The “manbassadors,” a group of male students in the Haas School of Business, are working to promote gender equity by raising awareness of gender issues among their male peers.
The program falls under the purview of the Haas club Women in Leadership, or WIL, and grew from grassroots beginnings last year to include 92 male students this semester. Spearheaded by vice president of the manbassadors, Patrick Ford, the program utilizes four main initiatives — “Guy Talk,” a tip sheet, a weekly email and a commitment survey — to educate full-time male MBA students on gender equity.
“I am blown away by the support this program has gotten and the desire of men to be involved,” said Mike Matheson, vice president of content for the WIL conference.
Ford believes that sexism is not an active decision on the part of most men at Haas but rather a product of being unconsciously influenced by cultural norms. He emphasizes the importance of awareness in helping to eradicate these biases.
Ford joined WIL last fall as a first-year MBA student and recognized its fledgling manbassador program as a platform for his own interest in gender equity. He pioneered the first “Guy Talk” session in November 2015, where several groups of six to 10 men and one to two women discussed gender issues in a safe, non-judgmental space.
“I’ve participated in one of (the Guy Talks) that was super helpful … (in) realizing where there are gaps in our understanding of the challenges that female students face, specifically in our program,” said manbassador and second-year full-time MBA student Kyle Clark.
The other components of the manbassador program are a pamphlet written by Ford that outlines common gender dynamics women at Haas experience, such as “mansplaining” as well as likability bias and a weekly five-sentence email on different situations in which women face bias or discrimination. Members indicate their monthly manbassador commitment on an online survey, which asks them what actions they will take to be aware of and address gender biases.
Saakshi Goel, a UC Berkeley undergraduate sophomore, said the gender imbalance at Guy Talk events could be “problematic” but acknowledged that it also creates an environment where men may feel more comfortable asking questions.
“They’re trying to learn, but they can definitely benefit from amplifying women’s voices more,” Goel said.
All program ideas and material content receive feedback from the mostly women WIL leadership board. According to Ford, this is because they want female perspectives on their content.
Co-president of WIL Erin Robinson expressed support for the manbassador initiative, saying the topic of gender equity demands the attention and support of both genders. She credited Ford and Matheson for doing “tremendous work” in growing the manbassador program to where it is today.
“Having a man stand up on behalf of a woman can be even more powerful than a woman standing up on behalf of another woman because women don’t want to come across as being self-serving. A man has the power to get involved in the conversation and help women’s voices be heard,” Robinson said.