How Male Leaders Qualify as Allies with Women


Calling All Male Executives:
How To Qualify as An Ally Who Women Want to Work With

I’ve been writing about men leading as allies. Implicit in our ability to come alongside women as partners for mutual success, we need to know what’s in it for us, and how to make sure women find us worthy of their trust.

Imagine and explore our self-interest as an ally to
women at work.

Women want to know: why are we, as men, committed to leading as allies? Male leaders who partner for reciprocity tend to have our own reasons for doing so: shaped by relationships with family, friends, colleagues, and customers; understanding that women influence decisions to buy what our organization sells; recognizing that we need to retain the excellent contribution of the high performing women reporting to us; needing to build relationships of mutual influence with the women we work for and with; internally motivated to ensure that everyone is paid equally for equal work; driven by a sense of justice or fairness or equality; concerned that we are seen to ‘get with the D&I program’. There are dozens of indicators that define men’s self-interest in becoming allies. So it useful to understand the benefits that accrue to guys when we become allies. And we are positioned to help other open-minded men discover their self-interest in becoming an ally.

Intriguingly, I’ve also found that a competitive spirit can fuel many men’s willingness to consider the opportunities of being an ally. I call it the Sustainable Collaborative Advantage: when you are known as a man who collaborates well with women, they will choose to work with you. When people of other ethnicities encounter you as a teachable white guy with a sense of humor and humility, they are more likely to build a relationship of trust with you. A secondary advantage also accrues: your reputation becomes an advantage over other men who choose not to collaborate well.

Qualify as a male ally women want to work with.

Is every male leader committed to serving as a trustworthy and accountable ally to women? Absolutely not. So you seize an advantage when women identify you as an ally. To that end, and in all candor, the following is my guidance to women who are interested in developing ally relationships with men. Use these questions to guide you as you build your brand as an inclusive leader.

“Part of successful ally development is identifying the men who are open and ready to collaboratively roll in your direction. This is an argument for targeting the way women find and develop relationships with male allies"

A few criteria to help you identify prospective male allies:

  • Do you experience this gentleman as a skilled collaborator, open to your influence?
  • Does he have a reputation for working well with women? Does he carry credibility with his male colleagues?
  • Does he work on a mixed gender team? What can you see about his relationships with female colleagues?
  • Do you observe ways he is producing business results through his inter-gender relationships with peers, direct reports, manager, clients and customers, and business partners?
  • What specifically does he do to demonstrate emotional intelligence?
  • Does he appear to be dialed in to healthy decision-making around work and life? Is he transparent about his life and priorities beyond the office?
  • Do the two of you simply enjoy being around one another? (mutual care is key to great ally relationships)
  • Can he articulate (or is he open to learning how to speak to) how being an ally is in his self-interest? About the advantages that accrue to him – and the challenges he faces – as a man?

Along the way, you’ll build your own list of such ‘ally indicators’. Wonderfully, you will discover a surprising number of men who have been allies to women for a long time, and many men who are open to such reciprocity and collaboration.”

A man is an ally when a woman says he is. I encourage you to clarify your self-interest in serving as an influence partner with women at work, and to focus on how to lead in ways that cause women to experience you as trustworthy and effective.