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Men as Allies

Expanding Our Allyship Programs to Be as Inclusive as Possible

As part of Forté’s mission to advance women in business, we want to involve as many people as possible in the gender equity movement. In 2016, Forté launched its Men as Allies initiative to help men understand how they can support women in the workplace as well as on MBA campuses.

In the past five years, Forté Men as Allies has worked closely with organizations seeking to engage men in gender equity conversations and to launch male ally programs. We’ve been adding to and updating our portfolio of offerings — toolkit, curriculum, workshops, trainings — ever since. As we learn more about allyship in the gender equity space, we revise our materials, sharpen our focus, and/or add content to our curriculum.

There’s No Such Thing as a “Perfect” Ally

You know that old adage, “The more you know, the more you understand how much you don’t know”? That sums up my personal allyship journey to date. The more I learn about allyship, the more I recognize how much is left to learn.

But one truth about allyship I do feel confident about is that perfect allyship doesn’t exist. We can aspire to it, but it’s not really attainable. In a different post on the topic, I shared that “allyship is not an event or an experience, but a practice — like learning a new language, refining your golf game, or modifying your diet.” Mistakes are part of the learning process. In fact, as facilitators, my colleague, Scott Brownlee, and I often unintentionally model this in our workshops and trainings.

We are products of our own biases, customs, language … and when you are interacting with others who also are products of their own biases, customs, language … things don’t always land as intended.

Want a funny example? Scott and I often level-set in our programs by grounding participants with common definitions around gender, equity, equality, etc. In itself, the topic of gender could be an entire session, but we introduce the idea that it is a construct by sharing the slide of the genderbread person. For several sessions in a row, I referred to the concept as the “genderbread man.” As a child, I associated the word “gingerbread” with “man,” and as an adult, that led me to assign a gender to an illustration that was specifically designed not to have one. Yep … it was a misstep.

The genderbread person helps people differentiate and discuss gender identity, gender expression, and anatomical sex. The more time I learn about gender, the more I understand how important it is to be inclusive.

How Forté’s Allyship Efforts Are Evolving

I’ve been asking myself about the name “Men as Allies.” In 2016, we began working with business school students who identify as men to bring them into the gender equity conversation. For several years, we saw Men as Allies groups as a place for men to develop a gender lens and share their experiences around gender. But as we lead more and more sessions with a mix of genders, I see that there is just as much power and potential in opening up these conversations and inviting others to participate. Our Men as Allies initiatives launched around the core belief that achieving gender equity will take more than “women talking to women about women,” but perhaps we swung the pendulum too far?

The reactions we’ve received in our programs from those who identify as women have been illuminating. One attendee shared that all of her previous training sessions for “women leaders” had focused on building one’s own skill set — how to be a better negotiator, how to brand yourself, how to be more politically savvy. The Forté workshop was the first one in which she felt she was learning how to support other women. Another participant revealed the training made her question her own subconscious biases against other women … something she’d never questioned until that point.

As I listened to speaker after speaker at the 2021 MBA Women’s Leadership Conference discuss the need for women to support each other, I was reminded why it’s necessary. Research has shown over and over that gender equity is both good business and good for business. To achieve gender equity, yes, we need men to be having these conversations, but really, we need everyone to be having these discussions.

For this reason, as we launch our 2021 Inclusive Leadership: Men as Allies training, we are changing the program name. I’m excited to announce that this fall, the program will be called Inclusive Leadership: Allies for Gender Equity. All are invited, and we sincerely hope you will join us.

For more information about the Inclusive Leadership: Allies for Gender Equity initiative, please visit: fortefoundation.org/allies_leadership

 

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