How to be One of the “Good Guys” with Brad Johnson and David Smith

Next Pivot Point Podcast Interview about Male Allies

Brad Johnson and David Smith have been allies of mine for some time.  They were quick to endorse and write forewords for my books on allyship, have introduced me to amazing allies in the diversity and inclusion space, and are always quick to respond to any questions I have along the way.  They are deeply committed to this work and I am thankful they joined the Next Pivot Point podcast to share the research, strategies, and stories from their latest book, Good Guys: How Men Can Be Better Allies for Women in the Workplace.

Let’s get to the show notes…

Julie Kratz:  Let’s meet this week’s experts, and they are authors and amazing allies that I’ve known over the years that have helped write forward and endorsements for my book, and just been so, so thankful for their support. So you’re in for a real treat today. Meet David Smith. He is PhD and associate professor of sociology in the College of Leadership and Ethics at the U.S. Naval War College. Brad Johnson is a professor of psychology in the Department of Leadership, Ethics, and Law at the United States Naval Academy and a faculty associate in the Graduate School of Education at Johns Hopkins University. They are authors of the forthcoming book Good Guys: How Men Can Be Better Allies for Women in the Workplace, with HBR Press. Oh, I’m so excited to talk to you, Brad and Dave. 

Awesome. Well, let’s dig in first. So you wrote Athena Rising several years ago, and I remember that’s how we got introduced, by an ally that saw the book and saw my book, One, and were like, “Hmm, these are a bit similar.” And at first I was like, dang it, they beat me to it. And then I read it and I quickly realized, no, they did not. And we need all voices. We need a whole bookshelf filled with these books. So it’s been so exciting to follow your work since Athena Rising, which is all about men mentoring women and healthy workplace relationships, which was written before Me Too. It’s so ahead of its time. But now you have a book about the good guys. So Dave, tell us the inspiration for the Good Guys and what it’s all about.

David Smith:  Yeah. Well, thanks Julie, again, for having us, and Brad and I both really appreciate the allyship and the support and collegiality we’ve had over the years. And it’s just been a lot of fun for us to watch and collaborate with you over the years, too. So thanks again for having us here. The question about how did we get to Good Guys, we’d like to tell you that this was all very thoughtful and planned out and purposeful, but like I think a lot of things and a lot of good ideas that we have, they come out of circumstances and events and situations, and certainly Good Guys was one of those.

And as you said, Athena Rising had come out before Me Too. And Brad and I were very busy out working with a lot of organizations and men out there, and understanding and helping them to be better mentors and sponsors for women. And then of course, Me Too went widespread in 2017, and that really kind of changed the landscape across the world broadly. And it opened up broader conversations in the workplace, and ones about how we can be better allies for each other. And Brad and I were being pulled into those conversations, and we recognized that there was, again, I think much like you did, and much earlier than we saw this, there was a broader conversation here about how in particular men can show up in the workplace, right? And we can be better colleagues, and better peers, and friends, and mentors, and sponsors for the people that we work with, and most importantly, women and women of color, I would say.


So we said, you know, we need to go out and do the work around this. And so we went out and did the research, and like Athena Rising, we pulled together all the latest social and behavioral science, because we’re just kind of very evidence-based people in the way we approach these problems. And, but like Athena Rising, we felt it was incredibly important to have women’s voices front and center in a book like this, especially with a title like Good Guys, which is not where it started, but where we finished, that women’s voices needed to be front and center. So we interviewed, again, high-flying women across industries and professions out there, and were very fortunate to get a lot of their time and their insight into how men show up that they considered to be allies? What did that look like? How did they show up in the workplace, and what were the behaviors and the actions that they had, and what did they most appreciate? And then what would they like other men to know about that, and to share that with other men.

And so we had all of that. And of course, we wanted to hear from the guys, too, but this was a quandary of how do you bring guys into this conversation without all the bravado and the self promotion and everything else? So we relied on the women that we interviewed to nominate men that they saw as allies. And those were the only men that we interviewed as part of the book, because they were viewed, and we think this is really important, that they were viewed by these women as allies. And so we got a chance to talk to these guys in particular, and no surprise, very, very humble men, who in some ways were a little shocked that they were seen that way, because they just saw it as part of who they were and what they did, part of their brand, in some ways, their leadership and their style. I think they were very appreciative of being nominated, but a little, in some ways, taken aback by that. But shared a lot of these best practices and things, and how they saw it, how it worked in there.

And so we pulled those together, and there was so much content there. I mean, it was just a lot of great actions, and we tried to, you know, again, Good Guys is just kind of jam packed with action strategies and tactics, things you can do right now today at just the individual level, and then things that you, as you go across the levels of leadership in the organization, things that you could do on a more broader organizational level, systemic level out there, as well.

Julie Kratz:  So good. I know, Brad, you want to jump in here and add to this. I just, I love the word bravado you used there, David. It was so spot on. And that’s not what I found with allies, either. They’re humble. They’re self-aware. They’re often surprised, like, “I didn’t do anything. What did I do?” And how you cultivate that is always, I know you have thoughts and we’ll get into those, but I always find it so hard. It’s like, how do you teach somebody how to be that way? Or is it a natural default state? So Brad, tell us more about the Good Guys.

Brad Johnson:  Yeah. Well, let me just say something about the title of Good Guys. Dave alluded to this, Julie, but we did not choose the title Good Guys. When our publisher read the manuscript, they said, “You’re really asking men to be good guys.” And so that was the title they settled on. One of the quandaries with that is Dave and I don’t want the audience to think that we’re calling ourselves Good Guys, because a big message to the men who we’re trying to reach, who want to aspire to be more effective collaborators with women at work, is to not self label.

And it just goes so against one of the driving principles in the book, which is to show up with some real humility and a learning orientation, and don’t call yourself an ally. Do the work, aspire to do the work, get better. If a woman that you collaborate with at some point refers to you as an ally, then congratulations. Feel good about that. But don’t self label. Don’t assume. So it’s been an interesting sort of journey. 

So how do you frame this work, I think, and that dovetails with one other piece of this, Julie, that I think is really important, which is how men show up at events. Maybe it’s a women’s conference, maybe it’s joining a women’s ERG in their company and having a meaningful presence and role in that organization. When men do that, which we encourage and applaud, guys need to show up and just be quiet, and listen, and learn, and not take over and not tell women how to do gender equality, but ask at some point, what role would be helpful, or what can I do? How can I collaborate with you? And that really, I think, gets to the heart of what allyship looks and sounds like. It’s that humility is so important.

Julie Kratz:  I often say it’s in the eye of the beholder. You don’t get to self proclaim and show up as the, as you called it, the White Knight, in Athena Rising. And unfortunately, that narrative is told quite a bit through the stories we hear in the media, through the books we read as children. Until recently, a lot of the media and films that are produced show men saving the day for women, and women don’t want to be saved. They want to be listened to, they want to be respected. And if you get to be called an ally as a man, that’s the highest honor that you can be bestowed, and it’s still a journey. There’s still tough work you have to keep doing. You don’t just get to arrive, like check, I’m done.

So tell us, what are some of the learning principles? I know we’re always challenged in this work to get actionable, right? And people love, you know, I know that the HBR articles you all write, and you get it tangible, as tangible as we can, but it’s heady stuff. I mean, this is strategic stuff to you. How do you distill these higher level principles with things that someone can do tomorrow?

Brad Johnson:  Well, it’s such a good question, Julie, and the way Dave and I have sort of come to understand male allyship is broadly, in all the research we’ve done, and putting together the book Good Guys, we’ve arrived at the idea that there are sort of two big buckets of ally behaviors that men need to be thinking about. And Dave, maybe I can mention some of the interpersonal, and how I show up as a man and a collaborator and a friend for women at work is sort of the first bucket. The second bucket are those public systemic moments that I think require men to put more skin in the game and really show their ally chops. And that’s harder. So maybe Dave can mention some of those, but I’ll just start with some of the interpersonal things that really came through in our research. And by the way, Julie, you were one of our first interviews for Good Guys.

Brad Johnson:  Anyone listening to this who wants to get some great insights about how to be an ally, you’ll get to read about Julie Kratz’s experiences as a woman going through her career. So some of the interpersonal things, you mentioned one already, Julie, and the biggest one, we heard this in our Athena Rising research over and over again, was just to listen. Can you show up and listen? Can you not make assumptions about her because she’s a woman, in terms of what she’ll want to do or not want to do in her career? Could you really spend the time to discern where she’d like to go and not clone her in your image, and do that listening work first. And that requires me to slow down as a male. It requires me to suppress that tendency I have to want to fix stuff quickly, versus doing the really genuine, humble, generous kind of listening.

I also want to really lean in to who’s, you know, I call this situational awareness, and we have a big section on this in the book. Who’s in the room when there’s an important meeting? What’s going on in the room? What’s the mood? Are women being included? Are women being cut off when they try and say something? Are their ideas being valued or not? Is she being interrupted? Are her ideas being co-opted by other men in the room? One of the things that men, all of us, myself included, really have to work on is being aware of what’s going on in the room and what’s happening to folks. What are those dynamics?

And one last one I’ll mention, just as a thumbnail, is the sponsorship piece. If I really want to be a male ally, I’ve got to do a gut check on who I’m sponsoring. Too often, men tend to sponsor other men, and we don’t feel comfortable loudly sponsoring other women. And there are different reasons for that. So I need to ask myself why I’m not sponsoring more women. And then I need to be a raving fan and talk about what she’s achieving and what she’s doing, and make sure other people are aware of that. So those are just a few. And then there are the public things, Dave.

David Smith:  And as Brad said, I think, and we’ve heard more of this today, especially over the last few months, you know, we’ve kind of had this racial awakening going on in our country right now, and that there’s this demand for action, right? That it’s not enough just to say, “Well, I’m not sexist, and I don’t do those things.” But you have to take action to dismantle and look for the bias and the system that’s creating the inequities. And so that’s the, really looking, taking that public action and going after the systemic change.

But before we go there, I would just like to, I think one point that we always like to remind men in particular of is that before you can go on and you can do these things in the workplace and really start to sling on your ally cape and do the work, is you’ve got to do it at home first. And I know this is one of the things that I think surprises people when we start talking about this, especially guys, is because they expect us to talk all about the workplace. It’s like, well, actually, it starts at home, and you’ve got to go be an all in equitable ally at home first. And because, again, people are going to see through this in the workplace, even in the virtual workplace that we’re in today, and work from home has certainly opened our eyes, I think, to a lot of the inequities that are going on there, that if we can’t be all in equal allies at home, how are we going to do it in the workplace? It just doesn’t work that way.

And it’s never going to work for women, in particular, if we keep falling back on, again, the division of household labor that has had women doing twice as much of the work. Even though men are doing more today than probably our fathers and grandfathers did, which is great, but it’s still not enough. It’s still not the equitable portion that we need to be doing. And it’s not always 50/50. It depends where we are in our careers, but we have to figure out, okay, whether it’s childcare, or it’s just the chores around the house, doing the dishes, doing the laundry.

And it’s not only the physical tasks and things. It’s also the mental or emotional cognitive labor that goes on in terms of running a household, the organizing, the planning, the coordinating, the keeping track of the mental lists. And I know that I’m one of those people that I have to be very thoughtful and try to engage in kind of understanding and making sure that I’m doing that, as well, that we have to be doing that part of it too. And understanding that, because, again, it takes up a lot of energy and time where others are not able to, in particular women, are not able to then be fully into their careers in the same way that we as men are. And so if we’re ever going to get there, we have to be all in equal allies at home.

And the other thing that’s like, we tell men that if you’re not doing it for your partner and supporting her career, which I hope you are, do it for your kids, do it for the next generation. And we owe it to pay it forward with our kids. And certainly the research is pretty clear about this, that for our sons in particular, as fathers, when we’re all in allies at home, and the boys see us doing this kind of work and seeing what these roles look like, and we’re demonstrating it, we’re role modeling that, and we’re giving them a very different perspective on what gender roles, gender inclusive roles, look like. And they’re going to take that back to the workplace with them when they get old enough.

And then finally for our daughters, we know that, again, the research shows us that if you’re, again, they see you being that all in equal ally at home, that they’re much more likely to persist in their careers. They’re going to reach their career goals and dreams and aspirations. And really interestingly, they’re more likely to go into more non-traditional, as we think about gender traditional roles or professions out there, they’re much more likely to go into those non-traditional ones, so into STEM and into science, right? Be more of those astronauts out there, that we know that the girls can do and want to do. We just don’t want to ever forget about the, hey, the home is where this starts. We have to start it. We can do it at home first. It makes it so much easier when you go back in the workplace, to be able to talk about family and to be able to show how you’re doing these things, and again, role model in the workplace, as well.

Julie Kratz:  It comes from a genuine place. So when you’re talking with female colleagues, they know you’re not just showing up with your rescue cape at work to get stuff done. You’re doing it genuinely. This is how you behave as a human being. By the way, if we’ve learned anything from this pandemic, we don’t stop being ourselves at work. There’s not this work persona and personal persona. It’s a blend, and always has been. Yeah. It’s so funny that you mentioned that, Dave, because I wasn’t expecting you to say that, but I remember coming across the same thing in my research for One, about male allies, I really struggled with writing about work life integration, because it was like, this is a business book. I hate to talk about this again, because women always have to talk about this, and men don’t have to. No man group has ever asked me for a work life integration workshop. How many women’s groups have?

So it’s personally frustrating to me, but it’s a huge barrier. Until we solve this barrier, we’re unlikely to have real tangible outcomes. And we know the data is really stagnant on women and leadership, despite all the effort. Quick story, I did see this modeled really well a few weeks ago, of course on a web call, as we’re all doing virtual training. I was a participant for sales training, and I saw the male instructor stop while he was training, and turn to his daughter and greet her and have a conversation with her, and come back. And it was just a minute or two. And he came back and he said, “I was talking to my daughter. She just got her start for the day. She’s going to be leaving for the day. I wanted to make sure to talk to her about her day before she left.”

And he said, “I’m not going to apologize for that.” I thought, wow, I’ve never seen that before. So it got me hopeful, but then it also got my brain going in the flip it to test it mode, of like, what if a woman did that? How would that be perceived? So I was hopeful, yet frustrated at the same time. And I thought we need more of this. We need more good guy behavior like this to show, I want to be a full human. I care about my children. I’m not going to stop being me, even though I’m being professional right now. So, so good what you all are saying.

One of the things I wanted to talk to you about, given all the wonderful gems that 2020 has provided, racial justice, pandemic, and allyship is so relevant. I started out the year saying 2020 is the year of the ally. And then I was like, is it? Then yes, it is. So we’re now wrapping up 2020, and I’m thinking about intersectionality. And you all built a great list of what works to be an ally on gender, but as you reviewed those dimensions of gender partnership and allyship, what translates to the racial space, as well? As we think more intersectionally about the woman’s experience and the woman of color’s experience in corporate America, what translates across gender and race?

David Smith:  Great question, and certainly one that we’ve been focused on here for the last few months, in particular. So it’s interesting. We had an experience here recently, where Harvard Business Review Magazine came and asked us to write an article in particular to focus on how white men, because often are leaders within organizations out there, and what is it they need to be doing right now to be better allies, and not just allies for women or white women, but allies for people of color, for women of color broadly. And so we partnered with a couple of our colleagues, sociologists, two women of color. So Dolly [inaudible 00:21:23] and Angie Beeman, and we, in working through this, they asked us, “Hey, you guys just did the research in your new book for Good Guys on all these things from a gender perspective. And we have some, we can share a little bit of it with you on women of color in particular, but how much of it translates? Can you bring that action piece into this article that we’re writing now?”

And so that was exactly what we did. We went and we grabbed all the action items across the board, everything from the interpersonal that Brad was talking about before, and how we can disrupt the status quo, all the way up through the organizational change and systemic things that we ought to be looking for and doing, and almost all of it translates directly into a very broader form of allyship for just generally people that are part of a group that you are not part of, that you want to be an ally for. And I think the one place where it didn’t translate cleanly was in the same conversation we just had around gender equity in the home, of course. That’s a little bit different.

But other than that, it did, it translated very nicely, and it started just like where Brad started before. It’s like, we’ve got to start with developing awareness and situational awareness, and understanding the history of injustices against other oppressed groups. And how has that recreated, or how has it continued, or how does it affect people today? And again, so we start there and work our way all the way up through the actions. And so it was, for us, it was really helpful. It was still a learning process. And I think that that’s one of the great things about collaborating with people who are different from you, is that you’re going to learn. And we learned so much, and we’re so grateful for our colleagues helping us along the way here.

But yeah, it translates, and it’s kind of, you think about allyship skills as a gateway. And we’re focusing mostly on a gender and a women of color perspective in our book, but it’s really a gateway into other forms of allyship, no matter what group that you are looking to be an ally for.

Julie Kratz:  I know I’ve personally, having been a fan of teaching people how to be allies, I’ve realized, luckily I’d started this journey a few years ago, when a woman of color pointed out to me that my network was very white and very women oriented. And maybe I wasn’t, she didn’t say this, but I felt like I wasn’t being an ally to people of color. And I thought, “Hmm, shame on me, opportunity to get better.” I started doing some of the homework, like you’re saying, started to get involved in the history, and the things that I didn’t learn in school, and being completely shocked and floored. And then just listening to stories, which we do as allies.

And I found in my own journey of wanting to be an ally, striving to be an ally on race, that practicing the skills I asked men to do for women was incredibly insightful, how uncomfortable it feels sometimes, how I have to, when I speak about privilege and race, I have to say, “I am white and I have white privilege.” And that’s always a hard thing to say at the beginning of a conversation when I don’t know my audience, and I can feel them, maybe not wanting to hear from a white person about race, much like I know sometimes we view men about talking about gender. Like, this is our space, but we’ve got to have our allies. We’re never going to do this alone. We need all voices included in this. And so I often say, where are we going to get without white people in the race conversation? Historically, we haven’t gotten very far. Where are we going to get without men in the women’s conversation? We haven’t gotten very far without the men. Maybe this is our chance.

And I know you all see that as the secret to success for women. Thinking about that, what is it going to take to get more white men involved in these conversations? Because I’ll tell you, the workshops I’m hosting, it’s all women and it’s all people of color and even very few men of color. It’s a lot of women that are participating, not just in the race conversation, but in the gender conversation. What does it take to get more men, and especially white men, involved?

Brad Johnson:  Dave and I sort of frame this in a lot of ways as men, as the missing ingredient in really moving the needle in organizations on real gender equity, really racial equity, almost any sort of equality we’re trying to achieve, white men have often not engaged. And I think that’s a big mistake. It’s a big oversight. And I think too often, at least when we’re talking about gender, these initiatives get framed as for women. At least men read them that way. The minute they see the words gender, or diversity, or inclusion, or equality, they immediately tune out and think to themselves, “That’s not me, that’s a women’s thing.” Or it’s another group.

And I think we have got to really interrupt that. And there are different ways to do that. I think that senior leaders have got to be making it very clear that this is a leadership issue. It’s not a gender issue, it’s a leadership issue. And if you’re a white male in management or you’re an executive, this is something that you need to own. It’s not a HR thing. It’s not a diversity and inclusion office thing. This is for you. And it’s part of your leadership brand, and I’m going to hold you accountable for this. So I think this is something senior leaders have got to make clear and very transparent, and expectations for people working in their organization or company.

I also think that, you know, you remember the movie A Few Good Men? I think in many ways Dave and I are seeing these grassroots groups of men who really want to lean into allyship, and they really see the value, the importance, the meaning of allyship, both for women they care about and broadly, that this is the right thing to do. These guys are trying to start grassroots sort of allyship initiatives. And so I think companies have got to fan the flames of that interest. And in our first conversation, before we began today, we were mentioning Josh at PNC Bank, and there are a number of these groups that are really fostering male ally communities. And I think when you do that, men begin to pay attention. You know, maybe this is something I should think about or be a part of. So we have to find ways to invite men in.

And one last piece of this, when it comes to women’s conferences, women’s employee resource groups, very often those have been places for women to gather, commiserate, support one another. In many ways they’re kind of sacred spaces for women to be together. And I think that’s great, and we don’t want to lose that. But as you said earlier, Julie, if it’s only women getting together to talk about equity, we’re going to take a long time. I think the last estimate was 200 years to get to pay equity, for example. So we have to find ways to pull men in and make them believe there’s a legitimate space for them to engage in allyship and equity. And so our messaging is let’s find a way to invite men to the table to have these conversations. It doesn’t mean men need to come to every event or be invited to everything women are hosting, but boy, we need to find a way to create space for collaboration and conversation. So however that looks in your company, we need to open a door for allyship.

David Smith:  I thought you were going to tell me I couldn’t handle the truth.

Brad Johnson:  You couldn’t handle the truth.

Julie Kratz:  A Few Good Men. I hope there’s more than a few good guys.  Thank you so much for being with us today. I can tell you that the minute we scheduled this, I’ve looked forward to talking to you all for weeks, and every chance I get, I know there’s conversations I can have in the gender space, being a woman, but you can have different conversations than I can with men, because this is sensitive, right? And there’s a masculinity factor that comes into play, where vulnerability and listening don’t really jive well with how we’ve defined masculinity. So I think you modeling this, and modeling this with you all’s backgrounds, being in the military and things, I think it’s so great to show, hey, strength, strength can be this, strength can be being an ally as a man. You can still be a good guy and be a really strong man, too. And if you appreciate strong women in your life, this is a benefit for us all. So I just, I love the message and how welcoming it is, and let’s keep inviting those allies in.

So thank you so much for being with us today. Tell our listeners how they can follow you, find your work. I know you’re active on LinkedIn, Instagram. The book’s coming out October 13th. So tell us, tell our listeners how they can stay in touch.

David Smith:  And so we’re both on social media. You can find us on LinkedIn, and I’m on Twitter, as well. Our new website is going to be, where you can read about our books and find our books there. And you can find us on our individual websites, author websites, as well. So, and out there, and Brad, anything else I missed there?

Brad Johnson:  The only other thing is let’s not forget that the book that Dave and I, that first really tweaked our interest in this, was the book One, by Julie Kratz. And so if you have not read One, what a great book, just to think about what real partnership and collaboration across gender looks like.

Julie Kratz:  I’m so thankful for that. You all are allies in action right there, always supporting women, standing true to the message. You really mean it, and you really do it every day. So thank you for the amazing body of work you do. I’m so thankful to be with you today.

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