If women want to successfully lead they depend on male leaders to help elevate their voices and be true allies. And that is not a bad thing. I know this is a complex topic and a challenge for all of us to successful lead together.

Many of us, including me, are often still very complicit in keeping the patriarchy alive. And it enslaves us all. Women are often conditioned to not take a stand. They are either afraid to ruffle feathers or not even aware of the choices they have. Men on the other hand struggle to actively identify when gender discrimination, inadvertently or advertently, exists around them. It’s overlooked as they do not know what it looks like and feels like. This is a struggle for all of us and it keeps a sense of powerlessness alive.

Over the past few years, some progress has been made, more awareness amongst male leaders exists, and women have changed their approach to leading. Yet, we have a long way to go.

Why does all this matter? Because the female dimension of leadership brings new perspectives and forms of leadership to an otherwise homogeneous environment. More importantly, research has shown that the companies with women at the helm saw 226 percent higher returns.

Companies founded or co-founded by women averaged less than half of the investment in companies founded by male entrepreneurs. Yet despite this vast funding disparity, startups founded and co-founded by women performed better over time. Women-founded companies generate 10 percent more cumulative revenue over a five-year period.

The payoff is clear. And men want to help but don’t know how to and often do not know what they are not seeing.

So how can you be a male ally?

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What Is A Male Ally?

The first step to becoming a strong male ally is understanding what an ally is. A male ally practices behavior with as little sexism as possible and works to build strong relationships with women. He acknowledges his social privilege based on his gender and actively works to identify gender inequities in the workplace and society.

A male ally gives room to women’s voices, raises issues they see, calls out their male colleagues so the women in the room don’t have to. He will create emotional safety and create opportunities for his women coworkers.

In business, a male ally will make introductions for women into places they may otherwise be ignored and champion women because of their abilities.

Being a male ally isn’t easy and will take ongoing work, but it will help women-founded companies be more successful leaders in your business over time.

Why We Need Male Allyship In Leadership

Men — mainly white men — have historically reigned at the top of organizations big and small for the last century. These men have risen to the top primarily unchallenged and unaware of the privilege that helped get them there. They often fail to realize this privilege is not available to others.

While more women entrepreneurs are seeing great success, the disparity between male and female-run companies receiving support and financial backing remains large.

“Without the avid support of men, often the most powerful stakeholders in most scenarios, significant progress toward ending gender disparities is unlikely,” authors W. Brad Johnson and David G. Smith wrote in Harvard Business Review.

For example, in 2017, women’s access to capital plummeted from 7 percent to 2.2 percent due to #metoo fall out of men withdrawing support out of fear and confusion.

We can do better than this, but we need male allies.

When men remain silent on women’s issues, they perpetuate the inequality. Many men feel resistant at first to speak up or feel uncomfortable changing the status quo. It’s OK if these were your first feelings too, but now it’s time to get comfortable feeling uncomfortable.

Remember advocating for equality is the bottom-line right thing to do; it will also help your financial bottom-line. Where the women go, the money follows.

A McKinsey study projected that when women participate in the economy identically to men, $28 trillion, or 26 percent, would be added to the annual global GDP compared to the current business-as-usual scenario.

Meaning, a female-driven economy is more profitable. When we advance women’s economic equality can add $12 trillion to global growth.

Nothing to fear on the bottom line. What’s left is the emotional baggage most of us carry of a dated patriarchal system that essentially enslaves us all.

How To Be A Male Ally In Leadership

Deciding to be a male ally is a significant first step. But being an ally is not passive. Allies show up every day to help ensure equality in the workplace. They do the work and understand the work is never done.

Your journey to becoming an ally can feel overwhelming when you decide to start, but take these six steps to start showing up for women in your workplace.

  • Self Educate
  • Be aware of nonverbal cues
  • Pay attention to the words
  • Reflect on and change company policies
  • Notice who is in the room
  • Ask women for feedback

Self Educate

Being an ally requires you to force yourself to feel uncomfortable.

You can start by reading and talking to others to understand sexism in the workplace and the deep history and unconscious biases that have kept women from advancing fairly at work.

“Emotional labor is part of allyship. An ally takes the time to do their homework in reading, listening, understanding, without burdening women or people of color to do more of the labor they’ve been doing already,” Inclusion consultant Jennifer Brown told Harvard Business Review.

Here’s some reading to get you started on your journey to be an ally:

While reading, you may realize you’ve been guilty of possessing unconscious bias towards women or even mansplained a time or two — don’t let this discourage you from continuing your journey!

You need to self-reflect on any preconceived views you have about women, such as thinking maybe she won’t succeed because she has to balance her family and her business. You now realize where biases exist, and that’s the first step to dismantling them.

Be Aware Of Nonverbal Cues

In your day-to-day interactions with women, start paying attention to the nonverbal cues women in the room give.

Honing in on nonverbal cues is a skill you can build. The next time a man makes a joke, see if anyone isn’t laughing along. In meetings, observe if some people seem tense. Notice if anyone is being forced to heed unwelcomed physical advances, such as unwanted touching.

Take this a step further and reflect on if you are giving room to women’s voices and how often you or others shut down or ignore women.

When in funding meetings, women entrepreneurs felt their presentations are subject to challenges and pushback compared to their male peers.

It’s not just harassment that creates a hostile environment that holds back women; it’s suppression of women’s voices and ideas.

When a man acknowledges women’s issues and promotes their voices, this is incredibly powerful to all of us. When a man can recognize negative behaviors in the room, it’s a game-changer.

Pay Attention To The Words

Your words matter, and you need to recognize when you’re encouraging or reducing women’s voices. Interrupting a woman while she’s talking is an example of reducing women’s voices.

Male colleagues can reduce women’s voices when they say phrases and questions such as:

  • “I think you’re wrong, here’s why….”
  • “Don’t get emotional.”
  • Technical questions assume that women don’t understand the technology they are presenting about.

Words can create a hostile work environment. Dialogue ranging from typical “locker room talk” to saying the phrase “not all men” when a woman is trying to express an issue with a male’s conduct can foster a sexist environment.

When you start to see this sort of talk, call it out and make it known it’s unacceptable. If you stay silent or ignore it when your peers speak this way, you’re perpetuating the uncomfortable and sexist environment. Even if you consider someone else generally a “good guy,” it’s essential to call out these destructive behaviors in the moment.

Reflect On And Change Company Policies

By starting to champion women within your organization, you’re setting them up to one day become entrepreneurs or join the C-suite of your business.

Biases against women often are engrained deep in human resource policies. For example, take a look at your bereavement policy. Does it permit time off for miscarriage or stillbirth?

In happier times, does your maternity leave policy help women transition in and out of their roles in a way that doesn’t set back their careers but allows them to heal from birth? The same goes for your paternity leave policy. Ensuring your team supports men taking time off to support their families helps advance women in our society.

Next, see if there’s a comfortable and private space for women who choose to breastfeed to do so with ease in your office.

Finally, this past year has been stressful given the pandemic and racial issues the country has been forced to reckon with.

According to McKinsey, black women were disproportionately affected by the harrowing events of 2020. Compared to women overall, black women are twice as likely to report the death of a loved one has been one of their biggest challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Offer mental health services for employees to take advantage of as a way of showing you’re invested in their long-term well-being.

Notice Who Is In The Room

Perhaps your team just signed a huge client. And now the kick-off meeting has been scheduled to build out a robust campaign for them. Take a look at who is in the discussion. What’s the gender and race ratio? Is the room filled mostly with white men? If so, you have a problem.

Even if you have a small team, don’t pat yourself on the back if you have one woman of color in the room. Black women who are the only black woman in the room still face extreme challenges.

“Black women who are Onlys are especially likely to feel scrutinized, under increased pressure to perform, and as if their actions reflect positively or negatively on people like them,” according to McKinsey’s Women In The Workplace study.

Ask Women For Feedback On How To Become A Male Ally

If you want to know what it’s like for women to work at your company or work in your industry, ask them. Even after you’ve put in the work to self-educate, be attentive to nonverbal cues, and notice who is in the room, nothing will help you rectify any issues and talk to the women.

According to McKinsey, less than one in three Black women reported their manager checked in on them in light of recent racial violence or fostered an inclusive culture on their team. So this conversation should also be geared towards race.

Ask for one-on-one times with some or all of your female staff. For women who you want to champion, ask for a coffee meeting.

Inform them ahead of time that you’d like to talk about gender in the workplace and how you can be an ally to their advancement and equality in your company. You want to make sure they’re in a mental and emotional place to have the conversation before it begins.

Questions To Ask Female Peers About What A Male Ally Can Do

Once the conversation begins, ask questions like these to get it started and to spark great ideas:

  • As a man who sits in a leadership role, I realize I might not notice some issues women face. I’m curious to know what you find most challenging day-to-day.
  • Is there anything you wish your male peers would stop doing to make it easier for women to flourish?
  • What is one thing I could start doing to try and make our industry better for you and other women?
  • I want to show up as a male ally for you and other women to make the industry fairer and more welcoming for women. How would you recommend I start doing this?
  • How has your racial or ethnic identity affected your professional life?

While women respond — don’t interrupt! Listen with genuine curiosity and ask open-ended follow-up questions to help spawn ideas on how to help. Don’t feel offended if the feedback revolves around something you said or did. This is about getting uncomfortable to spur change.

Be mindful that if the women in your workplace feel deep inequities exist, they may be hesitant at first to embrace your new motivation for allyship. Be patient. Your actions over time will win their trust.

During these conversations, you can also offer to help mentor her by helping prepare any formal pitches, and help assess practice runs and provide feedback on the pitch before funding meetings.

How An Executive Coach Can Help You Be A Male Ally

Living as a male ally takes work and is a skill that takes ongoing practice. Working with an executive coach, specifically a woman, can help you shine a light on blind spots you might have previously had within your organization.

Together, we can evaluate your blind spots to help you advocate for female leadership, how to champion them and make room for them.


What Is A Male Ally?

A male ally practices behavior that has as little sexism as possible, works to build strong relationships with women, acknowledges his social privilege based on his gender, and actively works to identify gender inequities in the workplace and society at large.

Why Do We Need Male Allyship In Leadership?

For women to advance in the workplace, men need to be engaged. It benefits everyone when women are at the table. In fact, a McKinsey study projected that when women participate in the economy identically to men, $28 trillion, or 26 percent, would be added to the annual global GDP compared to the current business-as-usual scenario.