Women’s Equality Day Observance Guest Speaker Dr. Brad Johnson, professor of psychology in the Department of Leadership, Ethics and Law at the United States Naval Academy and faculty associate in the Graduate School of Education at Johns Hopkins University, acknowledged progress in women’s equality and suggested men take ownership of their roles in allyship and mentorship to continue forward during his online Teams-based remarks for the observance Aug. 26.
During his presentation, Johnson noted the progression of women’s rights and equality, including the right to vote and inclusion in professions, but he reminded the audience of existing challenges, including the gender wage gap, sexual assault and harassment, maternal protection, leadership evaluations, professional advancement and domestic labor.
He said he chose to focus the discussion on male allyship and mentorship with women despite the theme of the observance because, in his experience, most women already work to advance gender equity. Johnson explained that gender balance throughout the hierarchy of any profession benefits the entire company or institution.
“Across every profession and industry, including the military, reveals that when you have genuine gender balance all the way up … into the most senior ranks of command if we’re talking about the military, you just do better,” Johnson said.
He said studies noted better decision-making, more money, and more successful mission outcomes when women are involved as key decision-makers at every level in an organization.
Johnson said he and a colleague found that men often cite anxiety, optics and false narrative accusations as reasons to avoid professional and developmental relationships with women at work. However, he said, forming professional relationships can serve as a kind of exposure therapy for the betterment of an organization.
He said equal partnerships at home also bolster gender equity. He challenged men to speak to their partners at home as part of a domestic audit to understand if they carry their weight. Should a man find he is not doing so, Johnson said to avoid being defensive and consider ways to show up in full.
“Remember, this is good for your sons and daughters; we find that girls who have fathers who really lean in as full partners at home are far more likely to enter nontraditional professions and persist in their careers. This is a game changer for women moving forward,” Johnson said.
He said men serving as better allies to women can use similar skills to advocate for minorities, including people of color and those in the LGBTQ community.
Johnson offered best practices to men interested in supporting women through allyship. He identified interpersonal action as how men hold themselves accountable to be active listeners during their interactions with women. He suggested men sharpen their gender intelligence or self-educating about the experiences of women at work and gender equity and demonstrate better humility by asking female colleagues questions about their experiences. He suggested men improve situational awareness for group dynamics and nuances that may affect a woman’s experience, such as interruptions during meetings, and work to ensure equity.
“One of the men that we interviewed framed it this way, and I thought this was a good way to do it: ‘I’m curious about some of the things that women here maybe in this command have been experiencing that feel inequitable? Would you feel comfortable sharing any of those, either your own or the experiences of other women?’ So, I think the curiosity, the humility, the authenticity that you’re really here to one, understand and then two, show up as a colleague and collaborator, I think goes a long way.”
Johnson said women also value male mentorship on this scale because while women often mentor other women, fewer women in leadership are available to continue mentorship. He said women value reciprocal and collaborative mentorship in which both parties contribute to the other’s career.
“If you are not mentoring junior women, it’s a huge missed opportunity to really contribute, not only to representation, but the advancement of women. We know that when women have male mentors, they make more money, they get more promotions, and this is not because men are better mentors. We simply hold more power and rank in most organizations and professions, so men have got to lean in here,” Johnson said.
“We find that men who mentor women develop better interpersonal skills and communication capacity, their (emotional intelligence) goes up, and they’re viewed as better leaders, more inclusive leaders. By the way, all these interpersonal skills aren’t limited just to work; I get to export these home with me to be a better partner and a better parent, so (there is) a lot in this for both men and women.”
Johnson said public allyship is often more difficult for men because it requires an individual to hold others accountable, disrupt sexism in real time and sponsor women for advancement in professional positions.
He explained men tend to sit as bystanders during sexist situations, such as a sexist comment during a meeting or to a female leader. He said his personal rule, the two-second rule, is to make a comment of any kind within two seconds of a situation to address sexism and ensure accountability. Johnson said for men concerned about public confrontation, addressing sexism with a peer in private is still ideal as long they understand the issue. Other public allyship methods, he said, include discussing promotions and compensation transparently to ensure equitable opportunity and decentering conversations away from perceived positions of power during professional discussions to allow women and minorities space to share ideas.
Johnson also suggested men participate in sponsorship or elevating women for professional advancement. He shared an example from a company that asked men to spend more time with female colleagues to discuss aspirations, celebrate the achievements of female colleagues and share accomplishments with senior leaders. He said within five years, retention improved drastically and allowed more women to fill leadership positions, thus supporting gender equity and positive workplace culture.
Johnson also encouraged the audience to participate in systemic allyship, including holding organizations accountable by challenging inequitable policies or other issues.
Those on the Teams call reflected during a question-and-answer session. One person admitted his own implicit biases and agreed to act on opportunities for gender equity, while another participant confirmed Johnson’s examples and said she appreciated the extension of responsibility to male colleagues.