Engaging Men as Allies


The touchstone for successful gender ally development is this:

a man is an ally when a woman says he is.

Allies listen, co-create opportunity, and build a personal brand for trust and accountability. For us men, we aren’t allies to women because we aspire to be, or because we say we are. We’re allies only when specific women are willing to say to us and others: “Here’s an example of how you are collaborating with me, supporting me, making and keeping promises, and receiving from me in a two-way relationship….”

Two emerging practices are foundational for men and women committed to high-performing, two-way relationships.

Define the value proposition for ally development.

There are many business reasons to focus on women’s opportunities, and therefore on how men can help them advance. After all, women control 85% of household spending, and represent almost half the workforce. Investing in reciprocal success among women and men delivers a robust and measurable return in talent, sales, customer relations, supply chain, and brand.

On the other side of it, failing to factor gender into our work is expensive: top talent lost, uncompetitive product, compromised customer relations, diminished sales revenue, decreased productivity, sub-optimized supplier relationships, and a languishing brand.

Are women leaving your organization in disproportionate numbers, five to ten years from their date of hire? Does the success of your firm require more women to build careers in the company? Are more women buying your products and services? In tech, the struggle to recruit, develop, and retain women from STEM fields is one powerful case study for developing male allies – even when tech companies attract more female technical workers, these women are less likely to stay and contribute if their male colleagues fail to collaborate with them. We can be certain that Silicon Valley’s well-documented ‘brogrammers’ culture will grow to include women more effectively only when male allies join women in leading that change process.

Clarify your personal motivations.

For women, it’s key to get clear about why you want to find and equip male allies. It’s not because you can’t succeed without men. Rather, it’s self-evident that a career can thrive when you have influence partners. Male allies help women sort through on-the-job challenges, look for opportunity, and navigate the trade-offs that every professional culture requires. True allies also listen and learn with you. 
The advantages for men who come alongside women as professional allies are also clear: growing and retaining talent, peer mentoring, better team results, building a reputation as a man who collaborates effectively. And the chance to influence other men is also compelling: when men work with other guys and help them to serve as allies to women’s opportunities, we grow the culture, we grow the company, and we grow our own influence.

The overlapping motivation for women and men is reciprocity. Such high-performing, two-way relationships efficiently deliver results for the team, the business unit, and across the enterprise. Reciprocity is also fun: when we get great things done with our colleagues, it’s easier to find joy in the many hours we invest in work.

If you’re a man, what’s in it for you when you serve as an ally with women?

If you’re a woman, what’s in it for you when you build relationships of trust and accountability with male colleagues?