This article originally appeared in the November 2023 issue of Security Business magazine. When sharing, don’t forget to mention Security Business magazine on LinkedIn and @SecBusinessMag on Twitter.
Earlier this year, I had the privilege of being on stage at a prominent security conference as part of a keynote panel discussing "Tips for Male Allies to Support Women in Their Organizations." The room was buzzing with excitement, and we were all set to share insights on fostering a more inclusive workplace.
As we prepared, a projector screen behind us displayed the awards presented the day before, including one given to me: the "Rising Tide" award. It recognized my contributions as the Chair of PSA’s Women’s Committee, a cause I'm deeply passionate about
However, it was an incident during the Networking Happy Hour that made me ponder the true impact of our message. A former colleague came over to congratulate me, but the way he did it was unexpected. With a touch of chivalry, he bent down and planted a kiss on my hand.
I don't believe he intended any harm; however, I'm fairly certain he wouldn't have congratulated a male colleague in the same manner. It was a friendly gesture, a nod to tradition and politeness. Yet, this moment brought to light the subtle, unexpected challenges that women can encounter in the workplace.
What struck me even more was the reaction of two male colleagues standing nearby. They awkwardly scuffled away, and later teased me about the unusual encounter. And to top that off, I felt the need to make them feel better and more comfortable.
At that moment, it became evident that despite our sincere efforts to champion gender equality and encourage support, there is still work to be done. Sometimes, the message we're trying to convey falls short. This experience was a strong reminder of how crucial supporters are in the security industry.
The role of allies is crucial in creating a workplace where everyone can thrive, regardless of gender. To be an ally, one must move beyond well-intentioned gestures and truly change the game, reshaping our industry for the better.
As I set out to write this column, I wanted to give advice specifically to male allies; however, in our ever-changing, more inclusive world, it is crucial to understand that someone’s discomfort and the need for allies does not depend on gender – it is a universal thing, and anyone can play a role in creating an inclusive environment.
How to Be a Better Ally
The actions and support of allies can transcend well-intentioned gestures and genuinely reshape the landscape of our industry.
Here are seven ways allies can create a workplace where every professional – regardless of gender – can thrive and advance as a team. By implementing these actions, we can all contribute to fostering a more inclusive, respectful, and supportive work environment in the security industry, where everyone has the opportunity to excel and thrive. Together, as allies, we can make a real difference in the journey towards equality.
1. Stay present: In awkward moments, remain engaged and supportive. Don't distance yourself from the situation.
2. Acknowledge awkwardness: Acknowledge any uncomfortable situations. A simple comment like, "That's an interesting way to say/do that, isn't it?" can help ease tension and show empathy.
3. Offer empathy: Express empathy for how the person involved might be feeling. Ask if they're okay or need any support.
4. Redirect the conversation: If the atmosphere becomes uncomfortable, consider shifting the conversation toward a more neutral or positive topic to ease the tension.
5. Educate gently: When appropriate, gently educate individuals who may have caused the awkward moment about more suitable and inclusive ways to interact or express support.
6. Support privately: Reach out privately to the person involved in the awkward situation to offer support and discuss the incident. This demonstrates your willingness to help them navigate such moments.
7. Promote inclusivity: Utilize these experiences as opportunities to advocate for inclusivity within the organization. Share them (without disclosing names) as examples of why inclusive interactions are crucial and encourage others to learn from them.