by Phuong Uyen Tran
It is uplifting to see so many movements like #TimesUp, #StandTaller and #MeToo gaining traction in the fight to end gender bias, discrimination and sexual harassment in the workplace and beyond. But as long as the discrimination and harassment continue, there is room for more initiatives. More ideas.
That’s why I want to share a tactic I’ve developed during my career in a high-powered environment in Asia — a region that generally lags sorely behind the west in terms of gender equality. It involves stating one simple, five-word phrase that reminds men of their role as our partners in the battle against discrimination and harassment, and invites them to shift from being passive observers, or enablers, in situations where they could make a difference, to actively becoming part of the change.
The words are: “Do I have your support?”
Though conceptually simple, these five words can have an extremely powerful effect.
Asking, “do I have your support?” gives voice to a reality that’s all too easy to ignore: women cannot eliminate sexism on their own. We need men to help us dismantle it. Doing so also engages men explicitly, and directly. When we ask, “do I have your support?” men must consider what this means. Perhaps there are many who must consider this question and its implications for the very first time; thus hearing it is an eye-opening experience for them. If the answer is ‘yes’ — as we would fully hope and expect — they might then realize they need to revise their behavior so that their actions match their words.
As a woman living and working primarily in Vietnam, I have encountered countless situations when I’ve needed to use this phrase, and even more when I wished I had used it. Even though 73% of women in Vietnam are engaged in the workforce according to the United Nations International Labour Organization (ILO), male dominance remains well entrenched in Vietnamese society today.
Time and again I have been in situations that taught me things such as: don’t offer tea or coffee to other people in a meeting unless you have reached a senior enough position for this to be viewed as a gesture of goodwill rather than a given. Or: don’t offer to take notes in a meeting, for it is always women who are asked to take notes. Instead, say ‘no’ and add, “In my experience, it’s always women who are asked to take notes, and until we start refusing, it will stay that way. Do I have your support?” I discuss all of this in more detail in my new book, Competing With Giants.
“Do I have your support?” can be a very powerful tool for enlisting men who are not perpetrators but who are aware of harassment to speak up, speak out, or rise to your defense in situations such as:
- When difficult negotiations are given to your male colleagues because people assume men are tougher negotiators.
- A male colleague keeps complimenting you on your looks and you would like him to stop.
- You need to make it clear that you must leave the office by 5:30 several times a week to make it to your children’s’ daycare on time — and that this does not impact your productivity.
- The good news as I have discovered is that more and more men are eager to help dismantle sexism.
My own father — who also happens to be my boss — is a glowing example. Even though he hails from a generation when conversations about sexism, #MeToo, #StandTaller and #TimesUp were nonexistent, he has never discriminated between men and women. He just wants the right person for the job. He likes to use the analogy about a block of wood: it does not matter what kind of wood it is, because it can be carved according to need.
My father has also been extremely supportive of my own decisions to focus on my career rather than on family life, which is quite rare in Vietnamese culture, and to help women play substantive roles at THP. When men support their wives, their daughters and their female employees and colleagues on their path to success they ultimately find that it benefits everybody, men and women alike.
My greatest hope is that if enough of us stand up and ask “Do I have your support,” one day, everywhere, this will become to be the norm.