Musings

Allyship 2.0: How men can upgrade their support for women in tech now

Oh, Seattle. We’re so proud of our progressive, liberal stance on so many issues. And yet, if we’re honest, we still have far to go, as our local culture becomes increasingly influenced by tech culture, which is not particularly diverse or equitable.  

When we launched our dating app Siren three years ago, more than 75 percent of Seattle’s tech workforce was male, and female founders were all but unheard of. Despite promising trends in the arena of female founders, Seattle’s tech culture — along with that of Silicon Valley and the rest of the U.S. — remains overwhelmingly male (and white).

How does this underrepresentation of women in tech play out? On the national stage, stories like Susan Fowler’s accusations of harassment at Uber reveal a culture of entrenched sexism behind the numbers. Meanwhile, a dearth of venture capital funding and angel investors for female-helmed companies perpetuate not only a lack of diversity in our field, but a loss of the creativity and perspective that women are known to bring to tech companies when we are given a seat at the table.

As pioneers running the only feminist dating app co-founded by two women of color, we often get questions about our experiences as women in tech. In celebration of Women’s History Month, we’re taking the opportunity to help answer some of these questions and give our self-aware male allies in Seattle — particularly the ones in tech — advice on how to be even better, more effective allies to their female counterparts.

If you’re like many men in tech, you might be nodding your head in agreement with me — right up until I ask you to something that might compromise your current comfort level.

Don’t get me wrong. Your public declaration of “I support women” in front of a diverse crowd is a great start, and we’re glad you enthusiastically offered to write your name on that petition and share it on social media. But if you’re really and truly ready to use your position to affect real change in our industry, it’s time for an upgrade.

To put it into terms we’ll all understand: Allyship 1.0 isn’t afraid to voice support for women in tech; Allyship 2.0 puts that support into action. Here’s how it can work.

1. Listen and learn.

Have you ever found yourself listening to a woman sharing her story, only to respond with an anecdote about your own struggles, or helpful advice on what you’d do if you were in her situation?

We get where you’re coming from! Men in our culture are socialized to be problem-solvers, and excellent problem-solving often leads to success in the tech world. But when it comes to the problem of oppression, sometimes the best solution of all is to simply listen, and let yourself be changed by the stories of others. This means holding off on asking questions that imply doubt about her experience, and refraining from having the last word by sharing your ‘assessment’ of her story. Remember that if a woman is opening up to you, you’ve been given a special level of trust, and an opportunity for a perspective you might not have considered on your own. Let the story be its own reward!

2. You don’t have to tell us that misogyny sucks …

How many times have you told a woman that you hate toxic masculinity just as much as she does? Or ensured her that you’d never ever do something some other insensitive fool did, because you’re “one of the good ones”?

Women are rational and observant, just like you. If you’re “one of the good ones,” we’ll know, because actions speak louder than words. If you’re looking for a way to impress us, it isn’t by telling us you’re #NotAllMen. Show us.

3. … But please do tell your buddies when we’re not around.

Believe us: it doesn’t take Billy Bush on a bus to let us know what men can be like when we’re not around. Next time a male co-worker makes an objectifying or dismissive comment about women, speak up for us! Be encouraging and positive about the badass women you know personally, making it clear that we’re not the exception, but the rule.

This doesn’t mean you need to lecture your pals, or shame them for their ignorance — we know how these strategies will backfire with egos at stake. But there are things that men will only believe and follow through if other men tell them, and we need you to be the one to tell them.

4. Hold the door open — and not in a chivalrous sense.

This is one of the most crucial ways you can help us, and one of the most difficult, because it involves not just standing up to your peers, but standing up to the leaders in your field.

If you’re asked for input on a hiring decision, encourage diversity whenever possible. If you are offered or hear about an opportunity that would be better suited for the badass woman you know, let your employer know!  For every woman that is given an opportunity in tech, there is a person who made that opportunity possible. If that person is you, you’ll earn that reputation as an ally, I promise.

5. Give credit where credit is due.

Remember when Björk told an interviewer she was tired of people automatically giving her male collaborators more credit than they gave her for her own music? Or when Hollis Wong-Wear wrote a clear-eyed response to a Seattle Times editor’s diminishing her music by calling her Macklemore’s “sidekick”? Unfortunately, experiences like these are all-too-familiar for women who work in collaboration with men.

If you notice women making important contributions to your project, let others know. A rising tide lifts all boats.

6. Don’t beat yourself up.

Even with the best of intentions, we all make mistakes. If you find yourself failing at something on this list, or worse, find yourself in conflict with a woman who is frustrated by all the things that frustrate women in this world, please don’t give up. Putting aside our own hurt feelings to act compassionately is one of the strongest things we can do. So figure out where you can do better, and do better. You got this!

Reprinted from Seattle Globalist