure of ourselves, we’re more likely to look around and base our action off of those around us. As Cialdini described,
“The tendency to see an action as more appropriate when others are doing it normally works quite well. As a rule, we will make fewer mistakes acting in accord with social evidence than contrary to it.”
It’s easy to forget though, that everyone else is doing the same thing. And if everyone defaults into silence or inaction, then no one speaks up. No one challenges the problem. And not only is it allowed to continue, it becomes an accepted behavior.
To combat this bias, train yourself to say something immediately. Don’t wait for that awkward silence to gain momentum.
My preference is to channel my inner Joey Lawrence and respond with a quick “Whoa.” It immediately lets the group know that it’s not acceptable and gives a few seconds to respond further. Having a few ready-made responses can help:
- That wasn’t funny.
- I know you didn’t mean that.
- I don’t want to hear that around here.
- You’re better than that.
The point isn’t to shame people for making poorly thought comments and suggestions, but to show them that it’s inappropriate and encourage them towards a better standard. Just as important, speaking up shows everyone else that inequality won’t be tolerated here. And it helps them find their voice to object to the next occurrence as well.
Be a Part of the Solution
“Who is heard and who is not defines the status quo,” wrote Rebecca Solnit in her essay, Silence is Broken. It’s only through speaking up that we can change this state.
It may make you uncomfortable. But it’s not about being comfortable. It’s about driving change. And it’s always better to go through the temporary discomfort of standing up for your values, than live with the disappointment of knowing you fell short of your principles.
The vast majority of men support the idea of gender equality. We need to make sure our actions align with our intentions. Real change starts by speaking out. As Solnit wrote,
“By redefining whose voice is valued, we redefine our society and its values.”