First of all, I’d like to get the obvious out of the way. Yes, I am a man, writing a blog for an organization that is centered on women in leadership. As such, the most important point I can possibly make in this post is that I have absolutely no idea what it’s like to be a woman trying to become a better leader—or doing anything at all for that matter! But I am always trying to learn.
And that’s really the entire point I want to make. From what I have seen, one of the biggest hurdles with which men struggle—even those who authentically want to be allies for their female peers—is that they just don’t know how or when to be quiet and listen.
Of course there are other ways that men can and should support women both in and outside of the workplace. For example, in light of the recent flood of women coming forward to detail their harassment experiences, men need to wake up to the prevalence—and severity—of this problem. We must be on the lookout for those who use power or circumstance to take advantage of and violate others. After all, many of the women who have come forward in high-profile cases are well-known and accomplished; imagine what it’s like for those without such influence.
But in my opinion, being a true ally goes beyond merely standing up for decency. As men, we have to be open to listening, to hearing women discuss how their experiences may differ from ours and to think deeply about how we together we can shape a different and better future. Too often I hear men, even those who I think do truly believe in equality at their core, call sexism an “excuse” rather than acknowledging it as a pervasive societal force. What’s more, too often an all-male executive team is chalked up to coincidence rather than a systemic problem.
I have always believed in equality, but only over the last few years have I made the effort to actively listen and try to understand other perspectives. I have had the pleasure of working with some incredible women and have tried my best to learn from them professionally. But I have also paid careful attention to the stories they tell about their own experiences and, I must have to admit, I have been stunned at times by what I have heard. Behavior that is either inappropriate—or that stops just barely short of crossing the line—is more common than I ever dreamed. Simply knowing that has changed my outlook.
It is also critical, I believe, that men seek out ways to listen to stories from women outside of their own circles. One of my favorite things to do, for instance, is to listen to podcast interviews with women I admire.
For example, I recently heard an interview with the renowned journalist Christiane Amanpour. Hearing her story, from growing up in Iran to volunteering for some of the most dangerous assignments in journalism history was simply astounding. She is fearlessness personified! It was also fascinating to hear that she got her first assignment as an international correspondent because “none of the more senior guys wanted it.”
How men can become better allies for women is a complicated topic that can’t be answered in one blog post—certainly not one that I write. But I can say that being open to listening, often without offering my opinion—or at least waiting my turn—has done wonders for me.
For the men out there, I highly recommend it.
Eric Lebowitz is the VP of Marketing at Critical Mention and co-founder of The Forward Marketer, a digital marketing firm and official HubSpot Agency partner. He loves golf and the New York Mets.