A Point of View: The Value of Male Allies

It seems like every day some organization releases a new study that offers very little new insight. Such is the case with Working Mother Media’s recent report, The Status of Men as Allies for Multicultural Women. The research boils down to recognizing that multicultural women stand to benefit from having male allies in leadership roles.

Do you really need a study to tell you this?

Well, maybe you do. Even though the findings seem fairly obvious, the value in such research lies not in the conclusions that readers already knew, or suspected, but in reminding us that we should pause to examine practices in our own organization. How diverse is your leadership pipeline? How are you injecting diversity and inclusion into succession planning? On a more basic level, are you offering the right development opportunities in the right ways to your people?

The report found that in the past 24 months, multicultural women (Black, Latina, Asian) who agree that there are male leaders who care about their advancement were more likely to receive a promotion, earn a pay raise, get on a new or challenging assignment, participate in a leadership program, receive an award or other special recognition, have a career discussion with their manager, get performance feedback, and attend a roundtable with senior executives.

As the paper states, “When men serve as allies for multicultural women, powerful things happen.”

It shouldn’t be hard to find men who are willing, even eager, to support others who may not look like them. Indeed, the paper points out that more than 75 percent of males surveyed said they were comfortable serving as allies to multicultural women.

And yet—you might guess what’s coming next—white men, who comprise three-quarters of all executives at S&P 500 companies, are most apt to sponsor or mentor other white men. Only 19 percent of male mentors were supporting multicultural women.

Why’s that? As Subha Barry, senior vice president and managing director for Working Mother Media, told SHRM.org, “We’re so afraid of what can go wrong…we allow [the desire to be] great to get in the way of being good.”

In other words, white guys fear saying or doing something that may offend their minority female counterparts.

Barry suggests that these men be candid with women about their concerns. However, I say that they should just get over their fears. It’s not all that hard to treat people with kindness, empathy, and respect.

Still, the study recommends a few ways for companies to encourage men to be better allies to multicultural women:

  • Raise awareness, spark dialogue: You can’t tackle an issue without discussing it first. And sure enough, 81 percent of minority women surveyed say that men could be more effective allies simply by acknowledging the existence of a gender gap.
  • Don’t assume agreement on obstacles that multicultural women face: That means all minority women are not the same. Not all black women share identical frustrations. Put simply: Treat individuals as individuals.
  • Encourage mentoring and sponsorship: Yeah, that.
  • Hold male direct reports accountable for advancing multicultural women: I’d adjust this recommendation to ensure that everyone, especially leaders, should be accountable for lifting up their fellow colleagues.

All this also reminds me of a great post I read a while back on Fistful of Talent. In “Womansplaining: Why Women Telling Guys How They Should Act Doesn’t Work,” Tim Sackett explains that womansplaining “is the opposite of mansplaining: when a woman tries to belittle or shut down a man by gender shaming she is thus womansplaining.”

In his post, Sackett points out that often, organizations don’t necessarily need women telling men how to support women. Rather, companies need white men explaining such things to other white men—the implication is that people tend to be more receptive to messages from others who resemble them.

All of which is to say: White guys, speak up on behalf women!

About Vadim Liberman

Vadim Liberman is a writer, speaker, and HR professional advancing how we think, work, and live. You may read more of his musings at VadimLiberman.com or contact him at vadimsviews@gmail.com. (The views, opinions and positions expressed by Vadim are his alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions or positions of The Winters Group, Inc.)

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