October 18th was a sunny autumn day in Lincoln, Nebraska, perfect weather for the 2017 Women Advance IT Leadership Conference featuring topics on women advancing the future of IT in Higher Education. Among the sessions was a Coffee and Conversation panel discussion: “Being Male Allies for Advancing Women in IT”. Brenda Spychalla co-leads the Women in IT EDUCAUSE group, along with Bernadette Williams-Looper from University of North Carolina – Charlotte.
- Jesse La Grew (JL) from UW DoIT User Services Departmental Support
- Andrea Mascher (AM), University of Iowa,
- Heath Tuttle (HT), University of Nebraska – Lincoln
- Wes Juranek (WJ), University of Nebraska Central Administration.
The first three questions of the panel discussion dove right in to the heart of the matter:
Q1: What does it mean to you to be a male ally/ what do you look for in a male ally?
HT – For me, it is about awareness first and foremost: how I interact with everyone in my department, with women colleagues and how those interactions may be perceived by others. There has been more interest around this in the past year or two. To me, there is a big difference between an ally versus an advocate. While I do not want to define each role for all, I feel there is definitely a distinction. I want to further the voice of women in IT and be cognizant of this on a daily basis and considering it at all times.
JL – Being a male ally means helping support any individual and taking an active role – which is more than just sitting behind a desk. Self awareness in a huge part of this effort. I start with myself, I work to understand what I am thinking, what I am feeling and how I am being perceived and getting that feedback. If I am not being a good example, I am not helping to forward this effort.
WJ – My awareness began a year ago when I was invited to a Male Ally meeting at the 2016 Women Advance IT Conference. It felt intimidating, I asked myself, “Am I an ally”? It was the beginning of a journey. I was willing to start on journey to promote a more diverse organization in an effort to be a better organization. Allyship means being engaged, learning about current topics and issues. Use what resources are at my disposal to help our women counterparts.
AM – What I look for in a male ally is for someone willing to take action. When discussing this with my partner, he did not believe there is gender inequality, but after I made him aware, he noticed it at his own place of employment. Work and credit were misapplied to him. No one took action to correct this. He struggled as he asked himself “what should I have done in that moment”? He would like to be more fluid bias interrupter.
Q2: Can you share an experience that showed you the value in being a male ally?
HT – I can’t pinpoint any specific moment or incident. Now that I am more aware, I’ve noticed people taking credit and giving away credit. I also noticed the (verbal) interrupting cited widely in literature I’ve read. I encourage you to be aware of your own actions: do you interrupt people? do you interrupt women?
JL – I have a 16 year old daughter. I want her to see all of her own possibilities and have a future without facing a barrier she may feels she can’t overcome. I attended a discussion at a Big Ten Leadership Conference that encouraged openess, honesty and open dialog. Unfortunately, attendees were all communicating very, very cautiously. They were all careful with what they were saying, afraid to step on toes. That group put in so much time, energy and effort to build a culture and rapport but it was still so hard to have an honest dialog. We all trusted each other but struggled to talk it out. The message I got was ‘we are still not comfortable talking about this/ are in an uncomfortable situation’. There is fear around the discussion, and I have felt it myself but I need to embrace it. I need to engage in the conversation that people are thinking and feeling and engage in all the emotion behind it. I know I am going to screw up: I need to hear feedback and then do something about it and around it. We need to be willing to learn along the way and acknowledge that we may stumble.
Brenda Spychalla – We need to acknowledge that we are all vulnerable in this conversation and that all are awkward in their first steps when entering this conversation…and that’s okay.
Q3: What are some initial steps individuals and campuses are taking to engage men in becoming allies?
JL – The seeds were planted at a Big Ten Leadership group after having a conversation with other men. We asked each other:
- How do we get women more invested in IT programs?
- How can we get something things moving?
- How can we get men involved?
- What would it take?
- Who would be interested?
I was motivated to take some action. I sought out and received some great feedback and perspective from wife. Then, I went to our local Women in IT program coordinator Brenda Spychalla, and learned about this thing called “a Male Ally” and asked myself:
- What does this look like?
- How can we build a community and candidly discuss, “What is a Male Ally”?
Since then, we have been reaching out on campus to get support and generate interest. We are hoping early next year to create a space to talk about this. We have people who are interested in starting this conversation. It wont be a session where you sit in a room an bare your deepest feelings. At this point its a all a grass roots effort where we talk to a few people, they are talking to a few more people. On the UW campus, we have a number of diversity efforts. In User Services we have a community, but I think this challenges us as a larger community.
To see and hear the rest of this Coffee and Conversation, please click here and listen to its entirety .
While there is no standard definition for “Male Ally”, here are a few timely articles to help spark some thought and discussion.
- Top 10 Ways To Be a Male Advocate for Technical Women
- Men as Allies: Engaging Men to Advance Women in the Workplace (PDF)
Check back here at the US Newsletter, we will keep you posted on developments for the upcoming UW-WIT event currently in the works.