Proactive Male Allyship (And Why You Can’t Delegate It)

It's not easy to change when you're under a spotlight—but if you want a more inclusive culture, change will be necessary. Four simple but powerful steps to take to get started on the road to allyship.

Being a male leader, manager or individual contributor in today’s current social and political narrative means having the spotlight on what you say and do. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to be motivated by others to adjust or change. It’s human nature to avoid looking at the impact of our actions on lives, relationships and careers because sometimes the results are too difficult to confront, emotionally and relationally. Having people watching what we say and do can put anyone on the defensive and make them less apt to change. Some men may also feel powerless to change, feeling that it would be far easier just to look the other way, or blame someone else.

But being an ally and inclusionary leader means proactively shining a light on your behavior, language and power—and asking yourself how they impact the people around you. We all have gaps in our own ability to see ourselves, so it’s certainly not easy to do alone. But that’s where others come in: we can enlist them to help us see what we can’t.

The more intention you put toward looking at yourself, and changing, the more power you have to do it. Here are four simple but powerful steps to take to get started on the road to allyship:

1. Learn about yourself without self-judgment.

Declare for yourself the intention to learn more about what drives your language and behavior—without self-judgment. This is all about mindset, and will serve you throughout your journey. The positive effect of this intention is that you will begin to understand why you do what you do, as well as what is holding you back. When you become curious about what drives your behavior and language, especially when they produce less than desirable results, you can rewrite your own narrative—and act and speak as an ally and inclusionary leader.

2. Seek out and learn from a female mentor/partner.

Seek out a female mentor/partner and learn about her experiences and how she is impacted by men’s behaviors. There are numerous positive effects to doing this. In her eyes, this demonstrates a willingness on your part to learn, to be better and to be an ally, and at the same time, you’ll develop your empathy muscles. But this is not about putting the burden of your learning on women mentors. It’s about developing a sense of trust—both personal and professional—that contributes to a beneficial relationship with them.

3Find a male support accountability partner.

Leadership positions are predominantly filled by men, and there are numerous times when women are not present—yet behaviors that are unbecoming of an ally and inclusive leader still may be. By partnering with a man as a support accountability partner, you can develop your ability to give and receive feedback in support of your growth as well as his. Having an accountability buddy ensures your continued growth. Your organization benefits as more men become woke.

4. Investigate power differentials.

Learn about and understand the concept of power differentials and how others may experience your power and position. Your leadership position yields power over others, even when it’s not your intention. It’s important to understand how this power can influence others. Power differentials—felt most keenly by the person with the least amount of organizational control—have two ingredients: the actual control over others granted by your position/title; and an individual’s own past experiences with authority. Even if they’re not aware of its impact on them, women and marginalized folks do feel it.

Why does this matter? When we’re in a relationship with someone who has power over us, we do what we need to do to keep ourselves safe. Most men don’t consciously think this concept through—so to the extent that you can, imagine the shoe being on the other foot. Imagine that while on a business trip, after hours, your female superior, or the woman you report to, makes a suggestive advance. She possesses the ability to promote or demote you. Can you feel the lose-lose tension whether you say no, or yes? I use this rarer example to convey what a lot of women go through.

When men in leadership fully understand this dynamic, they can use their power for good. Women and marginalized folks can then feel safer and more valued, which contributes to their ability to bring their whole selves to work; and organizations can benefit from more highly effective employees.