Being A Male Advocate

In my role as chair of the National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT), I’ve learned that one of the powerful things men can do in the gender equality discussion is be a male advocate.

This is easy to say, but difficult to do. Recently, there has been some controversy around the role of male advocates and an ensuing debate, not about the core issue of gender diversity, but about how men who are trying to be helpful potentially make things worse through their actions.

As a result Catherine Ashcraft and Wendy Dubow, two of the senior research scientists at NCWIT, wrote an article for Fast Company titled The Tricky (and Necessary) Business of Being a Male Advocate for Gender Equality. After explaining why male advocates are important, they list six specific things that male advocates should consider in the context of being effective, constructive, and helpful.

  • Listen
  • Don’t assume all women want to participate in diversity efforts
  • Reframe negative reactions as valuable opportunities for developing empathy
  • Realize that stereotype threat can apply to male advocacy
  • Approach advocacy with a growth mind-set
  • Be aware of the limitations of the male-female framing of this conversation

If you are interested or involved in the discussion and dynamic about gender diversity in tech, I strongly encourage you to read this article. It’s a very helpful one.

  • Jeremy Riley

    Outstanding article. I believe the root of all inequality stems from a lack of mutual respect and admiration. We are all human and that should be enough. In addition I’m going to guess that there are many similarities between being a male advocate for female equality and being a white advocate for minority equality. Both of these situations can be accompanied by stigma and criticism but also by expansive thought processes and access to mindsets and experience that would be unobtainable otherwise. Ignorance is more often NOT bliss.

    • YK Arthur

      A lot of people don’t seem to understand the whole sentence (from Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors) as regards ignorance being blissful. Ignorance of the truth or, denial of what’s truthful is what makes it blissful FOR the ignorant. Conclusion: one has to be a real dummy to find that “ignorance is bliss.”

  • Good for you !

  • Meena Srinivasan

    Brad, By being a great listener with an open mind, you have been an great “male advocate” for a long time now. Thank you!

  • It’s a solid piece – and reminded me of something came up at AVC not long ago: listening w/o jumping to solving a problem, is solving a problem.

    I think the big thing that is implied, too, is that advocating often includes empowering people to make their own changes in specific situations…whether you agree, like, or even understand it every time.

  • YK Arthur

    I’d hate to be a killjoy but the tasks suggested to be a good “male advocate” hold true for ANY advocate.

    • That is true!

    • This is true and I think the authors of that article would probably agree. Their research was focused on gender issues and I think that’s why the article focuses there too.

  • In my personal experience the most transformational thing was realizing this (mentioned in “other things to consider”):

    “Reframe negative reactions as valuable opportunities for developing empathy”

    We have a natural fight-or-flight reaction to aggressive tone, but often the most important time to listen to someone is when they are shouting at us. I see many influential men in tech doing exactly the opposite, immediately rejecting points of view if they are expressed in a tone they find offensive. They don’t understand that the ability to be “civil” AND be heard is just one component of their privilege.

  • not about dividing pie, but making more pie.

  • Thank you for your thought leadership and example…