After reading a recent article by Sendhil Mullainathan in the New York Times, I understood what my black colleagues mean when they say that having white allies gives them room to breathe. What are allies? The North American Students of Cooperation (NASCO) offers these helpful definitions:
- Allies validate and support people who are different from themselves.
- Allies examine their own prejudices and privileges and are not afraid to look at themselves.
- Allies act to be part of the solution.
As a white woman, I have spent much of my life thinking and talking and writing about how women need to work together to push for change to improve the lives of women. Mullainathan, a professor at Harvard, writing as a male ally about the part men play in creating challenges for successful women, gives me room to breathe.
Even when women manage to buck societal barriers and become successful, Mullainathan reports on the unseen costs of success for women:
- A recent Swedish study of gender differences found that the divorce rate increased for successful female political candidates, but not for male candidates. The authors acknowledge that this study, like most, focuses only on heterosexual partners.
- Women who become CEOs divorce at a higher rate than men.
- Another study found that women who received Oscars in Hollywood for best actress were more likely to divorce, which is not the case for men who won for best actor.
- When the wife in a couple earns more than her spouse, she spends more time on household chores than her husband and is more likely to end up divorced.
Other researchers concluded that to a significant extent, “women are bringing personal glass ceilings from home to the workplace,” installed by spouses who cannot tolerate their success.
The author steps forward as an ally when he notes that if sexism is so widespread among other men, he himself is probably sexist. “Fixing these problems is my responsibility — and the responsibility of other men, too.” He suggests that men need to
- Engage in introspection and become aware of their attitudes and behaviors
- Ask questions of the women in their lives and listen to their pain-filled answers
- Identify behavior changes they can make and encourage other men to do the same
When I read this article, I immediately felt and thought, “I can breathe!”
Anne Litwin, Ph.D. is an Organizational Development and Human Resources Consultant, Keynote Speaker, and Author of ‘New Rules for Women: Revolutionizing the Way Women Work Together.’
Originally published at www.annelitwin.com on April 9, 2018.