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Step up. Listen up. Shut up.

(this article was originally posted on my blog)

Some years ago I had the chance to attend a round table about gender diversity in the workplace.
The event was free and open to all, hosted by a famous Munich IT company.

As often happens in these cases, the atmosphere was friendly, with delicious food and drinks of all kinds available and comfortable chairs arranged in a circle.

One woman moderated the event and another one gave a talk about her personal journey in IT and then began the discussion.

I have always been aware of gender discrimination, lack of inclusion, lack of diversity (especially in the workplace) and basically of our sexist society.

But at the same time I never realized that I had a "male" point of view, which means the perspective of a person sitting on a mountain of unearned privileges.

I better understood how immensely necessary and legitimate is to invest and focus on diversity and inclusion events and activities made for women by women.

I always thought I wasn't "part of the problem", but I realized I was wrong since I should and could have done much more to be a valid ally.

It has been and is a very long and difficult journey, but "Step up" and do something is not just an option, but a moral obligation.

The title continues with "Listen up" because I think the act of humble "listening" is crucial and ends with "Shut up*", as a provocation that aims to emphasize the need to amplify the voices of women.

This post is meant to be a summary of what I learned, but above all of what I wanted - and should have - known a long time ago:

We have a moral obligation to act as an ally

As a matter of fact, among companies where men are deliberately engaged in gender inclusion programs, 96% of them report progress.
On the other hand, among companies where men are not involved, only 30% show progress.

data shows that among companies where men are actively involved in gender diversity, 96% report progress.
Source: BCG

I think it’s absolutely necessary and legitimate to invest and focus on diversity and inclusion efforts thought for women by women for many obvious reasons.

Nonetheless it is essential to recognise the key role of allyship in all its form and varieties. From my perspective men have full responsibility to create, enable, support and spread in an extremely clear, practical and pragmatic way the culture of allyship.

An holistic effort would certainly be the best way to go, but I won’t address this topic in this post, especially as it may mistakenly lead to equating men’s responsibilities with women’s.

I have bad news for men who will read this post: we are not an ally; we are an enemy to defeat.
And if many of you will find this statement unfair thinking that “we did nothing to deserve it”, arguing with that I can say that neither did the victims of sexism, inequality and discrimination have done anything to deserve it, but still they suffer it every day.

I understand it could be frustrating to realise that you are causing a problem, but it would be an even worse realising it and doing nothing to change the situation.

Even though we are the enemy, I believe it is therefore a moral obligation to act as an ally.

What is an ally?

A man is an ally when a woman says he is.

To make it clear what an “ally” is, I will use a insightful definition found on AWIS’s blog:

An ally recognise unearned privileges in their personal lives and in the workplace.

Allies act on inequalities by taking responsibility to end patterns of injustice.

Allies do this through supporting others, using their position(s) of privilege to bring visibility and tangible change to the systemic issues that differentially impact individuals, groups, and communities.

Effective allies recognise their own histories of oppression and use them as a tool to empathise with others without assuming shared experience or shared oppression.

I couldn’t have said it better.

What is NOT an ally?

Kim Goodwin "Am I mansplaining?" chart
Source: kimgoodwin "Am I mansplaining?" chart

Being part of the problem makes it really difficult to understand how to be part of the solution.
Although there are many types of fake-allies (at best ineffective, but unfortunately often harmful), we can identify three rather common patterns:

  • The Pedestal Effect, in which men are given special treatment and shout outs for even small acts of gender equality is understandably grating for women who for years have done the emotional labor and carried the load for equality with nary a man in sight.
  • Over-Focusing on men for example on the workplace or at women’s event, may ultimately strengthen rather than dismantle the gender hierarchy status quo.
  • Fake Male Feminist. You know this guy. He slings on feminism like a superhero cape when his boss is watching, to impress — or worse, seduce — women, or to avoid being labeled as sexist despite his pattern of sexist behavior.

(these 3 points have been quoted from this article)

Why men do not engage?

Fasten your seatbelt, you won't believe what i'm about to tell you: in a study by McKinsey , more than half of all surveyed men thought that having too many gender diversity initiatives for women was unfair to men. 66% of this half are men who disagree that women have more difficulties.

chart that shows that more than half of all surveyed men thought that having too many gender diversity initiatives for women was unfair to men
Source: McKinsey

According to Catalyst and the London School of Economics and Political Science, there are 3 key barriers that could undermine men’s effort:

  • Apathy (74%): A huge proportion of the men surveyed said that apathy, meaning a sense that gender issues do not concern men, stopped them getting involved in gender equity;
  • Fear (74%): Similarly, a large amount of men reported three concerns: fears about loss of status and privilege if they supported gender equality; fears about making mistakes when working with women colleagues (e.g., perhaps unknowingly committing an offensive act); and fears about other men’s disapproval;
  • Lack of Awareness (51%): Interviewees perceived that some men are reluctant to join in efforts to end gender bias because of ignorance—both real and perceived.

What raises men's awareness of gender bias?

According to the Catalyst research, three key factors predict men’s awareness of gender bias:

  1. defiance of certain masculine norms
  2. the presence or absence of women mentors
  3. sense of fair play

Of those three factors, having a strong sense of fair play, defined as a strong commitment to the ideals of fairness, was what most differentiated men who actively championed gender equality from those who were not engaged. - original post

So, to sum it up, the problem are lazy, cowardly and ignorant men. Who would have thought that?

What should men know and do?

I have prepared a list of points that I consider essential, at least to take the first step.
Obviously they are not my ideas, but they come from women's blogs / sites that I found on the web while trying to educate myself.

1) It’s not women’s responsibility to educate you

Teach yourself about sexism and misogyny and about how to recreate our culture to eliminate them.
Just as it’s white people’s responsibility to educate themselves and figure out how to dismantle the racist culture we made, you men, the beneficiaries of our patriarchal culture, need to figure out how to undo your sexist and misogynistic ideas, belief systems, and behaviors.
You need to figure out how to change internally and externally so that we live in a culture that truly values and supports women. Here’s a great place to start.

Source: Dear Men Who Wish to Be Allies to Women: 12 Things You Need to Know

Read more about this topic:

2) Doing this work doesn’t make you a hero

All of us should be feminists because being a feminist means you believe in liberation.
You are doing the right thing.
But you don’t deserve accolades or applause, just like a father doesn’t deserve these for changing his child’s diaper.
Source: Dear Men Who Wish to Be Allies to Women: 12 Things You Need to Know

3) Be aware of your privileges

The discourse around privileges is often translated into a discourse around situated power relations between different groups in a given context. It can refer to White Privileges and to discourses around identities.
Privileges can be institutional, personal, societal, physical, political, etc. and operate through different levels, situations and forms. Identity marks as white, male, middle class, heterosexual and western.
Source: 7 Ways to Be More Inclusive in Your Everyday Life | by FairForce | Medium

4) Don’t interrupt in meetings

How many times has a woman sat down in a business meeting, armed with a notepad of fresh ideas, only to be spoken over by their male colleagues? A 2017 report published in the Academy of Management Journal showed that when women speak up “promotively” - broaching positive ideas or solutions - their voices go unheard. By contrast, men who engage in the same behaviour are generally rewarded with increased leadership and influence.
To be an ally in the workplace, men must allow women to openly contribute their ideas. This can be done through being an ‘amplifier’; if someone proposes an idea, repeat it and - importantly - give them the credit.
Source: 8 things men can do to show they’re really allies with women

5) Listen!

A national survey conducted by menswear brand Promundo in 2019 found that 89 per cent of men think they’d be a good listener if a woman told them about an experience of harassment - but only 58 per cent of women agree.
It might sound simple, but just sitting down with a female family member, colleague, or friend and listening to their problems is an invaluable part of being an ally.
It also reduces the risk of ‘mansplaining’ - you heard it here first.
Source: 8 things men can do to show they’re really allies with women

6) Ambivalent, benevolent and hostile sexism

Understand those terms.

7) Stand up for coworkers even when they are not there

Being an ally for women means speaking up all the time, not just in their presence. Next time there is “just locker room” talk call them out.
There is a difference between passive and active gender inclusion.
Passive gender inclusion would be attending gender diversity workshops.
Active gender inclusion would be demanding respect for women even when no one’s watching.
Source: How Men Can Be Allies -

8) Men’s rights are already included and you don’t need an alternative

Some men complain that feminism hardly bothers about men’s rights and sometimes the media also doesn’t pay much attention to it. It’s not entirely untrue and several social experiment videos have gone viral depicting our lack of attention towards abuses against men. Lindy West on Jezeble wrote Part 4: a list of “men’s rights” issues that feminism is already working on . However, there exist issues of false charges against men by women, misuse of IPC 498A in India, lynching on suspicion, and all these need to be considered under the same umbrella, since they are all rooted in patriarchy. So better if everyone joins hands to fight against patriarchy: the common evil.
Source: To Be A Part Of The Feminist Movement: 10 Tips To My Male Friends

9) Follow accounts focusing on feminism:

10) Send this article (and many other articles) to male colleagues.

Seriously, do it.


In this post I have not really said anything revolutionary or new.

Many people, especially women, have been talking about these topics for decades.

This is just an excerpt from my notebook, a simple attempt to be at least a mediocre ally, a good one at best.

So please: don't just listen to me, educate yourself, participate in gender equality events, financially support the initiatives, ask the women around you at home and at the workplace, step up, listen up and - if you can't be an ally - shut up.


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