Allies for Gender Equity

How Forté’s Men as Allies Program Is Helping Top Companies Support Women

What will it take to get more women into business leadership? Encouraging women to pursue those roles isn’t enough. We need everyone — including male allies — to understand the importance of gender equity.

Forté launched the Men as Allies initiative in 2016 to involve men in the gender equity movement. The program began on 10 business school campuses and grew to 41 schools in less than three years.

2020 has been an especially challenging year for women in the workplace, and the coronavirus pandemic threatens to slow the movement toward gender equity. Forté is doing our best to help women stay on track in their careers, and as part of that, we’re expanding our male ally programming.

For the past few years, we have been working behind the scenes to bring the Men as Allies program into the corporate environment. In 2018, PNC Financial Services Group, Inc., one of the largest financial services firms in the U.S., worked with us to co-create a year-long pilot program. Since its successful launch at PNC, more companies have signed on to launch Men as Allies pilots, including Toronto-Dominion Bank, Webster Bank and Kaiser Permanente.

“The goal of our Men as Allies program at business schools is to help male students benefit from, and get involved in, enhancing gender equity on campus and to take that experience back to the business world,” says Elissa Sangster, Forté CEO. “But what we heard from recent MBA graduates is that their company did not have a similar male allyship program. Since there was no forum to put the knowledge they gained from our campus program into practice to foster a more equitable culture at work, we’re helping them to create one. It couldn’t come at a better time with more women opting out of the workforce and contemplating what’s next for their careers in the coronavirus crisis.”

Turning Male Allies into Inclusive Leaders

To kickoff this new phase of Men as Allies, Forté is currently holding an Inclusive Leadership Online Program that runs from October 19 to October 28, 2020. In four live half-day sessions, Forté executives, along with expert authors and presenters, are helping participants develop a deeper understanding of gender equity in the workplace and how they can take meaningful action as male allies.

Featured guests include Brad Johnson and Dave Smith, co-authors of the just-published Good Guys: How Men Can Be Better Allies to Women in the Workplace and the 2016 book Athena Rising: How and Why Men Should Mentor Women; Julie Kratz, speaker, trainer and author of Lead Like An Ally; Joshua Stewart, Vice President, Director, Talent Programs & Accessibility at PNC; and Ericka Young, President and Founder, Tailor-Made Budgets, who will partner with Kratz to explore the role of intersectionality in gender allyship.

“Men often think they need some sort of grand gesture to support gender equity, like standing up in a high-profile meeting to publicly call out a sexist remark by a colleague. Others think the push for parity needs to come from the top,” said Sangster. “But being a male ally plays out in many different ways. Subtle, non-confrontational actions that support gender equity can be highly effective, and research shows middle managers, not CEOs, play a crucial role in women’s career retention and advancement.”

Joshua Stewart, who led the male ally pilot program at PNC, says the outcomes were better than anticipated. Pre- and post-program measures revealed significant increases in all of the program’s measures including participants’ comfort discussing gender equity in the workplace, knowledge of gender equity opportunities and recent actions taken to increase gender inclusion.

“Beyond the core program measurements, success in creating male allies is highly personalized,” Stewart says.  “Ally actions that make a difference depend on the ally’s position in the organization, their readiness and the needs in their respective workplace and relationships. One ally may inspect their hiring processes and decisions, another may more confidently agree to mentorship relationship with a woman, another make take a leadership role in the women’s resource group – all critical actions to advancing gender inclusion.”

Why Male Ally Programs Are Needed

There’s plenty of data demonstrating the power of male allyship. For example:

  • A company that has an active women’s network and opens it to women and men is among the top factors statistically proven to influence women’s advancement and pay, according to Accenture research based on a survey of 22,000 working men and women with a university education in 34 countries. But half the women surveyed work for organizations that don’t provide a network.
  • A McKinsey and Lean In study found the biggest obstacle women face is their first step up to management — for every 100 men, only 72 women are promoted and hired to manager, which demonstrates a “broken rung” early in the leadership pipeline.
  • A study from Bain & Company found that women’s ambition and confidence plummeted after just two years on the job. Why? They reported a “lack of support by their supervisor for my career ambitions” and “not seeing themselves fitting the [male] stereotype of success.”

Male Ally Groups Make a Difference

Male ally groups move men from the sidelines to the front lines of the gender equity movement.  They position men as an integral part of diversity and inclusion, rather than as outsiders struggling to understand their place. Adding men to the mix is a powerful and underused way to strengthen a company’s diversity and inclusion efforts and accelerate gender equity progress.

“A male ally group can help men understand the power of their daily gestures and impact over those they supervise,” says Sangster. “Being a male ally means learning about what, and what not, to do. And to be frank, both men and women can benefit from those conversations.”

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