Male graduate students learn about becoming allies to women in STEM

March 17, 2016

Over 100 graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, faculty and staff gathered recently for an afternoon presentation focused on helping aspiring male allies to understand the barriers and facilitators to participating in creating an atmosphere of gender equality and respect.

The third annual Women in STEM seminar was hosted by the Women in STEM Leadership Council sponsored by the Graduate School, School of Engineering and Applied ScienceWomen’s CenterDepartment of ChemistryDepartment of Psychology and the Office of the Provost.

"One of our goals for this year was to engage more male allies within our departments, and by doing so raise awareness of more subtle forms of discrimination,” said Sara Simon, a fifth-year Ph.D. candidate in physics and member of the Women in STEM Leadership Council.

The event featured keynote speaker Christopher Kilmartin, a professor at University of Mary Washington in the Department of Psychology. Kilmartin is also an accomplished author, comedian and playwright. 

“A few members of the Women in STEM Leadership Council were first exposed to Dr. Kilmartin’s work when they attended a seminar last spring for the male ally group MAVRIC. We felt that Dr. Kilmartin’s nuanced discussion about how gender norms can impact sexism and microaggressions within academia was highly relevant to the issues that women in science and engineering fields often encounter," said Simon.

Kilmartin’s presentation provided practical, common sense techniques to enhance male facilitators and identify then breakdown the barriers that prevent males from being allies to Women in STEM. “Males as the dominant group, have the ability to use their privilege to help oppressed or marginalized groups such as women,” said Kilmartin. Some of the barriers that obstruct male allyship are anti-femininity, lack of confidence, awareness, and/or privilege, along with fear of disapproval from other men. Kilmartin encouraged males to not be afraid, to speak up and to do what is right in regards to supporting their female counterparts both in and outside of the classroom and labs. 

Topics included the psychology of distorted social norms, sexism, males willingness to intervene, hostile environments, and becoming an everyday ally. Kilmartin continued the discussion over coffee hour with a dozen interested male graduate students.