Male Allies – Knights in Shining Armour or Reducing Accidental Sexism?

by Jul 19, 2022

Knights in Shining Armour or Reducing Accidental Sexism?


How can we reduce accidental sexism?  Instead of focusing on these grand gestures, we should be looking at solving and changing the underlying challenges and problems – the causes.


I was preparing to sit on some ‘male ally’ panels and deliver some keynotes in connection with International Women’s Day back in March. This year’s theme was ‘Break the Bias.’

On these panels I quite often hear women talking about the time that a man helped them in their careers and visa versa, men talking about a time they helped a women. When you hear the details these acts are quite often one-off, large and welcome interventions. For example: “He helped me get the promotion” orI helped her by including her in external meetings” or “He mentored me” and “ I championed her.”  It often leaves me thinking well that’s his day job and why is he on a platform sharing this?

Instead of focusing on these grand gestures, should we be looking at solving and changing the underlying challenges and problems – the causes?  Accidental sexism.

Accidental sexism

Worth a read: A small way men can be better allies – 3 Plus International

Our research shows that it is the daily ‘accidental sexism’ that have the biggest negative effect on women’s careers. As male allies, we need to understand the lived experience of our female colleagues. Next, we should accept that we have a male relative advantage and that this no-doubt makes us blind to how these everyday accidental sexisms have a comparatively greater negative impact on our female colleagues.

Examples of accidental sexism

Let me share some examples of accidental sexism so we are clear:

•             Interrupting and talking over

•             Not crediting for contributions

•             Side-lining in social and work networks

•             Making judgements about strengths and weaknesses based on gender stereotypes

•             Judging the same behaviour by different standards

•             Failing to offer opportunities due to benevolent assumptions

•             Not giving direct and clear feedback because you are afraid of upsetting an individual

•             Giving ‘office housework’ jobs to women

Not so trivial

Some of these subtle attitudes and behaviours may seem trivial but if they are happening on a daily basis result in the lack of diversity in many roles and senior positions we see in our firms today. We, men and women, all exhibit forms of accidental sexism, it is engrained in us from the social expectations of different genders. However male accidental sexisms create barriers to equity of opportunity in the workplace for women.

Worth a read: Bystander tips for male allies – 3 Plus International

Helping more of our male colleagues to understand this is the first step to becoming a true male ally and the key to breaking the bias. The next step is to get them to do something about it – not just big gestures, but lots of small ones – day in day out.


The 3Plus International Unconscious Bias Training Workshops will help reduce accidental sexism in your organisation . Find out more HERE.


Mark Freed Contributor
Mark Freed is CEO of E2W who has supported women in their financial services careers and enabled Financial Institutions to gain the benefits of a more diverse workforce.

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