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Using Male Allies to SHIFT our Attitudes About Women in Male-Dominated Workplaces

Updated: Nov 27, 2023

By Anne-Marie Langan*

Have you ever stood in line at the grocery store and been tempted by all the yummy treats surrounding you? This is an example of a "nudge", defined by Dr. Thaler as “any form of choice architecture that alters people’s behaviour in a predictable way without restricting options.” Researchers at the University of Calgary successfully use nudge theory and other similar techniques to engage men as gender-equity-seeking allies in male-dominated workplaces. The SHIFT project that has come out of this research recruits a select group of men who are already influential in their workplace to work together using these techniques to help create a work culture that fosters increased psychological safety and belonging in the workplace for everyone.

Male-dominated workplaces, particularly those like police forces that are paramilitary, often have work cultures that increase gender inequities and normalize violence. This type of work culture is toxic not only for women but for everyone and has been found to negatively impact employees' mental and physical well-being, limit professional options, negatively impact help-seeking behaviours and lead to increased violence. Many police forces have recently implemented gender-equity-seeking policies which will likely be ineffectual in the absence of a corresponding shift in the work culture. When such a strong work culture exists people will often comply with what they perceive to be the social norm even when they do not fit their personal beliefs and values(Dozois and Wells, 2020).

Changing workplace culture is hard work and requires buy-in from people of influence within the workplace. The SHIFT researchers recruited men with existing networks to assist them in developing "compassionate learning spaces where men can explore new ideas and grow their capacity to positively shape their environments"(Dozois and Wells, 2020, p.10). One of the techniques they taught was "calling-in" described as calling people towards a higher standard rather than "calling-out" which can trigger feelings of shame, defensiveness and isolation. (Dozois and Wells, 2020, p.10)

The researchers who developed the SHIFT program have made recommendations to the federal government about ways in which they could support their efforts at decreasing violence against women, which include:

  • engage men and boys in our efforts to prevent violence and strive for equity in all settings;

  • shift our approach to accountability to focus on the prevention of violence rather than intervention and consequences

  • support men to use their existing networks with other men to use creative ways to inspire them to join in a transformative cultural shift towards non-violence and equity

  • do more research about men and, in particular, how best to engage them in this work and frame it in ways that are positive and character building (Wells & Pascoe, 2022)

The ultimate goal, according to SHIFT researchers is,

to build a movement in which men and boys are excited, onboard, supported, and committed to creating a world free of violence and centered around dignity, safety, joy, peace, justice, and belonging for all

Anne-Marie Langan B.A., B.S.W., LL.B., LL.M. is the project lead for the sexual violence projects at Peterborough Community Legal Centre, including the SHAPE project which provides legal advice and education for those experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace and the Your Way Forward project which provides support for those who have experienced intimate partner sexual violence. These projects are both sponsored by the government of Canada's. She can be reached directly at


Dozois, E., & Wells, L. (2020). Changing contexts: A framework for engaging male-oriented settings in gender equality and violence prevention – Practitioners’ guide. Calgary, AB: The University of Calgary, Shift: The Project to End Domestic Violence.

Wells, L., & Pascoe, Dr. L. (2022, October). Recommendations for the Government of Canada: Develop a national strategy that supports innovative ways to get more men and boys invested and involved in violence prevention and gender equality. University of Calgary Department of Social Work.

Disclaimer: This post contains general legal information as of November 27, 2023 that may or may not apply in a particular situation. It is important to note that the law and government policies can change and this blog will not be updated to reflect these changes. It is highly recommended to seek legal advice from a lawyer about your particular situation.

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