Monday, July 27, 2020

Male Allyship as the New Theory and Practice of Gender Equality (Thomson Reuters/ Penn Law Study)

Principal Author: Rangita de Silva de Alwis, Associate Dean of International Affairs,  University of Pennsylvania Carey  Law School  and Leader in Practice at WAPPP, Harvard Kennedy School (2019-2021)

Rangita de Silva de Alwis thanks Vice Dean David Wilkins of Harvard Law School for inspiring this study and Dean Theodore Ruger, Dean of Penn Law School for supporting the work. 

The following excerpt is from an examination of a study conducted at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School on "Allyship in the Future of Work."

In the Spring of 2020, a team of Penn Law students interviewed 35 male law students on their philosophy on allyship. Responding to over 35 questions, these future leaders from a diverse demographic, examined patterns of behavior, policies, and principles that could advance allyship and break down barriers to gender and racial equality in institutional settings in law, business, and politics. 

Introduction: The Challenge

"Our progress, however, is far from finished. In law, and in most elite professions, men still dramatically outnumber women in positions of leadership. Although half of law students and nearly half of lawyers are women, women make up only one-third of attorneys in private practice, 21 percent of equity partners, and 12 percent of the managing partners, chairmen, or CEOs of law firms. Men also run the corporations that we represent as lawyers: fewer than 5 percent of CEOs of Fortune 500 companies are women. Women are also underrepresented as lawmakers and interpreters of the law, making up about 24 percent of Congress, 18 percent of governors, 29 percent of state legislators, 27 percent of mayors of the largest one hundred cities, 27 percent of federal judges,5 and 35 percent of state appellate judges. Why, despite years of equality in access to voting for lawmakers, do women still trail behind men in the legal profession? To understand what holds us back, I believe we need to look beyond political rights—voting, holding office, jury service—to gendered family norms and the workplace structures that reinforce these norms." 

SEE Kerry Abrams, Family, Gender and Leadership in the Legal Profession. Women and L.1,1 (2020) 
The underrepresentation of women in law and politics in the US in the 21st century unmasks a crisis. Beneath the data lies a human story of barriers, biases, and boundaries that impede the progress of women and minority women. Recent data from the World Bank reveals still quite a long way to go to achieve gender equality in the world, especially in the world of work. For instance, women in 90 economies are legally excluded from certain types of employment. In addition, less than half of the economies covered by the World Bank study have legislation ordering equal remuneration for work of equal value. With regard to parental leave, only 43 economies have paid parental leave that can be shared by mothers and fathers, crucial for the sharing of child care responsibilities between women and men and critical for equalizing the playing field for women and men. As for the economies providing paid maternity leave, almost half of them require the employer to bear the costs either partially or in full and thereby providing a financial incentive for employers to hire men instead of women. Furthermore, 50 economies lack laws protecting women from sexual harassment in the workplace. See World Bank Group, Women, Business, and the Law 2020 (2020).

Despite progress, there exists a subtle bias, or what Deborah Rhode has described as "second-generation discrimination" which is hard to pinpoint (and even invisible) but nevertheless creates a harmful undercurrent of gender bias in the workplace, especially against women of color. These daily indignities and exclusions are often defined as a thousand paper cuts. Even though they do not give rise to a viable anti-discrimination claim, yet collectively, these incidents constitute overtime, very real obstacles, and barriers to advancement for women at work.
The most effective step that can be taken is to get women of color into positions of authority and leadership. For this, male allies need to stand up against the overt and subtle forms of bias that robs the workplace of diverse perspectives and impoverishes the public sphere.

Bold new solutions are needed to alter the legal landscape on inequality, disrupt sexism, “and the structures that reinforce these norms” in the workplace. We posit a theory and practice of allyship as a renewed vision through which to reconceptualize our workplaces and institutions and as a way to address stereotypes, sexism, and sexual harassment. While legal change is key to addressing gender discrimination in the world of work, more subtle forms of discrimination, including implicit bias, unconscious bias, and sexism demand a new generation of strategies and solutions which privilege difference and identity while disavowing stigma, stereotype, and prejudice.
Full citizenship calls for the ability to participate on equal terms in community and society more generally and allyship plays a role in the actualization of citizenship. According to our respondents, while citizenship calls for inclusive interaction, we should guard against a form of allyship that could reflect existing patterns of disadvantage and reinforce existing power relations and the social construction of gender.

Prominent women in Silicon Valley have given expression to their experiences in a masculinized landscape as death (of their careers) by a “thousand paper-cuts” of sexism. Allyship could be the important antidote to expressions of sexism in the workplace. We need to develop allyship as both a theory and practice through renewed conversation and engagement. Yale Law School's Vicki Schultz’ body of work on sexual harassment published in the Yale Law Journal and Stanford Law Review -over a 20 year period views sexual harassment as an expression of workplace sexism, rather than sexuality. “Harassment,” argues Shultz, is a way for ‘dominant men to label women (and perceived lesser men) as inferior and shore up idealized masculine work status and identity." Schultz’s theory challenges a narrow focus: Sexual harassment is a means of maintaining masculine work status rather than an expression of sexuality or sexual desire. Harassment is inked to broader forms of sexist norms that threaten masculinized gender norms. Taking forward her argument, we need new forms of theories and practices to attack masculinized gender norms. Male allyship is one such framework.

As part of the Thomson Reuters/ Penn Law study, see sexual harassment and gender equality laws in the map of fifty states of the United States.

Addressing the Challenge

The aim of this study was to provide a set of criteria to determine laws, policies, practices, and institutions on allyship and begs the question, how can we reshape the future of work on the premise of allyship?

The world of work, as it is, does not privilege allyship. The term itself cannot be collapsed into a single formula. As our interviews showcase, allyship can redress disadvantages, address stigma, stereotypes, and prejudice, while enhancing dignity, equality, voice, and participation. Allyship’s greatest promise lies in its potential to accommodate differences and achieve structural change.

According to respondents, allyship permits us to focus on inclusive interactions and symbiotic relationships, rather than top-down models of authority and interaction Drawing attention to all the dimensions of allyship can help build complementarities and move us forward to a more equal world of work.

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