Combating the Toxic Side Effect of #MeToo, and Other Actions for Allies

Each week, we share five simple actions to create a more inclusive workplace and be a better ally.

Photo of bottle of poison with skull and crossbones on the label, by Pixabay via Pexels.

1. Don’t avoid colleagues because of #MeToo concerns

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again. Everyone deserves access to mentors and career-building networking opportunities. Yet, because of #MeToo concerns, more and more men are uncomfortable mentoring, socializing, or working alone with a female colleague. (Details about this trend here.)

This week, the New York Times reported that some senior male executives at the World Economic Forum in Davos are avoiding contact with younger women … because they’re concerned of being accused of harassment or misconduct.

While avoiding women may make some men feel more comfortable, it also has the toxic side effect of further isolating and ostracizing women in the workplace. The #MeToo movement is not meant to drive a giant wedge between people of different genders when it comes to professional networking and mentoring, but if men take a giant step back, it will.

To combat this trend, we recommend Action #2:

2. Mentor a cohort of five women

In response to that news from Davos, Amy Waninger (Founder and CEO of Lead at Any Level) tweeted, “If you’re nervous about mentoring a woman 1-on-1, prove to everyone you’re serious about mentoring women by creating a cohort of 5 female protégés. Always meet as a group, and listen more than you talk.”

3. Encourage employees from underrepresented groups to take on stretch assignments

Last week, Be Leaderly, an organization that offers programs for emerging women leaders, published new research: Out of the Comfort Zone: How women and men size up stretch assignments — and why leaders should care.

Here are some take-aways from their report for allies everywhere:

  • Recommend creating a company-wide system for flagging available stretch assignments so they’re offered in a way that’s not political, biased, or promoting favoritism.
  • Foster a failure-friendly environment where all employees aren’t afraid to stretch, take risks, innovate, and learn.
  • Provide employees with clear, frequent feedback — both formal and informal — so they can accurately gauge their readiness to take on stretch assignments.
  • Encourage members of underrepresented groups to “round up” their assessment of their own skills as they evaluate their readiness for a stretch assignment or next-level job. (Turns out that men do this, while women tend to “round down” their skills.)

What action will you take to encourage employees from underrepresented groups to take on career-growing stretch assignments?

4. Redirect questions to the most qualified person in the room

In the 2017 Elephant in the Valley survey, more than two hundred women working in tech positions were polled. Of women with at least ten years of experience working in tech, 84 percent said they had seen a question directed toward a male colleague when they themselves were the most qualified person in the meeting to answer it. And it’s not just men who are guilty of this, because people of all gender identities are taught to assume that men naturally hold more power.

As an ally, redirect the question to the most qualified person. All it takes is a simple “Deepa is the expert on that topic. Let’s hear from her” or “Elizabeth is our founder. She’s the best person to answer your question.”

5. Create a personal “speaker rider”

In April 2018, automation-in-testing advocate Richard Bradshaw showed his true colors as an ally. Upon discovering that the Code Europe conference he’d agreed to speak at had lined up only male speakers (a whopping eighty-seven of them), he promptly canceled.

Richard then went on to create a “speaker rider” for himself that requires both a code of conduct and diverse speakers for any event at which he’ll agree to present.

If you speak in public and want to support more diversity in speaker lineups, consider crafting your personal “speaker rider” to send a message about the kinds of events you’re willing to speak at.


Being an ally is a journey. Want to join us?

Together, we can — and will — make a difference.