An examination of peer-reviewed research across various industries regarding the roles men can take to improve gender equality in the workplace.
Though not always referred to as “male allies,” men have long been involved in various aspects of addressing gender equality. Abolitionist Frederick Douglass was a supporter for female suffrage back in the mid- to late 1800s. In the 1950s, the “husbands and boyfriends” of SWE Philadelphia Section members created the informal “Men’s Artillery” for companionship while waiting for section meetings to conclude, and in 1967, the more formal Men’s Auxiliary, Society of Women Engineers (MASWE) was established Society-wide to provide fundraising and other support for SWE members.1 In the 1970s, men came together to advocate an end to violence against women, establishing influential groups across the United States. While the motivations of men advocating women’s rights throughout the years may differ, these examples show that men’s influence in addressing gender equality can lead to significant change.
Often when we think about male allies in the workplace, we consider men who mentor, sponsor, and advocate the fair treatment of women — and this is especially true in male-dominated industries and in places where women hold few high-level positions. Where men are the majority, their behaviors and actions are necessary to address inequities within their immediate spheres, but research shows that they also have the ability to serve as role models and spokespersons for other men.
We conducted a review of research literature to learn more about the effectiveness of male allies in improving gender equality in the workplace. While important research has been conducted by companies and organizations to inform the work of male allies,2 only studies published in peer-reviewed publications or conference proceedings after 1998 that contained either findings, conclusions, or recommendations concerning men in roles as mentors, sponsors, or advocates in promoting women’s equality were included in this review. Using a keyword search,3 we sought relevant literature in the following databases: Academic Search Complete, JSTOR®, Business Source, and Google Scholar™.
We acknowledge the significant body of literature related to male allies’ involvement in addressing race, LGBTQ+, and larger gender-equity issues (such as violence against women) and recognize that this research can inform the work of male allies in addressing gender equity in the workplace. However, we purposefully kept this review focused on the research available on male allies and gender equity/equality in the university and the workplace. Though we had intended to focus on gender equity in the STEM workforce, this proved too narrow a focus. The following literature review includes research that pertains to the role that men can take as allies, across different industries.