Is it okay for a guy to attend a women’s event?

Photo by Cpl. Natalie Rostran ( [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Over here at The Male Allies Project, we’ve been digging into the question, “Is it okay for a guy to attend a women’s event?”

We spoke with both women and men to get their perspective. We ran a brief Twitter poll. We asked event organizers about their policies. We did some searching online.

Not surprisingly, there are pros and cons.

First, the pros.

By attending a women’s conference, event, or meeting, men can:

  • Demonstrate support for gender diversity
  • Learn from the presentations and the conversations to better understand how to be an ally
  • Build empathy for what it’s like to be a minority
  • Network with women, which helps diversify their own network
  • Spot talent for job openings at their company

And there’s an upside for women when men attend these events. Women can:

  • Diversify their network with male colleagues or industry contacts
  • Cultivate sponsors for their own career growth or for gender diversity initiatives
  • Build stronger allies for themselves and their peers

On the flip side…there’s always a flip side…

  • Some women’s events sell out quickly. Why should a man take a seat that could otherwise go to a deserving woman?
  • Some events, especially smaller ones, are designed to create a safe space for women to discuss concerns. Having men in the room might constrain the dialog.
  • Men may be seen as having questionable motives. We heard these concerns from women:

“Guys at professional events are always hitting on me.”

“They’re only there to sell me something.”

“They just want to check a box on their personal diversity scorecard.”

“They’re annoying: desperate to find candidates to increase their company’s diversity ratio.”

Even with these concerns, we believe that allies have a lot to gain from attending women’s events AND that women benefit when allies come to their events. We encourage you to go to at least one this year. Just make sure:

  1. You’ll be welcome. (Not sure? Ask the organizer.)
  2. You’re clear on your intentions (Our suggestion? To become a better ally.)
  3. You’re prepared to listen and learn.

Oh, and one last thing. From personal experience, expect to see women in the men’s restrooms.

Becoming an ally is a journey. Want to join us?

Together, we can — and will — make a difference.

Everyday actions to create inclusive, engaging workplaces. Together, we can — and will — make a difference with the Better Allies® approach.

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