“Since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, it’s largely been men getting the world into trouble,” says author and CEO Robert Silverstone. “To resolve humanity’s biggest issues — war, poverty, climate change — we need women to share the platform. Women are certainly going to fight for women’s rights. But it’s time for men to step up and play their part.”
Silverstone is the director of the Aspire Foundation, which his wife, Dr. Sam Collins, established in 2010. The foundation matches mentors from the private sector with mentees in nonprofits and social enterprises who are “making a difference” (MAD) for women and girls. Collins’ goal was to reach one million women by 2015. She blew past that target last year (13.8 million and counting), so now she’s aiming to help one billion women by 2020.
Silverstone has been heavily involved in the Aspire Foundation’s work from the start, and as the organization began accepting male mentors in 2015 — a group he’s calling MAD Men. Here are his best lessons on how men can help empower women by being strong allies.
1 - LISTEN
“When I ask women what they need from men, the most common thing I hear is they don’t want men interrupting them,” Silverstone says. “Sometimes men have a fairly short attention span or want to get to the bottom line, and that’s not always the feminine way of communicating. Men tend to think things through and then spit out the answer. Women tend to find the answer themselves by having an opportunity to talk it through. If you don’t allow that to take place, that woman feels shut down, and it chips away at her confidence. Allow the feminine to speak, and be able and willing to listen.”
2 - SPEAK UP
"There’s a tremendous amount of unconscious bias that takes place among men,” Silverstone says. “When a man gets up and says, ‘Hey, guys, this is not respectful behavior,’ many more men will pay attention.” If you notice a man make an inappropriate comment, Silverstone recommends quietly taking him aside, rather than calling him out in front of the group. Say something like, “I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but that comment you made could be considered inappropriate. I just want to bring your attention to it.”
3 - BECOME A MENTOR
Whether formally or informally, look for ways to use your skills and connections to help a woman get ahead. “It’s not about being a consultant and giving advice,” Silverstone says. “It’s about learning to bring out the best in your mentee.” Consider joining a formal organization (like the Aspire Foundation; theaspirefoundation.org) that provides training in effective mentorship. “We’re looking for mentors who want to make a difference for women and girls wherever on the planet [they happen to be],” Silverstone explains. “The commitment is one hour a month for six months. That’s it. Most people find they can certainly manage that.”