How Women Can Become Better Allies…to Ourselves

With #MeToo, it seems that the world has woken up (at least a little) to the fact that gender equality remains an issue. McKinsey and others have documented that pay equity hasn’t been fixed, yet data is proving that women are valuable assets to companies…in fact…the more the better (companies with more diverse boards and executive teams outperform those without).

Sadly, however, something happened this week that showed me how far we have to go.

My friend told a story. A story of an experience that saddened her and moved her to action.

Two beautiful young women handed out awards on a stage in front of 5000 people. 

They wore stiletto heels and short skirts.

2 of the 11 award recipients were women.

Here’s what this signaled to her:

  • The only way to be on this stage is to be ‘the help’
  • It’s expected that men will win these awards, so a pretty woman will present the glass trophy
  • Someone thought that the five men who were standing on stage to congratulate the winner were above the task of presenting the award to the recipient

In her heart, she believed that none of the things that happened on that stage were consciously designed to send the signals I received.

Yet just days before she had attended a two hour ‘diversity in our workplace’ event where the most senior person now on that stage had espoused his commitment to gender diversity and increasing the number of female leaders on the team.

And, yet…

This one, single award ceremony undercut the sincerity of his message. Completely.

As I listened to her, a word came to mind…it’s one I heard for the first time this year: ‘microaggression’.

A “microaggression is a term used for brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioural, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative prejudicial slights and insults toward any group.[1] “(from Wikipedia)

Explicit sexism in society is on the decline, but still exists in a variety of subtle and non-subtle expressions.[25] Women encounter microaggressions in which they are made to feel inferior, sexually objectified, and bound to restrictive gender roles,[26] both in the workplace and in academia, as well as in athletics.[27]  (from Wikipedia)

Say the right things.

Do the (obvious) right things.

It’s not enough.

We must wake up.

Realize the power of old patterns. Unconscious bias is hard to fix. Because…it’s unconscious.

So, it’s ok to ask for help. If a woman had been privy to the plan for that award ceremony ahead of time or intentionally overlaid a female lens, she would have pre-diagnosed the problem of that scene on the stage in a nanosecond.

Remember, making change is hard.

We’re not meant to do it alone.

Let’s get better…together.

Which includes women taking action:

  • Saying ‘no thank you’ to roles that reinforce old patterns and gender stereotypes (be it short skirts and stilettos or tasks that don’t get us promoted)
  • Raising awareness to how unconscious actions are interpreted and what a better option might be (we must be allies and give feedback to those who are trying to be allies to us)
  • Deflecting the inevitable signals and shielding ourselves from digesting them as truth

HBR recently published this article, How Men Can Become Better Allies to Women, which I found both helpful and empathetic to all parties involved in making change.

Transformation is the result of many small steps.

Let’s walk together.


1 – ^ Jump up to:a b Sue DW (2010). Microaggressions in Everyday Life: Race, Gender, and Sexual Orientation. Wiley. pp. xvi. ISBN 0-470-49140-X.
25 – Basford TE, Offermann LR, Behrend TS (2013-11-19). “Do You See What I See? Perceptions of Gender Microaggressions in the Workplace”. Psychology of Women Quarterly. 38 (3): 340–349. doi:10.1177/0361684313511420.
26 – ^ Jump up to:a b Kaskan ER, Ho IK. “Microaggressions and Female Athletes”. Sex Roles. 74 (7–8): 275–287. doi:10.1007/s11199-014-0425-1.

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