10 ways men can help close the gender gap for female coworkers

Even if you’re not a manager, these are easy things you can do to make your office more equitable for women.

10 ways men can help close the gender gap for female coworkers
[Source photo: eldadcarin/iStock]

Last month, a number of female writers, producers, and assistants started using the hashtag #NotWorthLess to share their experiences being paid less than their male counterparts. Amid the many tweets, Fox’s Family Guy writer Patrick Meighan posted a message of his own, calling for men in the entertainment industry to take a more active stand in fighting for equality:


It’s a good reminder that, no matter your job, if you’re a man, there are simple things that you can do to help close the gender gap.

So why aren’t more guys stepping up? “While most men aren’t opposed to women’s advancement in the workplace, they often don’t know how to support their advancement either, especially if the men are not direct people managers,” says Jennifer McCollum, CEO of Linkage, a leadership development firm. “While many men claim lack of authority to ‘change the system,’ nothing could be further from the truth. A key accelerator in the path toward gender equity is helping men shift intentionally from gender ‘allies’ to gender ‘advocates.'”

Remember, you don’t need to have a position of power or platform to make a difference. In many instances, all it takes is being more aware of what’s happening and using your privilege to call attention to inequality. Here are 10 ways to do this:

1. Note “the narrow band”

There’s a narrow band of communication that’s acceptable for white women, and it’s even narrower for women of color, says executive coach Peggy Klaus, author The Hard Truth About Soft Skills.


“Women and men can say the exact same words, but women will be labeled ‘aggressive,’ ‘strident’ and ‘difficult,’ while their male colleagues will be called ‘confident’ and ‘powerful,'” she says.

When sitting around the table discussing promotions, bonuses, or projects, be aware that this communication double standard can crop up. Make sure you push back when others make negative comments about women being “hard-driving” or “bitchy,” if those same behaviors would be considered assets for men, says Klaus.

2. Deliver honest feedback

Don’t pull punches when giving feedback to women and minorities, says Mercedes LeGrand, a consultant at executive search firm Russell Reynolds Associates.

“In my work, I find that a lot of times people are nervous about being perceived to be discouraging these groups,” she says. “This has the unintended consequence of denying them legitimate learning opportunities, which their nonminority peers benefit from.”

Overcoming challenges, considering painful feedback, and triumphing over areas of weakness make us all better, says LeGrand. “We need advice and sometimes even criticism to become better,” she says. “Be brave, rise above the awkwardness, give constructive feedback.”


3. Encourage female coworkers to apply for promotions

When a job opening is posted, suggest to a female colleague that she put in for it, says Deb Pine, executive director of Bentley University’s Center for Women and Business.

“Women tend to get promoted based on their accomplishments; men more so based on potential,” she says. “Women benefit by seeing strong female role models ahead of them in the pipeline. Help make that happen by raising the visibility of women in your organization.”

4. Take your parental leave

We can’t achieve gender parity if women are the only ones taking childcare leave, says Pine. If your company offers paternal leave, take it.

Also, be honest about your family commitments, adds Lisa Steelman, professor and dean of the College of Psychology and Liberal Arts at the Florida Institute of Technology.

“Women often feel they will be viewed as less committed if they discuss their family responsibilities or leave early due to family issues,” she says. “Men as allies should say when they are leaving work early for family issues, such as taking care of their kids or going to a kid’s event.”


Talking about taking care of family is viewed much more favorably for men than women, Steelman adds. “When men do it, they are viewed as committed family guys; when women do it, they are viewed as less committed to their job,” she says.

5. Stop interrupting

Research shows that men interrupt women in conversation far more than they interrupt other men, says Pine. “Actively work to listen more than you speak, and even better, visibly solicit and affirm input from women in meetings,” she says.

6. Mentor or sponsor women

In order for men to better support their female counterparts in the workplace, men and women need to rethink how they view mentors and advocacy, says Kelly Ann Doherty, chief people and communications officer at the home loan platform Mr. Cooper.

“Too often, I’ve heard women express that they only want to mentor or be mentored by other women,” she says. “However, the truth is, nearly all of my mentors have been men. I’ve found that a male mentor can give you a different perspective and empower you to have a voice at the table, even when that table is predominantly surrounded by men.”

Encouraging mentor and advocate relationships across genders can help remove the “us vs. them” mentality that may be present in the workplace, says Doherty. “That’s something each of us can benefit from regardless of our role, gender, or ethnicity,” she says.


You can also mentor women outside of your company, says Lisa Delise, assistant professor of management at Meredith College. “Research suggests that women get mentorship in organizations at similar rates as men, but men tend to have a higher percentage of C-suite mentors than women,” she says. “Men can serve as mentors for women who aren’t in their organizations but may lack good mentors in their own companies.”

7. Don’t be a silent bystander

Men need to view themselves as part of the solution and follow it up with behavior. Simply not being part of the problem is not enough, says Steelman. “Don’t be silent when you are in a group of men and you hear sexist jokes or disparaging comments about women,” she says. “Speak up, and let them know that it is not okay.”

If you see a male colleague taking credit for a female coworker’s idea, call them out, suggests University of Nevada Las Vegas professor Rachael Robnett, a developmental psychologist who researches the causes and implications of gender bias and gender-role adherence.

“Male allies can help correct the record if a man receives credit for a woman’s idea, which happens fairly often,” she says.

8. Make sure women get the credit they deserve

Being interrupted or having ideas hijacked or stolen are microaggressions, says McCollum. Help ensure your female colleagues get credit for their ideas and get their share of speaking time in meetings. “Set an example by tactfully interjecting on behalf of your colleague,” she suggests. For example, “I think Lauren has a great starting point with her new product idea. I would love to go back to that and hear more.”


Women’s voices often aren’t heard as loudly as men’s for a variety of reasons, says Delise. “Men can be supportive of women’s ideas and amplify them by repeating and advocating for those ideas without taking credit for them,” she says. “Male colleagues should also be sure that women are pulled into conversations to give opportunity for all relevant parties to weigh in.”

9. Share the office “housekeeping”

Allyship isn’t all about grand gestures, says Jennifer A. Griffith, PhD, assistant professor of organizational behavior at the University of New Hampshire Paul College of Business and Economics. “People have to critically consider their own thinking and behavior in everyday life,” she says.

Do the women in the office typically end up taking meeting notes? Are women responsible for organizing more of the tasks that promote others’ professional development, such as facilitating mentorship programs, but that don’t often result in praise or recognition?

“‘Office housework’ is not only time and effort intensive but can also keep individuals from fully participating in important decision-making or discussions,” says Griffith. “Women are asked to do this office housework more often than men, so distributing these tasks more fairly can alleviate some of the pressure of taking on these additional tasks.”

10. Share social capital

Another concrete thing men can do is share connections, opportunities, and organizational resources, says Griffith. “If you receive a request to participate in a panel or meet with a group of organizational leaders to discuss a topic that is more in the wheelhouse of a coworker, recommend them for it,” she says. “But ask them if they are available and want to participate first.”


But don’t do this

“Don’t assume you know what women think or what they need just because you have a mother, sister, wife and/or daughter,” says Klaus. “Go to the source.” It’s important to recognize that these issues are not “women’s issues,” says Griffith. “This mindset can lead to both blaming women for systemic gender inequities and expecting women to fix these problems on their own,” she says. “Male allies should ask what their colleagues need and really listen.”