Facilitating the Spread of Knowledge and Innovation in Professional Software Development

Write for InfoQ


Choose your language

InfoQ Homepage Articles Q&A on the Book Good Guys

Q&A on the Book Good Guys

Key Takeaways

  • Sharpen your situational awareness. Be vigilant in observing how your female colleagues are experiencing meetings and other gatherings and be alert to inequities and disparities in these contexts.
  • Pull your weight at home. Consistently do at least half of the domestic work at home and share more of the load as needed based on your partner’s work schedule and stress level.
  • Engage in women’s initiatives and inclusion events. When you participate in women’s inclusion events, listen, demonstrate a learning orientation and gender humility, and ask women how you can most effectively support efforts toward gender inclusion and equity.
  • Take a risk: nominate her for stretch opportunities. Back her for stretch opportunities on the basis of her talents and potential, without expecting her to prove she can do the job in advance.
  • Design clarity, transparency and accountability in your workplace. Be clear about the purpose of gender equity initiatives and transparent in communicating what they are designed to achieve while establishing accountability for yourself and others.

In the book Good Guys, David Smith and Brad Johnson describe how men can support women in the workplace by becoming their allies. It explains why men are the missing ingredient for creating gender equity in the workplace and provides solutions to increase inclusion and diversity.

InfoQ readers can download an extract from "Good Guys".

InfoQ interviewed David Smith and Brad Johnson about gender inequality problems, becoming allies for women, taking parental leave, using privilege to include women or people of color or other minorities, how men benefit from being coached or mentored by women, calling out inappropriate behavior, becoming a sponsor for women, and driving change toward diversity and inclusion.

InfoQ: What made you decide to write this book?

David Smith: Throughout my military career, women were often treated as second class citizens, told that they weren’t valued and didn’t belong. Like many traditionally male-dominated professions and industries, women were treated like outsiders who were expected to adapt and assimilate into a masculine culture. Their workplace experiences and challenges were routinely ignored, or worse, blamed on their lack of competence, motivation, or some personal flaw in being a woman. What was puzzling was the lack of ownership and involvement by male leaders. For those men who did stand up and speak out with women to call out inequities and point out unfairness and injustices, they were penalized and marginalized for siding with women. In 2017, a year after we published our first book, Athena Rising: How and Why Men Should Mentor Women, #MeToo went widespread across the globe. While our first book focused on engaging men as allies in the specific areas of mentorship and sponsorship, we now found ourselves in the broader conversation of how all men show up in the workplace as gender partners and allies with women. That was all the motivation we needed to start the research and writing of Good Guys.

Brad Johnson: I have devoted most of my professional career to researching and writing about mentoring relationships. The persistent evidence regarding gender and mentorship showing that women often receive less mentoring and sponsorship than men has been a source of concern and curiosity for me. For various reasons, men have been reluctant to mentor women, a problem which has only been exacerbated (by men) in the wake of #MeToo. Like Dave, I’ve also watched women I care about face gendered headwinds at work that I have never encountered. Watching my sister, an accomplished psychologist and Navy Captain, contend with sexism, bias, and egregious double standards at work has heightened my interest in equity and equality around gender, and specifically, the key role men have to play in this work.

InfoQ: For whom is this book intended?

Smith: First and foremost, Good Guys is written for men. When we talk with men about the importance of gender equality for the important women in their lives, they’re all-in allies for their mother, wife or daughter. Yet, when we enter the workplace, these same men are silent and sitting on the sidelines when there are conversations about gender equity. Men tell us that they want to help, but aren’t sure what to do or if it’s their place to take action. Many men are uncomfortable talking about gender, women, or diversity in the workplace for fear of saying or doing the wrong thing. We wrote Good Guys for these men -- to provide them the actionable strategies to feel confident in their gender partnership at work.

Second, women will find the book to be useful in knowing what to look for in a male ally, what to expect, how to encourage and develop men as gender partners and allies, provide feedback, and hold them accountable. Allyship takes action and is founded on trust in a variety of professional relationships where women partner with men to change the workplace. While women have much to gain in creating a more equitable workplace, men benefit too, and we need women’s collaboration to realize these benefits.

Finally, organizational leaders and HR professionals will find Good Guys to be useful in providing organizational and cultural change. Allyship demands taking action to examine and eliminate inequities in everyday practices, processes and systems. We provide a roadmap for how and where to examine these practices, and then to establish a culture of allyship.

Johnson: Dave has really covered this well! I think Good Guys can also be a terrific guide for grassroots groups of men in any organization who want to form a men-as-allies group within their workplace or company. In fact, our publisher, Harvard Business Review, will be releasing a male allies facilitator guide to use in conjunction with the book. We often find that men take courage and learn a lot about how to up their game as gender allies when they read a chapter, discuss some of the key content with other men, and then go out and do some homework, often requiring them to engage with female colleagues at work to learn more about their experiences.

On a humorous note, we should point out that although both Athena Rising and Good Guys were written for men, to help them up their game as deliberate mentors and allies for women at work, we have learned that in many cases, women buy our books and then hand them to men in the workplace! Apparently men are not big into buying relationship books, even books about workplace relationships that are ultimately beneficial for them. We have learned to appreciate all the women who have helped men get better by handing them a copy of one of our books.

InfoQ: What are some of the gender inequity problems and what impact do these problems have?

Smith & Johnson: There are so many workplace inequities that can be found at every step of the employment process and career progression, but the two most significant are the lack of representation at the most senior levels of leadership, and the gender pay gap. Balancing leadership representation is key to women having access to the same resources, power and influence as men. This affects decision-making and policy-making in private corporations as well as government and the public sector. The research evidence is clear that gender diversity (along with all other forms of diversity) at all levels of leadership including the C-suite results in organizations that make better decisions, are more creative and innovative, and are more profitable or successful. Coupled with balanced leadership representation, creating pay equity would have far-reaching effects including adding trillions of dollars to GDP and reducing poverty levels.

InfoQ: In the book, you suggest to view gender inequities as leadership issues. Can you elaborate why?

Smith: Any inequity in an organization is a leadership issue. Leaders are responsible and accountable for their employees and their organization’s overall success. To say that gender inequity is a women’s issue is blaming the victim and a diffusion of responsibility. The challenge is that men hear the terms gender diversity, women’s employee resource group, or women’s leadership initiative, and they don’t automatically see the connection as leaders. Other men may avoid engaging in gender diversity and inclusion work because they don’t understand their role, how to take action, or even talk about gender and diversity. However, the research shows that when men are engaged in gender diversity initiatives, the company is more likely to be successful in meeting their diversity goals and outcomes.

Johnson: When discussing gender and equity, too few organizations have been speaking directly to men. It’s time to flip the script on these conversations and not let men off the hook. The message to men in any leadership role is: This is yours! Reaching full and meaningful gender equality, representation, and balance in leadership is on you! Show us the money! And no, we are not talking about rescuing women or doing this "for" or "to" women. We are talking about partnering and collaborating with women at every level to affect meaningful change.

InfoQ: How can men start to become allies for women? What are some of the first steps they can take?

Smith: This may not be obvious, but the first thing men need to do is be all-in allies at home. Gender equity starts in the home. Women tell us that if a guy isn’t being an equal partner at home, his allyship at work will be seen as a sham. First, do the dishes. Research on division of household responsibilities is clear that women historically do more of the daily chores in running the household. That is still true in the 21st century and even during the pandemic. However, men are doing more household chores than their fathers did, but women are still doing more and working more hours outside the home. When childcare or eldercare is factored in, the inequity in unpaid work is exacerbated. The unequal division of unpaid work extends further to the emotional labor of coordinating, tracking, planning and organizing for the family. The challenge is that men often think that they are doing their fair share of household labor, when they are not.

We suggest that men check in with their partner and ask for an audit of their unpaid work. To aid in gaining motivation to do their fair share of unpaid work, it’s helpful when fathers understand the impact of being an all-in ally has on their children. Fathers who do their fair share of unpaid work are role modeling for their sons what modern versions of gender roles at home and work look like. These will be the expectations and beliefs they take to the workplace and their families one day. Just as important is the effect on daughters. Research shows that daughters with fathers doing equal unpaid work are more likely to choose non-traditional professions/industries, persist in their careers, and achieve career dreams.  

Johnson: After really showing up as an ally at home for your partner and children, here are a few ways to get started in the workplace as an interpersonal ally to your female colleagues. First, just listen! It sounds so simple but men often struggle with this (our interviews with women confirm that this is one thing most men could do better). Listen with the intent to understand, not "fix" her or solve her problem for her. Second, avoid assumptions about her. Listen and learn about her career dream, her work-life priorities, and what her ideal self would look like if she could show up fully at work. Use this knowledge to introduce her to key people and push her forward for opportunities that align with her vision of self and career. Third, be her friend and make sure she’s included, both in key meetings and at social events and office bonding outings where business gets discussed. Finally, work on the art of decentering. Step out of central roles, make physical space for women in meetings, and when invited to participate in a high-visibility conference or committee, consider whether a talented female colleague would make a better fit and recommend her.

InfoQ: What's your suggestion regarding men taking parental leave?

Smith: There are a host of research-backed reasons for men to take parental leave. When men take parental leave, it signals to other men that it’s normal and expected of men as parents. This also helps defeat the stigma that parental leave is a women’s program or only for women to use. The benefits to taking parental leave include higher parent-child relationship quality, higher partner relationship quality, and higher employee engagement and organizational commitment. And when men take parental leave, do it loudly and publicly so that others know. Put it on your out-of-office email!

Johnson: And don’t forget that when men take their full parental leave, women in that company are more likely to be retained and promoted. Equality in use of parental leave is a huge equalizer when it comes to pay and promotion. When men share equally at home, women can more easily share equally at work.

InfoQ: How can men use their privilege to include women or people of color or other minorities? How can they create space for them to participate?

Smith: Including and advocating for people who are different from you takes awareness and understanding of privilege; awareness of who is included and who is not. Who’s in the room, at the table, in the position of influence, has the microphone, is getting the attention, is being focused on, and is receiving deference. Meetings are just one place where we can start by taking note of these group dynamics. Too often, women and people of color are not recognized for their expertise and their contributions are ignored or certainly devalued -- and this is when they are in the room. Often, they are not even invited into the room. This is an important opportunity for an ally to take notice and advocate for her. One of the qualities of an excellent ally is how often he is talking about her behind her back -- advocating for her when she isn’t in the room, sharing his social capital. Finally, allies can acknowledge their own privilege when the spotlight or focus of attention is automatically on them, and decenter themselves by stepping back, pushing her forward.

Johnson: Also, remember that women of color face the headwinds of both sexism and racism at work. The aphorism, "I have to work twice as hard to get half as far," is often part of their experience, as well as the sense of feeling invisible and ignored in the workplace. So in addition to David’s excellent advice on including her and decentering, don’t forget to deliberately befriend her. Check in with her often, ask curious questions about her experiences in the workplace, be persistent about calling out her contributions and handing her the mic in meetings. Finally, be an advocate for recruiting, hiring, and promotion practices that lead to more women of color entering the organization and promoting to positions of significant leadership.

InfoQ: What's your advice to men that would like to engage in women's events and initiatives?

Smith: Women’s events and initiatives are really important to the development of men as allies. These are incredible opportunities for men to show up, listen, take notes, and stay for the entire program. One of the key pieces of evidence that predicts men’s ally effectiveness is their depth of understanding and awareness of women’s workplace experiences. It’s hard to be part of the solution to a problem we don’t see or understand. Showing up with the humility to acknowledge that we have much to learn and that we don’t have all the answers is critical to maintaining a learning orientation. Finally, our role as allies in these settings is not to co-opt, take over, dominate, or tell women how to fix our problem. It’s our role to listen and learn, so we can return to our workplace and ask questions and see where we can partner with women to take action.

Johnson: When women in your organization honor you with an invitation to an event, conference, or as a speaker centered around gender equity, inclusion, or women’s history, receive this as a gift, and show up with the intent to learn. Remember that these events have historically offered women places and moments to gather, share their struggles against systemic sexism and inequity, and plan a way forward. In other words, they’ve been doing the work for years. So, when you get included as a man, show some humility and awareness of this history.

InfoQ: How do men benefit from being coached or mentored by women?

Smith: In professional relationships with people who are different from us, we all gain insight into how other people experience the workplace. This insight translates in several ways to help us improve as leaders and colleagues. When men mentor women or are mentored by women, the evidence shows that they have increased access to information, more diverse internal and external networks, and enhanced interpersonal skills (more empathy and higher EQ). The wonderful part about these enhanced interpersonal skills is that they go home with you to make you a better partner and/or parent.

Johnson: I would add that men who are fortunate enough to have more senior women as mentors are more likely to be held accountable when it comes to increasing their knowledge around gender disparities in the workplace, and showing more transparent ally behaviors. This can be because more established women aren’t afraid to give us direct feedback about our blind spots and hold our feet to the fire when it comes to getting better.

InfoQ: How can men react when something inappropriate is being said?

Smith & Johnson: We’ve all been there when that sexist comment is made, and in a group setting we all are waiting to see who is going to react. Bystander paralysis is real and if we don’t react in a few seconds, we likely won’t do anything. The adage of see something, say something is appropriate for allies. You can say anything and it will disrupt the status quo of doing nothing. It could be as simple as saying, "Ouch"! That will buy you a few seconds as people start to look your way. At this point, you can quickly decide how you want to handle the situation. You can say, "That’s not who we are at ____", "That language is not appropriate", "I find that to be really offensive", or "I don’t ever want to hear that again". The point is to say something and make it clear that you don’t agree. As a real ally, you have to own it and not use women in the room as the reason for why that language shouldn’t be used. It’s just as important to say something when there are only dudes in the room too. Research finds that men assume that other men have a high level of acceptance for sexism, when in fact, most men do not. We’re just afraid to say something for fear of losing our man-card.

InfoQ: How can men call out inappropriate behavior working in a distributed organization or when working remotely or from home?

Smith: Even in the remote, work-from-home environment that we are currently in, we can still find ways to disrupt the status quo of acceptance of sexist behavior. Video meetings still allow for bystander intervention. The remote work environment of video meetings typically includes a chat function that is ideal for going on the record with your intervention and having a broader group discussion if needed. In settings where you don’t have an active microphone, the chat function provides an excellent method for ensuring others’ perceptions are validated and I would expect that others will join you in the pushing back on this inappropriate behavior. Still in other cases, a personal communication with the offender after the meeting may be warranted, depending on your relationship with them.

Johnson: The remote environment also affords me the opportunity to call it out when key women are not included in a meeting or when their voices are not being "heard" in a virtual meeting. Not only can I request that a meeting be rescheduled until a key stakeholder or subject matter expert is present (a woman), I can also insist that participants hear from women with deep expertise or hand the virtual mic off to a female colleague with more experience than me.

InfoQ: What can men do to become a sponsor for women?

Smith: Sponsorship is critically important for solving the lack of women’s representation at senior leadership levels. Men have to look beyond their usual networks, overcome their biases or perceptions of women, identify stretch opportunities, and use their social capital to open doors. One of the challenges men face as sponsors is ensuring they’re pushing women forward for opportunities based on their potential, as they typically do for men. Women often encounter the prove-it-again bias where they are expected to demonstrate they have already performed at the higher level before allowing them the opportunity to grow and develop.

Johnson: Here is a question for men: Are you talking about her when she’s not even in the room? Are you her raving fan, trumpeting her achievements and talent when conversations about new opportunities or promotions come up? For different reasons, men can be a bit weirded out about the optics of loudly sponsoring a woman (e.g., they’ll think there’s something going on between us). We’ve got to overcome this and be committed to opening doors, networking, and pushing forward the high-talent women around us (and there are likely to be several).

InfoQ: How can leaders drive change toward diversity and inclusion, both inside and outside their company?

Smith & Johnson: Three factors are key to driving change for diversity, equity and inclusion: clarity, transparency and accountability. Senior leaders have to learn how to communicate why diversity is important to them as a leader, to their employees/clients/partners, and to their business. Without that clarity, the rest of the organization won’t understand why it’s important that they also do this work. With this clarity of purpose, leaders need to tie diversity, equity and inclusion goals to the everyday business outcomes so that frontline managers are held accountable for attaining these goals. Without middle management buy-in, these initiatives will not succeed. C-suite executives have to hold themselves accountable as well. This accountability takes us to transparency. Senior leaders should transparently talk about and share the company’s goals and progress internally with employees, and externally with the board and on the company website. Transparency and accountability show the company’s commitment to DEI and develop trust with employees, board members, customers, and future employees. Research unequivocally shows that the talent pool of potential employees cares about your focus on DEI, that you walk the talk, and that you are transparent in how you are progressing.

About the Book Authors  

David G. Smith, PhD, is a professor of sociology in the College of Leadership and Ethics at the United States Naval War College. He is the coauthor of Athena Rising: How and Why Men Should Mentor Women. His next book, coauthored with W. Brad Johnson, is Good Guys: How Men Can Be Better Allies for Women in the Workplace, forthcoming in 2020.

W. Brad Johnson, PhD, is a professor of psychology in the Department of Leadership, Ethics, and Law at the United States Naval Academy and a faculty associate in the Graduate School at Johns Hopkins University. He is the coauthor of Athena Rising: How and Why Men Should Mentor Women, The Elements of Mentoring, and other books on mentorship. His next book, coauthored with David G. Smith, is Good Guys: How Men Can Be Better Allies for Women in the Workplace, forthcoming in 2020.


Rate this Article