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Achieving Gender Parity with Male Allies

The importance of men in the quest to achieve gender parity in technology is obvious: the majority must be convinced of the importance of the minority. While some of the important men in technology are aware, these leaders are also some who engage in diversity hiring, or arbitrarily choosing a candidate for a position based on their gender or race. Diversity hiring conveniently side-steps the real problem of misogyny in the field by hiring candidates for the sake of diversity instead of hiring candidates based on their actual suitability for the job. It also fails to solve the issues women face when they are actually hired, examples of which can be found in bullying and sexual harassment, driving them out of the industry altogether.

So, why not attack the misogyny in the field? This is where men enter the fray. Now, that might sound a little strange — and it should! Male allies are a necessity in order to upend the subconscious misogyny in the field. The problem with male allies begins when they fight on the behalf of women instead of alongside them. The answer to whether or not we should include men in the quest for parity is yes, but in moderation.

Unconscious misogyny is a difficult topic to address, especially when over 65% of the tech sector’s workforce is male. It is here, with other men, where men can make a difference. The importance of men bringing up the issue with other men can’t be understated.

“ When someone made a politically incorrect joke in a company Slack channel, a male coworker replied with a gentle reminder that we all bring different experiences to the table, and that one person’s off-color joke could have a very different meaning for another person. The jokester apologized, and thanked him for the insight.” — Leah Weitz

The quoted segment above is an example of how effective men speaking to other men can be. Male allies don’t need to convince women of workplace issues (hopefully), they need to convince men of workplace issues! It’s men who need this sort of insight. Calling attention to someone’s faults when they aren’t even aware they exist would put most people into a state of critical thinking or self-reflection.

Furthermore, feminism should not be seen as a trend. Labeling oneself as part of any group, let alone feminists, does not automatically make them qualified to speak on the topic or even knowledgeable of even the most basic of issues. Male allies aren’t qualified to speak on the behalf of women. Period! The word ‘ally’ implies a supporting role. Allies should do the supporting, and let women do the talking.

There’s plenty of ways to support women in tech — one is listed above — without taking the spotlight away from the women who can make the most use of it. This has gone wrong, and continues to go wrong. Recall that in 2014 we saw a panel about male allies that was entirely comprised of men, whose messages either retread old ground or completely missed the mark. Early 2015 saw the downfall of ‘male ally’ Vivek Wadhwa, who tried to position himself as the champion for women in tech by literally speaking over them, effectively rendering actual them invisible. Now, in 2016, Paypal is organizing a panel focusing on gender equality featuring speakers who are all men. These leaders, individuals, and organizations have missed the point of including women in tech by not including women in their conversations! The focus was twisted from a discussion on gender parity to “feminism is cool and we love women,” promoting a brand by advocating for change instead of helping make it. Instead of giving women the spotlight, they have aimed it at themselves.

We can achieve gender parity, and we can do it by creating real allies. They challenge their peers, convince other men to become real allies, instead of trying to convince women that they are allies. They make change by providing insight and inspiring self-awareness and critical thinking, instead of simply advocating for parity. Real allies will work to achieve parity because they want to, not because they want recognition.

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