Your male colleague says something sexist? It’s your two-second litmus test moment (review of Good Guys)

I failed the test but I’ll be ready for the next one.

I was in a meeting with a manager who kept mentioning “his girls”. He wasn’t talking about his preteen daughters. He was referring to his colleagues around the boardroom table.  

I shot the women a sympathetic look but didn’t call out the manager. I was still new on the job and stunned by this unexpected throwback to the 1950s. I admit that was a pretty thin excuse for staying silent.

Men saying sexist and stupid things serve up what David G. Smith and W. Brad Johnson call litmus test moments. These are the moments when the women we work with decide whether we’re an ally or a bystander. And we have no more than two seconds to pick a side.

So what should we say?

The authors of Good Guys: How Men Can Be Better Allies for Women in the Workplace recommend a single word.

“Just say ‘ouch!’. The beauty of the ouch intervention is that it buys you a few extra seconds to formulate a coherent way to communicate what landed the wrong way with you.

“So, after you tell everyone in the meeting or within earshot in the workplace that something just happened that wasn’t okay, you’ve now got time to formulate your follow-up elaboration.”

You can elaborate by saying the comment or quip wasn’t cool, it was way out of line and not something we say or do around here.

You can ask your colleague if he really just said what you thought you heard. Did he actually mean it? Did he think he was being funny, clever, ironic or endearing?

“Going against your gender tribe’s long-standing bro code to promote an equitable and inclusive workplace is where the cost of allyship quickly gets real,” acknowledge Smith and Johnson.

They believe public confrontation’s warranted if your male colleague is a malignant and serial misogynist, is young enough to know better, has been unapologetic about past misbehavior or has said something so egregious or offensive that it demands an immediate rebuke.

For a clueless colleague who doesn’t check these boxes, follow up your “ouch” with a private conversation. 

The women we work with don’t need to be rescued. They’re not looking for a savior. They just want us to be better allies.

“Allies emphasize humility and gender partnership – men and women working together in complementary roles – to create and support inclusive workplaces.”

It’s not enough to be an ally in private. Men need to speak up and advocate for gender equality, especially when women aren’t in the room.

“Speaking out isn’t easy,” admit Smith and Johnson. “But becoming a partner and ally to women is a crucial element of helping them reach equity in the workplace. If you think you’re doing enough, you’re probably not. Push further.”

The authors offer 60 practical strategies for interpersonal, public and systemic allyship.

We’ve all had the privilege of working and living with wicked smart and strong women.  As colleagues, husbands and dads, we need to be more than just good guys. Gender inequality is not a women’s issue. It’s a leadership issue and it’s a fight we need to loudly join as all-in allies.

This review first ran in the Dec. 26 edition of the Hamilton Spectator. Jay Robb serves as communications manager with McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.  

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Jay Robb

I've reviewed more than 500 business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999 and worked in public relations since 1993.

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