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  • Writer's pictureRyon McDermott

New Research Summary: Men's Allyship against sexism in Male-Dominated Work Environments

We sat down with Dr. Meg Warren (Western Washington University) to discuss her new research report, Good for the goose and good for the gander: Examining positive psychological benefits of male allyship for men and women, published in our flagship journal, Psychology of Men & Masculinities. Dr. Warren and her coauthors (full citation below) unpacked the personal and relational benefits of men's anti-sexist allyship on men's and women's personal and relational experiences in the workplace. The link below provides a brief abstract, and we hope you take a minute to check it out.

Warren, M. A., Bordoloi, S. D., & Warren, M. T. (2021). Good for the goose and good for the gander: Examining positive psychological benefits of male allyship for men and women. Psychology of Men & Masculinities. Advance online publication.

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What were the research questions you were answering with this study?

Research has shown that in the absence of male allyship, women are forced to carry the burden of fighting against ‘everyday sexism’ -- sexist humor, being passed over for opportunities, microaggressions -- all alone, which leads to a sense of isolation, stress, and depletion. My colleagues and I anticipated that the actions of individual male allies, even simple everyday acts, should serve as a counterweight to these sorts of negative effects by instead increasing women colleagues’ feelings of inclusion, and sense of energy and vitality.

Research has also shown that toxic masculinity (that is, social norms of masculinity of domination and aggression) turns men away from being partners in gender equality, but it also stunts their own emotional development and social relationships. In contrast, our hypothesis was that when men become authentic allies, men shift into a positive and caring masculinity mindset, and this should be linked to their personal growth. There is also anecdotal evidence that men who engage in gender equality issues at work tend to be more perceptive to issues of inequality closer to home and become better husbands, fathers, brothers, and sons, thereby enriching their family relationships. We tested these hypotheses in our paper.

What are some of the key findings of this study?

The findings from the study supported our hypotheses: Women who perceived their male colleagues as allies experienced greater energy and enthusiasm. Importantly, our data further suggest that one of the reasons why allyship may foster women’s energy and enthusiasm is because it engenders feelings of inclusion in the workplace -- in other words, allyship in male-dominant units may help women feel like they belong, and this helps them function enthusiastically in the workplace. Men’s allyship was also associated with their own personal growth and work-family enrichment. That is, the positive effects of allyship in their work relationships may spill over to improve their family relationships. Importantly, our data further suggest that one of the reasons why men’s allyship at work may enrich their family relationships is because it engenders a sense of personal growth.

What are some key implications of your findings for research or practice?

The findings about women have important long-term implications, because if women feel energized and included as a result of allyship, they might be more likely to stay with the organization rather than quit, and strive to positively change a sexist workplace, rather than give up. The findings about men have important implications because if men experience personal growth and transfer those learnings to improve relationships at home, the female family members of male allies may also benefit (e.g., emotionally, in terms of equity) through their relationships with those men. This suggests the possibility that male allyship precipitates positive ripple effects that extend beyond the workplace.

Where do you see this line of research heading in the future (i.e., what's next)?

Despite the positive benefits of allyship to men themselves, and despite their intentions to be allies, some of our recent research shows that many men hesitate to engage in allyship. In upcoming research, we are exploring the barriers to allyship from a lay perspective, and constructing a measure to assess their readiness to develop into strong allies in the workplace.

How did you become interested in this line of inquiry?

I am a diversity, equity, and inclusion scholar, and the current paper is part of my doctoral dissertation. In my own personal experiences, as well as through various interactions as an instructor in the classroom, and speaker on several platforms, I have observed that there are men who express the desire to be active partners for gender equity. Yet, they also express confusion about how to do allyship well, especially in polarized contexts. This puzzle inspired me to develop this line of research that seeks to understand and empower potential allies to leverage their best intentions and their strongest qualities to contribute meaningfully, safely, and effectively toward gender equity.

Meg Warren, Ph.D.

Associate Professor of Management | College of Business and Economics

Western Washington University

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