Status Quo: How Male Allies Can Effect Change

I happened to be visiting a city recently where I had family and a couple of meetings. Between engagements, I stopped for some lunch and sat outside to enjoy the beautiful weather. While I was sitting on a bench in a surprisingly not-so-clean park, a gust of wind lifted up my napkin. As it danced in the air, I thought to myself “Ah, just let it go – the place is littered anyway.” For the record, this is atypical for me as I’m a strong anti-litter guy. As luck would have it the wind blew it back right where it started. It actually landed right on the bench next to me. It occurred to me then how the littered environment adjusted my thinking, or more correctly how I adjusted my thinking to the environment. That day I was willing to accept litter and my being complicit  with it. But that is what happens, people adjust and get comfortable, and complacent. They don’t often challenge. And status quo remains so.

We Don’t See Who’s Not There

Too often we accept things as given. Women are underrepresented, and undervalued, in a great many places. Most people simply accept this, and just don’t notice. In fact, only 33% of men believe there is gender bias in the workplace. Far fewer (only 10%) believed that women are treated unfairly at their own workplaces. Men have become so accustomed to seeing mostly men in power positions that when just one woman is added among nine male leaders, 50% of men say that is good female representation.

Recently, I was working on gender issues for a large federal agency. At their national training center, I noticed an evaluation exercise was taking place with an all-male group. I asked the exercise coordinator why all the evaluators where male. He said, “Because these are the guys that always do it – I know they can.” I pressed on, “Are there women who would also have the capability?” He had to pause and think. “Yes, but …”

This is no isolated incident. For example, 75% of all conference speakers are male. (Editor’s note: Here’s a woman for your keynote stage!) And progress is not being made. There has been a 25% drop in the number of female Fortune 500 CEOs since 2017, for example. This, despite media’s attention on the outliers, the rare new female face at the head of the corporate table.

Status quo remains status quo until challenged.

Where Are the Women?

One way to challenge is very simple – just ask, “Where are the women?”

If you see an imbalance in male panelists at a conference – ask, “Where are the women?”

When you see a conference program that is dominated by male speakers, ask, “Where are the women?”

And when you walk into a meeting where most of the seats are occupied by men, ask, “Where are the women?”

Of course, this is not an original idea. “Where are the women?” has been written about in the Huffington Post, Fast Company, and any number of other publications. But that does not mean the call to action is heeded.  Even where obvious disparities exist, too few speak up and ask even simple questions concerning the disparity.

Why Don’t We Ask?

When people witness any number of forms of injustices, there are three key reason why they don’t act:

  1. Bystander effect – the belief that others will take responsibility and act
  2. Conformity – pressure/fear/trepidation against upsetting the opinion of the majority or to act against it.
  3. Psychological standing – a sense of not having skin in the game – the sense that it is irrelevant to them or not their place to intercede.

Do you recognize conformity as “not upsetting the apple cart”? Accepting things as given, rather than challenging the situation? Comfort and complacency go hand in hand.

I do wonder about that park I ate lunch in, how many people notice the litter and how many would notice one more piece of trash. What if I had not only picked up my own trash, but also started picking up a good deal of it. Would others join in, or would they just think I was nutty: fighting a losing battle, and musing about what difference I could possibly make. I don’t have these answers, but I do know others witnessing my actions would consider those actions if only briefly. The starting point to solving any problem is to get people to consider the problem.  To get others to see that status quo, especially where unacceptable, need not be accepted as given. Sometimes it takes just one person, and perhaps just a couple of words to shed light that turns into actions by others.

“Where are the women?”

by David S. Rowell – The Parity Consultant

Learn more about David’s work at



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