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Male Allyship: Bridging the Gender Divide at Work

Male Allyship:
Bridging the Gender Divide at Work

Everyone needs an ally. While it is a concept often spoken about, how often have you thought about its definition?

Merriam-Webster defines “ally” as “one that is associated with another as a helper; a person or group that provides assistance and support in an ongoing effort, activity or struggle.”

Men who were more likely to act as allies to women at their workplaces reported proportionately higher levels of personal growth and were more likely to say they acquired skills that made them better husbands, fathers, brothers, and sons.

When you think of allyship who comes to mind? For leaders, fostering an environment that supports diverse experiences, mindsets, and people while also being inclusive is not just a moral imperative but a business necessity. However, despite advancements in promoting gender equity, a significant gap persists in allyship between men and women. At The She-Suite, in our work across diverse industries, we often observe a disconnect between how men perceive their effectiveness as male allies and how women value their efforts. In our 2023 Why Women Stay Report, we found that having a strong manager and ally is one of the top five reasons women choose to stay with their employer.

The good news is that there are effective strategies to create a space within your organization where everyone feels supported: equipping men with tools to become better allies and empowering women to thrive and succeed. When allyship is expanded to include sponsorship, the results are striking. Male allies provide guidance, advice, and support that lead to increased skill development, confidence, and career advancement. Male sponsors also actively advocate for their colleagues by creating visibility, supporting promotions, and ensuring developmental and career opportunities for their female coworkers.

In our research and discussions about men-as-allies for women in the workplace, we discovered several key advocacy actions within public allyship skills that help overcome systemic inequities in organizations. These actions include making sincere efforts to understand and respond to issues and concerns, as well as providing vocalized support and taking clear action towards equity and advancement for women.

Walking the Walk

In a recent executive panel at The She-Suite Summit24, we had the pleasure of hosting three standout leaders to talk about their role in advancing through the power of male allyship. Each guest offered powerful insight and thoughts about how leaders can approach gender equity to create systemic change.

Sharing his personal experience of advancing through allyship, Leonard Wheeler, President of TRiLUCENT Global and an NFL Veteran, talked about the importance of advocating for others, even when there appear to be few commonalities, by identifying the gifts they bring to the table and showing belief in them through outward actions. Leonard emphasized, “If you look at an apple tree, you’ll say that’s an apple tree. But only until the apple tree produces apples will you go and pick off the tree. That’s what we’re having to do with allyship—take it from a concept to action. We’re moving, engaging with people, listening, having compassion and empathy. If I don’t act on this word, then the word just exists.”

Gender equity is not a women’s issue, but rather a leadership issue.

Dr. David Smith, Author and Associate Professor at Johns Hopkins University Carey Business School, agreed with this sentiment and added that gender equity is not a women’s issue, but rather a leadership issue. Seeing the need for stronger male allyship, he applied his research to author two books on the topic. He described his most recent book, Good Guys: How Men Can Be Better Allies for Women in the Workplace, as having three key areas: interpersonal (reflecting on thoughts, actions, and relationships), public advocacy efforts (having skin in the game by being a role model and putting yourself out there for others to see), and accountability (for self and others). Through his ongoing efforts, he is committed to shifting the workplace culture to sustainable change for the long term.

We concluded our conversation with Steve Pamon, President and CEO of Verzuz, who emphasized the importance of operating from an abundance mindset. He shared, “When people operate from scarcity and insecurity, that’s when you see bad behavior, especially among the powerful, but when you operate from abundance and have the willingness to share and help lift others, everyone benefits.

From His Perspective
Leonard Wheeler
President, TRiLUCENT Global
Dr. David Smith
Associate Professor,
The Johns Hopkins University -
Carey Business
Steve Pamon
CEO and President, Verzuz

Beyond the Summit, we invited Josh Worley, Marketing Director at Eaton to share his insights on the importance of strong male allyship. As a Manager of a Brand Leadership Institute (BLI) alumni, he admits that a topic such as unconscious bias would never have been on his radar ten years ago. Today, he is a devoted advocate of increased awareness in the workplace and a proponent of championing female colleagues through sincere and supportive efforts.

Josh Worley
Director of Marketing, Eaton

During one of his mentorship opportunities, Josh partnered with a female colleague to support her through various stages of her professional journey. As they worked together, he gained valuable insights and witnessed the power of collaboration at work. Among his many insights was the realization of the impact perceptions had on decisions, performance, and outcomes within the workplace. He learned the importance of being vulnerable, even when it feels uncomfortable, in order to achieve real growth and change.

When asked how male leaders can actively engage in and demonstrate effective allyship in the workplace, Josh offered four practical steps:
1
LEAN IN
Be open to feedback and lean into honest conversations, even when they are uncomfortable.
2
LEARN
Take the time to reflect on observations and feedback, and learn from them.
3
LISTEN
Be vulnerable and open to other perspectives. Truly listen to what is being said and expressed.
4
LIFT
Be an advocate in the environment in which you work. Make sure other voices are heard.

Josh emphasized the importance of regularly checking in on specific issues and offering valuable feedback to allies. He highlighted the importance of organizing events and opportunities that may provide more exposure to certain groups, allowing them the chance to cast a wider network of potential allies. Lastly, Josh encouraged women not to limit themselves by assuming only certain leaders can be mentors–strong allies can be found throughout the organization.

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