Be a Better Manbassador

The creative industry has a problem. Only 11% of Creative Directors are women, up from 3% a few years ago. Cannes is a bro-fest: as recently as last year, a blatantly misogynist Bayer ad took home a Lion. The tech world has a problem too, both in its lack of diversity and the industry’s response to that dearth. Of course, the same critique could be leveled at our national politics: No women were involved in drafting the GOP’s disastrous attempts at a healthcare bill; the word “women” isn’t even mentioned in text of the bill.

How can you, a man, help? Be a better manbassador.

What is a manbassador?

Man·bas·sa·dor, noun. A cutesy name for “male ally” who consciously works to end gender discrimination by advocating for women and speaking out against gender inequity wherever they recognize it.

What can you do to be a better manbassador?

Participate in conferences with at least 20% female speakers. If you’re invited to speak or planning to attend an event where this is not the case, call it out! My manbassador Matt Ipcar has done this and seen change on panel composition after he’s spoken up. It works!

Stop. Interrupting. I was on a call the other day where my female colleague was not only continually interrupted, but the man apologized — as he was stopping her mid-thought — each and every time he did so. If you’ve cultivated enough awareness to know that it’s not ok to interrupt, take it to the next level: stop doing it altogether. It’s not enough to apologize as you’re interrupting and continue to monopolize the conversation.

Don’t treat colleagues like assistants. Sharing the burden of administrative tasks is a really great way to show your female colleagues that you’re aware of how much office housework (it’s a thing!) they tend to get stuck with or take on by default — and that you’re not okay with it. A colleague once shared with me how stunned she was when a male client asked her to bring him a cup of coffee during a meeting. She was the only woman in the meeting, so you can imagine why she felt singled out. Helping with team tasks like planning events, taking notes, and cleaning up after the meeting are all good ways to shift expectations around what tasks fall to whom.

Redirect the conversation. Personally, I’ve found that clients will sometimes direct their attention or their questions to my male colleagues — even if I was the person presenting. My male colleagues usually have no idea this is even happening, but if you do notice it, don’t just awkwardly endure these situations. Some male colleagues and I have talked about this phenomenon, and now when it happens, they know to consciously recognize it and say something like: “Actually, this is Laura’s expertise, so I’ll bring it back to her to field this question” or “Laura prepared this presentation so she’s really best suited to answer that.”

Become an informal mentor. Mentorship programs are great, but informal mentorship can be just as powerful. Be on the lookout for female talent on your project teams and actively extend opportunities to position them for success. Can you include them in meetings where they can showcase their contributions to senior leadership or present to clients? Can you use your network to position rising talent for speaking opportunities?

Need more ideas? Want to find the “fun side” of dismantling everyday patriarchy? Try the 3% Conference’s “Manbassador Bingo” card.

What can organizations do?

Speaking of games, at Blue State Digital we’ve been working with AIGA to test out how to use their new Gender Equity Toolkit as a way to explore unconscious bias on our teams. If you have an AIGA membership, you can give it a shot yourself. It helps if your agency already has great policies in place, like my agency does, but hold your leadership accountable for supporting fair and unbiased policies.

In your civic life, support the fight for Equal Rights.

It might shock you — and it shouldn’t — but the Constitution does not guarantee that women in the United States have equal rights. This makes us very mad, and so we’ve been working with Equal Means Equal to fix that and finally get the Equal Rights Amendment passed. If you’re a man a reading this, this is basically the least you can do. Join us in the fight to get this thing passed.


Laura Kunkel is a Creative Director at BSD New York.