IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Working Mother's Subha Barry: 6 ways men can help women advance in the workplace

"On Father’s Day, let’s give a shout-out to all the men in our lives who find their own unique ways to support us and enable a more equitable workplace and society," says Barry.
Subha Barry, president of Working Mother Media.
Subha Barry, president of Working Mother Media.Miller Hawkins

Men are increasingly engaged in all elements of supporting women, and this is a heartwarming trend. Dads are co-parenting in greater numbers, caregiving dads are no longer a rarity and men are aware of the privilege they have in the workplace and are consciously stepping up to be allies, mentors, sponsors and engaged colleagues. Greater awareness around how their behavior is perceived and received has led to fundamental behavior change in the workplace. The “boys will be boys” excuse is not used anymore because it’s simply become unacceptable.

My niece just had a baby, and her husband is changing diapers, bathing and feeding the little one and even taking the night shift so his wife can rest and recover. Among the millennial generation, this is no longer the exception. Even baby boomers who have chosen to have children later in life are more engaged and supportive of their spouses. The trend to being more-involved parents is here to stay for the guys.

Similarly, younger men entering the workforce, who have grown up in a more multicultural and gender-balanced world, bring their open and inclusive selves to the workplace. The resulting culture of gender partnership will tear down old norms and biases (we hope). There is an inherent respect for a colleague, whether male or female, and a willingness to be an ally when they see unfairness.

At the same time, older men who have been getting a free pass for their bad behavior are publicly getting called out and shamed. Think of Harvey Weinstein and Charlie Rose and the 199 senior male leaders who were ousted by the #metoo movement. Their companies are paying the toll with loss of dollars and reputation. The message is clear. Change the culture, and the bad players either opt out or are thrown out. The good news is that in 50 percent of these cases, women leaders replaced these 201 men.

We at Working Mother have worked hard for over 33 years focusing on helping companies create programs, policies and cultures that are inclusive of working moms. I’m proud that our 100 Best Companies list is a benchmark for high standards and best practices. The changes in demographics and attitudes have led us to realize that men, specifically dads, play a critical role in enabling women who are their spouses to succeed in the workplace. Last year, for the first time, we published a list of companies that were focusing on policies and programs that would support their employees who were dads.

The Best Companies for Dads list will be published annually, and we will have an event to showcase the best practices, and honor and celebrate the dads in those companies. We are also launching a piece of research to understand what these dads need to actively co-parent their children. There is a clear opportunity to leverage millennials and those in Gen Z, and harness their openness to be true co-parents to break down the barriers that are holding back women in the workplace.

There will be challenges; if you believed that there is a stigma against well-educated women who get degrees from top schools and choose to be stay-at-home moms, think of how a dad will be perceived if he chooses to be a stay-at-home dad. It’s almost as bad as a man who doesn’t enjoy sports or doesn’t play golf or basketball. Societal norms are slow to change, and it will demand our effort, persistence and patience.

But in the meantime, let’s not be afraid to think of what these dads can continue to do or do more of; not only for their own spouses but for women colleagues at work! Here are a few ideas:

At home, ask your spouse for three things on her to-do list that she could delegate to you. And please do it each week! Ask her if there are specific ways in which she would like them done--because women often redo tasks that they’ve delegated when they feel they haven’t been completed accurately. (And women, limit criticism of how your partner accomplishes these tasks; his way might be different, but done is done. Plus, he's more likely to help again if he believes you think he did a good job).

Plan to take the full amount of parental leave that is offered, and work with your partner on how to toggle the leave, maximizing how you help at home and easing her transition back to work. If you can swing it, take off a month upfront to assist during the most challenging days with a newborn and a week or two off at the end of your spouse’s maternity leave to give her peace of mind that one parent is on hand as the child gets used to the childcare arrangement.

Communicate this plan to your team and HR so they can plan around it to accommodate workflows.

Speak about this both to your social networks at home and to colleagues at work, in your employee resource groups and company meetings. Seeing male colleagues bring the parenting side of their selves to work and share the successes and challenges benefits both men and women.

If you are a leader in your organization, create a safe environment at work to have conversations around paternity and parental leave, inviting men who have taken leave to speak at meetings, inviting women who’ve experienced the support and those who haven’t to share their insights. This all leads to an inclusive culture.

Also as a leader, welcoming innovative ideas on how to better support men and women as they struggle with balancing life and work during the child-rearing years sets the stage for openness and honest communications that are sure to lead to better job productivity and satisfaction.

It doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game. With positive intent, thoughtful planning, accountability and regular assessments, we can have win-wins! On Father’s Day, let’s give a shout-out to all the men in our lives who find their own unique ways to support us and enable a more equitable workplace and society. And let’s also recognize the companies that are enabling them to do so.

Subha V. Barry is a world recognized diversity and inclusion expert and currently serves as the President of Working Mother Media.