How Men Can Better Support Women in the Workplace

Movements such as #MeToo and #TimesUp have broken the silence on sexual harassment, with the ultimate goal being to make the workplace safe for women to thrive alongside their male colleagues. Change, of course, takes time: A new study by and SurveyMonkey found that the number of male managers who now feel uncomfortable mentoring women has tripled. Mentorship is key to advancement: Women need male mentors since a greater number of men are in leadership positions across industries.

Women and men must work together if we’re going to transform workplace culture. “There’s a lot of [men] who raise their hand and say they want to be an ally, but they have no idea how to take that first step,” said Sean Moran, Head of Marketing and Partner Solutions, Viacom.

We asked our male allies in the Girls’ Lounge at Cannes Lions 2018 for their advice on how men can better support women in the workplace and create safe environments where everyone can thrive. Here are the top takeaways:

Awareness Is An Important First Step

It is important for men in the workplace to educate themselves and each other about the issues that their female colleagues are facing. “There’s an awareness that you have to have,” said Sean, who shared that, as a white male, there are challenges that his female and minority colleagues have experienced that he has not. The truth is, you can’t solve a problem you don’t know exists. Awareness is key for beginning to understand the problem and taking steps towards solving it.

Michael Roth, IPG, speaking on the panel "Bridging The Gender Divide: Supporting Each Other" in the Girls' Lounge.

“Bridging the Gender Divide: Supporting Each Other” panel in the Girls’ Lounge

Start a Conversation

Awareness comes from conversation. It paves the way for greater empathy because it helps you to better know and understand others. Take time and sit with someone at work who is different from you and listen to why they worry about issues like sexual harassment, parental leave, racism, and more. “When you have those kinds of conversations with people who you work with, you begin to really appreciate the issues that they’re addressing,” said Michael Roth, Chairman and CEO, IPG.

Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable

“It is going to be messy for a little while,” said Tim Armstrong, CEO, Oath. The #TimesUp movement has disrupted a culture that makes it hard for women to safely thrive in the workplace. For such fundamental change to happen, people are going to have to be patient and work towards positive change. “But the bottom line is that they’re thinking about it, and they may not have been thinking about it seven years ago,” said Tim. The discomfort that men feel today, as reflected in the survey, is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is crucial that we use this discomfort to spark action.

Create a Safe Space For Men to Help Each Other

As Tim said, many men in the workplace want to help, yet they’re not sure how to start.  One idea is for male leaders within companies to create a space for their male employees to discuss gender-related issues, and ask questions and get guidance. For example, men might want to ask other men for their advice on how to mentor a young female colleague. “If I’m going to be an ally, [I have to] make a comfortable environment, and be an instructor or partner to the other males in my teams,” said Sean.

Inside the Girls' Lounge at Cannes Lions 2018

Inside the Girls’ Lounge at Cannes Lions 2018

Encourage Cultures of Belonging

In order for employees to feel safe having difficult conversations, leaders at every level (we can all be leaders) should focus on creating a workplace where all people feel safe speaking up and feel like their voices are being heard. This will make it easier for men and women to feel like they can talk to each other about gray areas.

“They (have to) feel that they belong, (that) what you’re talking about actually is translating in the hallway,” says Sean. If this kind of culture is in place, employees will feel freer to solve some of the problems amongst themselves, such as intervening when a colleague is acting inappropriately in a meeting to create a safe environment and get closer to equal.

Do you have any tips or advice to share on how men can help support women in the workplace? We’d love to hear from you! Please share your ideas with us @wearetfq.


Here is more on how men and women can work together to drive equality:

David Schwimmer On How Power And Perspective Can Change The Culture Around Harassment

8 Ways To Create A Culture Of Care Where All Workers Feel Like They Belong

Rewriting The Rules of Work To Create More Inclusive Cultures