Perspectives

What does it mean to be a trustworthy male ally?


 

Reliability

Reliability means being conscientious, accountable, and doing what we say we will do. Nothing undermines trustworthiness faster than making a commitment and not following through. Allyship cannot be a show or an attempt to get public plaudits. It is a longitudinal commitment to supporting women through individual mentorship and sponsorship, and to work toward institutional and systems change.

Reliability also means taking an equitable approach to what Dr. Smith and Dr. Johnson call “office housework.” They define this as “administrative work that is necessary but undervalued, unlikely to lead to promotion, and disproportionately assigned to women.”10 In medicine, these tasks include organizing meetings, taking notes, planning social events, and remembering to celebrate colleagues’ achievements and milestones. Men should take on more of these tasks and advocate for change when the distribution of office housework in their workplace is inequitably directed toward women.

Integrity

Integrity involves honesty, professionalism, and benevolence. It is about making the morally correct choice even if there is potential risk. When men see gender inequity, they have an obligation to speak up. Whether it is overtly misogynistic behavior, subtle sexism, use of gendered language, inequitable distribution of office housework, lack of inclusivity and recognition for women, or another form of inequity, men must act with integrity and make it clear that they are partnering with women for change. Integrity means being an ally even when women are not present, and advocating that women be “at the table” for important conversations.

Beyond the individual

Allyship cannot end with individual actions; systems changes that build trustworthy institutions are necessary. Organizational leaders must approach gender conversations with humility to critically examine inequities and agency to implement meaningful changes. Workplace cultures and institutional policies should be reviewed with an eye toward system-level integrity and reliability for promoting and supporting women. Ongoing faculty and staff development programs must provide men with the knowledge, skills, and attitudes (capability) to be strong allies. We have a long history of male-dominated institutions that are unfair or (worse) unsafe for women. Many systems are designed in a way that disadvantages women. These systems must be redesigned through an equity lens to start building trust with women in medicine.

Becoming trustworthy is a process

Even the best male allies have room to improve their trustworthiness. Many men (myself included) have a LOT of room to improve, but they should not get discouraged by the amount of ground to be gained. Steady, deliberate improvement in men’s humility, capability, agency, reliability, and integrity can build the foundation of trust with female colleagues. Trust takes time. It takes effort. It takes vulnerability. It is an ongoing, developmental process that requires deliberate practice, frequent reflection, and feedback from our female colleagues.

Dr. Kinnear is associate professor of internal medicine and pediatrics in the Division of Hospital Medicine at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and University of Cincinnati Medical Center. He is associate program director for the Med-Peds and Internal Medicine residency programs.

References

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2. Ten Cate O. Entrustment decisions: Bringing the patient into the assessment equation. Acad Med. 2017 Jun;92(6):736-8. doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000001623.

3. Kennedy TJT et al. Point-of-care assessment of medical trainee competence for independent clinical work. Acad Med. 2008 Oct;83(10 Suppl):S89-92. doi: 10.1097/ACM.0b013e318183c8b7.

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7. Sheu L et al. How supervisor experience influences trust, supervision, and trainee learning: A qualitative study. Acad Med. 2017 Sep;92(9):1320-7. doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000001560.

8. Pingree EW et al. Encouraging entrustment: A qualitative study of resident behaviors that promote entrustment. Acad Med. 2020 Nov;95(11):1718-25. doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000003487.

9. Ten Cate O, Chen HC. The ingredients of a rich entrustment decision. Med Teach. 2020 Dec;42(12):1413-20. doi: 10.1080/0142159X.2020.1817348.

10. Smith DG, Johnson WB. Good guys: How men can be better allies for women in the workplace: Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation 2020.

11. Johnson WB, Smith D. Athena rising: How and why men should mentor women: Routledge 2016.

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