The importance of male allyship

Andrew Earnshaw

By Andrew Earnshaw

On International Women’s Day 2021, we spoke to Andrew Earnshaw, a long-term sponsor of our Women in Tech (WiT) initiative. In this interview, Andrew shares his thoughts on the importance of male allyship in the gender diversity challenge.

How did you get involved with WiT and why is it important to you?

My involvement with WiT began five years ago, just as PA partnered with Code First Girls (CFG) to offer free coding courses to women. The young woman who founded the partnership was looking for senior sponsorship, as a fairly new partner I recognising the potential in the scheme and volunteered. Diverse graduate recruitment at the time was a real challenge. We kept seeing the same kind of people coming through the recruitment pipeline – there was a running joke that every year we would hire a computer science graduate from the same University. Unfortunately, at that stage, female graduate hires were few and far between, and early on I recognised the opportunity the CFG scheme offered to increase the diversity of the talent pool we were inviting to interview.

The past five years have been an interesting journey, and it has been incredibly rewarding to see how the WiT initiative has matured. The first session we did was a single group focused on web technology. Now the team runs three courses a year with broader focus to include more advanced technologies like Python.

I knew CFG would be a helpful addition to the recruitment portfolio, providing a mechanism to draw from a more diverse talent pool, but the initiative has evolved to represent much more than this. It provides the opportunity for PA instructors to prove their skills and knowledge, and has allowed for communities of alumnae to form and provide support and the vehicle for action. The scheme has evolved dramatically since it started, but the fundamentals remain the same – to promote diversity in technology by providing free access to quality tuition.

Why is it important that men engage in the gender diversity discussion?

History plays a big part in the gender diversity problem – we have a natural tendency to want to hire people like us, and historically the workforce has been predominantly male. So, we need to consciously focus on diverse recruitment. But, when you’re trying to tackle the challenge of more diverse recruitment, you don’t want to create two parallel streams of entry and create any artificial divisions. The key is in improving the collective, aligning on purpose and how everybody can work together to improve career opportunities for women.

Being a male ally is important to me because I like to think I encourage other men to participate. My involvement demonstrates that supporting these initiatives is right, and it shouldn’t be seen as an unusual thing to be involved in or as a tick in the box. It means so much more than this, as we can only improve women’s access to training and career opportunities with concerted, collective efforts.

What are some actionable steps men can take to be better allies in the workplace?

There are two main things that I would recommend:

1.      Be aware of unconscious bias

Ask yourself every day: am I implying or embedding some unconscious bias in this decision? I find that employing an aide memoir that makes me ask this question regularly, or at any significant points of choice (such as selecting benefits and assignment teams) can be helpful. It also helps to have a coach or mentor around you who can identify these things as well. It’s important that this person isn’t frightened to challenge your decisions, as with independent, fresh eyes, they can spot things that may pass you by.

On a more macro level you can combat unconscious bias by calling out bad behaviour publicly. It’s important not to be vindictive in this endeavour, but to approach the situation with humility and an understanding that mistakes can be made and learned from. Challenging inappropriate language and behaviour sets a precedent and empowers others to do the same.

2.      Don’t be frightened by male allyship

I’ve found my sponsorship of Women in Tech a lot of fun. When attending the Code First Girls presentation events, I’ve really enjoyed seeing the demonstrations developed by the teams and witnessing the growth of individuals throughout the programme. These events are a real highlight, with guest speakers from Google, Microsoft and AWS, both male and female, speaking about what diversity means to them. I’ve also seen individuals coming through the programme into roles at PA, which is very fulfilling. I would encourage my male colleagues to banish any feelings of otherness that they may feel.

It’s important we all participate in furthering the gender diversity mission because, ultimately, ingenuity requires diversity of thought. Our clients expect us to be innovators, and this can only really come from having people of a variety of backgrounds, viewpoints and skills in a room. This is why it’s so important that we all engage in the gender diversity discussion.

About the authors

Andrew Earnshaw
Andrew Earnshaw PA healthcare expert

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