The Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing couldn’t be more aptly named: It truly is a celebration of the technical innovation, inclusive focus and relentless drive of women in tech.
We were thrilled to be a small part of the celebration this fall, along with 15,000 other women technologists and male allies. You’ve hopefully heard a lot about the movement around women in tech, raising awareness about the challenges that women face in the tech industry and the importance of hiring and retaining a diverse workforce. A part of that dialogue is about gender allies — the concept that men need to be a part of the solution to reach gender parity in technology fields.
There are so many reasons that men should get involved and be true allies to women in tech: It’s the right thing to do. It’s good for business. Diverse teams that reflect the end user create better results for customers. Male allies respect and appreciate their female teammates. They believe in equality.
According to a study conducted by the National Center for Women & Information Technology, gender diversity benefits businesses in several ways, including better financial performance and superior team dynamics and productivity in gender-balanced companies. Studies report that gender-diverse technology organizations and departments produce work teams that stay on schedule and under budget and demonstrate improved employee performance.
So, how do men become allies and be part of the solution that will so obviously make us as an industry and a society more successful? For starters, it’s not a label that you can self-appoint. The title “ally” is earned. Being an ally is an action, not a noun. If you’re on the sideline thinking about how sensitive and aware you are, you’re not an ally. You have to take action, and drive impact.
Men need to be a part of the solution to reach gender parity in technology fields.
And really, you’re not a male ally until women in tech identify you as one.
It was just over a year ago that we learned this lesson together. We attended a conference where women and men delved into the issues that women in tech face, how men impact them and what change really looks like. It involved uncomfortable conversation, awkward moments and even some jaw-dropping confessions.
The crucial component was honesty in a safe space where everyone assumed positive intent. We talk a lot about positive intent at the office because it’s one of our core values. If you start with assuming whomever you’re talking to is coming from a place of positivity, everyone involved benefits from seeing multiple sides of an issue and not jumping to conclusions.
That was when we decided to become part of the solution together.
Armed with the tools and tactics we learned, we started a Women in Tech Male Allies initiative with the goal of raising awareness about the challenges women face, identifying ways men can be a part of the solution, providing education about unconscious bias and training men and women to call out and work through bias issues. We both learned more about the issues and how we could take this newly formed partnership back to our teams to amplify the dialogue.
The partnership element is crucial: Having a woman in tech and a man who is actively working to be a better ally meant we were able to show — rather than just say — how having a trusted partner is invaluable to the process and to making progress.
Being a gender ally isn’t easy. In fact, we can guarantee that you’ll make mistakes just like we did. The thing to remember is that we’re all human. We will inevitably make mistakes. But, if you have a partnership and a trust that grants permission to be imperfect, those mistakes become learning opportunities and teachable moments.
And to be clear, it’s not just the male allies who will fall short from time to time. Women in tech have a lifetime of experiences of receiving bias that may have been unconscious or outright explicit. Extraordinarily valid feelings stemming from that can be a barrier to accepting help or support from men who genuinely do want to help. Both sides have ample opportunities to misstep. Just like in tech, the “fail fast” mentality works. Do everything you can to get it right, but when you don’t, learn from it and make the next time better.
Through our work at Capital One, we’ve found that men can help by serving as allies and contributing to a culture of inclusion. They don’t do this by charging in to save the day; instead, male allies play a supportive role in addressing the challenges that women face in the tech industry. Women in tech can invite men into the conversation and be a trusted partner to start and continue the dialogue. Gender parity isn’t going to be achieved by a single group. We’ll get there faster together.