Did you know there are as many CEOs called Andrew in the UK as there are women CEOs? That’s right, women represent only 6% of CEOs in the largest UK-based organisations. The equivalent is true in the United States and Australia, though in the US you’re more likely to be called John, or in Australia, Andrew or Mike.
Organisations continue to experience a ‘leaky pipeline’ of talented women not making it to senior leadership in equal number to men. The reasons for this are complex and nuanced and I describe them in detail in the Shape Talent whitepaper: The 3 barriers to women’s career progression.
Download The Three Barriers to Women’s Progression: What organisations can do whitepaper.
In their 2021 report, the World Economic Forum reports the devastating impact of the pandemic on global gender equality, with estimates that gender equity has been set back further and is now five generations away .
Now more than ever women need allies. Male allyship is where a man uses his ‘privilege’ to help advance the interests of women. Privilege is the often invisible system of benefits or immunity that favours white, able-bodied, heterosexual men. More often than not privilege manifests as the absence of impediment rather than the receipt of benefits.
A study from BCG has found that when men are actively engaged in gender inclusion programmes, 96% of organisations see progress . That is three times as much progress as organisations where men are not engaged. Allyship can be demonstrated in small and large ways, but the point it is visible, meaningful and thus has power.
I understand there can be a social penalty for men who are vocal allies of women. The stigma by association that can follow can deter the most well-intended men from taking more visible action. But with gender equality now 135 years away , the reality is that without more men taking visible actions to support gender equality, progress will continue at this snail’s pace. And that’s not good for men, women or organisations. Men benefit as well as women from gender equality. A study found that men are half as likely to experience depression and less likely to commit suicide in more gender-equal societies . And organisations benefit from enhanced decision making, greater innovation and better business performance .
So what can men do to become better allies?
- Be curious and raise your awareness. Pay attention. Notice what is and isn’t being said, who is speaking up, who isn’t being included in meetings and who is and isn’t being promoted. Be curious and educate yourself. Ask your colleagues – particularly those with less privilege than you – what their lived experience is really like.
- Put visible actions behind your words. Actively monitor your representation of women and have your teams do the same. Celebrate progress. When you’re recruiting, challenge recruiters to provide more diverse candidate slates. Actively raise the profile of women in your teams, and ensure they have access to the critical experiences that are important for advancement. Publicly pledge your support – such as the UN’s #HeForShe programme.
- Visibly call out inequality, in all its forms. There is incredible power in a man using his privilege to call out inequality in the moment. Such as when a woman or any minority group is cut-off or interrupted, or credit for their idea is attributed to someone else. Or when a woman is on the receiving end of a poor-taste joke, no matter how trivial it may seem to the men.
- Role model. Leaders set the tone for the rest of the organisation. Inclusive leaders acknowledge their imperfections and create a safe atmosphere that invites openness and diverse perspectives. They insist on respectful language, give credit where it’s due, and share the office ‘housework’ which often falls to women. Male leaders have a powerful impact by role modelling the delineation of home and work, to help break down harmful ‘always on’ workplace cultures.
Sharon Peake is the founder and CEO of Shape Talent Ltd, the diversity, equity and inclusion experts for complex multinational organisations who are serious about gender equality – and what it can achieve for their business.
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