Women have spent decades contorting themselves to fit into workplaces designed for men, says Joanne Lipman, author of That’s What She Said: What Men Need to Know (and Women Need to Tell Them) About Working Together. About a year has passed since the #MeToo movement seemed poised to change that, yet little systemic progress has been made, she points out.
“I have to say I have some frustration,” says Lipman, who has been on a book tour speaking with leaders at corporations, universities, and conferences. “There’s been a lot of talk. There’s been not so much action.”
Despite the fact that some high-profile executives who engaged in bad behavior have been ousted, Lipman says America needs a complete cultural overhaul of how we behave at work. And that burden shouldn’t fall on women alone.
“We have books telling us that we have to improve our competence level, demand to be paid what we’re worth, and we need to speak up,” she says. “And all of those things are very, very valid. But I feel like women are already leaning in so far, we’re almost falling over.”
Here are some of Lipman’s tips for men who want to be better colleagues.
Call out bad behavior.
A culture that allows harassment typically also permits “lesser abuses of women,” Lipman says. It’s not just about sexual abuse — it’s about a culture that encourages or turns a blind eye to it. Men who speak up risk being mocked or penalized — but they must do it anyway, she says. “If a woman is feeling that she’s being bullied or abused or harassed by someone, very rarely is she alone in that,” Lipman says. “Usually the person that’s doing it is doing it to others as well. . . . We all need to share that information.”
Want to give a female colleague a hug? She might be fine with that, but you must ask first. Lipman spoke with one woman who works in an industry where off-color jokes are prevalent. Nervous to joke around her, some male peers asked if she was offended. “She [told them], ‘I’m totally fine with this . . . but the next woman might not be. So it’s great that you asked.’” (It’s always best to keep the jokes clean, though.)
Listen to women.
At one firm, an all-female group started inviting senior male executives to their meetings. Those invitations became so coveted that men were lobbying to get an invitation, Lipman says. It worked for both sides because the men were able to hear about the issues the women talk about — plus they got face time with up-and-coming women. “These younger women are now top of mind when it comes to new opportunities, promotions, prized projects, all those kinds of things.”