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Men As Allies: How To Tackle Gender Inequality With Male Advocates

Gender inequality isn't a matter of opinion, said SADA Systems' CEO Tony Safoian. Men serving as advocates for women can go a long way in changing norms and biases at every level of an IT company.

Tony Safoian, CEO of SADA Systems, has been surrounded by female colleagues at the Los Angeles-based cloud solution provider since the company was launched. But he didn't realize the gravity of gender and pay inequality in the IT industry until about two years ago.

"To be completely honest, it was a blind spot even for me," Safoian said.  

But Safoian is not alone. According to a survey of leaders from technology suppliers, IT vendors, and channel partners conducted by CRN parent The Channel Company, 65 percent of men compared with 84 percent of women believe there is still a gender gap in the IT industry. Meanwhile, according to the same survey, only 31 percent of men believe there is pay equality. Additionally, 64 percent of men surveyed said they haven’t witnessed a female coworker passed over for raises, promotions or advancement due to their gender, while 47 percent of women say that they have experienced this first-hand or have witnessed other female colleagues being passed over.

[Related: Women Of The Channel 2019: Recognizing The Unique Strengths Women Bring To The Table ]

Of the men surveyed in The Channel Company's research, 31 percent said they do not see a conflict with women getting promoted beyond the C-level and over half of respondents -- 56 percent -- said they do not believe women are at a disadvantage due to bias. At the same time, 80 percent of executives surveyed said their companies do not have plans to address gender income inequality and most companies -- 59 percent -- still aren't reporting on gender compensation gaps.

The disappointing results could point to a lack of programs designed to mentor women to move up the ranks, said Lisa MacKenzie, partner and senior vice president for The Channel Company, said onstage during her keynote at the Women of the Channel East event in New York City on Tuesday.  

"Leadership is everybody's responsibility," MacKenzie said. “Mentorship is the number one thing that has people finding success because it helps you get past things like fear. 95 percent of men and women say mentors have had a positive impact on their career.”

But gender inequality isn't a matter of opinion, Safoian said. "I think that there's a lack of self-awareness. Having advocates -- male advocates and others -- being active participants in the conversation can help change those norms at every level," Safoian said.

SADA Systems, working alongside one of its biggest partners, Google Cloud, has been shining a light on gender inequality in IT, as well as the benefits of leadership and gender diversity within companies. Certain segments of the IT industry in particular, such as enterprise software, have often been subject to "bro culture," Safoian said. But this is a big area of opportunity in which men can help, he added.

Many men are recognizing the challenges around gender inequality and it's important for them to continue to look outside of their personal circumstances, said Dalyn Wertz, executive director of Indirect Channel Management for Comcast Business.

The best bosses and mentors that Wertz ever had were male -- three, in fact, she said, including her current manager and Comcast's channel chief, Craig Schlagbaum, whom Wertz worked with at both Level 3 Communications for two years and now at Comcast for the last five years.

"Once you find one that is your ally and supports you, you stick with him," she said.

Narine Galstian, chief marketing officer for SADA Systems, also counts one of her first mentors, a male sales manager, as one of the most influential mentors in her career.

"He's the one that helped me figure out what could be my career path for the next ten years," Galstian said. "He's the one that encouraged me to jump into tech marketing while I wouldn't have even thought about tech on my own since I had only been in fashion marketing. It's good to have that different perspective."

What is working well right now, Comcast's Wertz said, is that women are networking and supporting each other, so there's more confidence and awareness around compensation.

"Comcast has done audits over the past couple of years to make sure everyone is at the right level, so I've always been proud of our work," she said. "I think women have to continue to champion for each other, too, and aim high."

Addressing the gender gap has to start at the top and trickle down into every aspect and department within the company, SADA's Safoian said. Tweaks as small as changing the language used in job posting, to bigger undertakings, such as evaluating how you are recruiting new employees or gauging equal pay make a difference.

"Bias can often start in just how you describe a technical role," he said.

SADA's Galstian, who has worked for the company for seven years, said that even the way SADA employees speak have evolved from its early days to be more inclusive.

"The way we even host or celebrate successes together has changed, she said. "We also have a lot more women in managerial and leadership roles and are bringing new ideas to the table."

The good news is that 37 percent of IT companies surveyed have made changes to promote diversity and inclusion to attract more women employees, said MacKenzie, including offering flexible working hours for parents, implementing more training and identifying women who are ready for growth opportunities, and facilitating mentoring programs.

Tackling the issues around gender and pay inequality, from visibility of the problem to taking steps to address these issues require a comprehensive, holistic approach, SADA's Safoian said.

"We're not just doing it because it’s the right thing to do. We're doing it because we believe a diverse and inclusive work environment creates not only the best place to work, but competitively, this spirit enables innovation and creativity," he said. "The best ideas are born in the most diverse environment possible.”

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