Should you be a leader, an ally or both?

Written by Megan Dalla-Camina, Founder and CEO, Women Rising + The IMPACT Agency  
Across Australia male allies are using their influence to advocate for equality in the workplace – and the resulting ripple is transformative.  

It’s a quiet movement, but a powerful one. In workplaces around the nation, leaders are seeing the undeniable benefits to both workplace culture and bottom-line results when men in positions of power act as allies for their female co-workers.   

For many, it’s the critical transition from being the ‘good guy’ who prompts colleagues to align their actions to organisational values, to a leader who actively speaks out against sexism and bias.   

The men in this movement know that good leaders set clear diversity, equity and inclusion goals for their team, but effective allies ensure they are met. 

For women, having male colleagues with this understanding and awareness is the difference between having a job, and thriving in one.     
The unseen roadblocks that hold women back in the workplace 

At our current rate, it will take almost 100 years to get to gender equality, and much of this stems from the bias women experience in the workplace, coupled with a lack of support from management.  

Women Rising’s ‘The Voice of Women at Work 2023 Report’, shows that almost half (44 per cent) of working women in Australia have felt patronised, undermined, or underestimated by their manager or senior leaders because of their gender. 

Furthermore, almost a quarter (24 per cent) of women who changed jobs in the last 18 months cited a lack of opportunity to advance as the reason they left. 

Organisations with male allies create more diverse teams that perform better 

Research by Catalyst shows that when men are deliberately engaged in gender inclusion programs, 96 per cent of organisations see progress. This can be in the form of reduced bias, higher engagement and retention, as well as increased representation of women in decision-making roles. 

Furthermore, a study by Deloitte states that companies that prioritise diversity and inclusion are six times more likely to be innovative and agile.  

These staggering statistics further validate why it is important for men to be aware of the barriers women face in the workplace, and how they can help create an inclusive and productive culture. 

Here are three of the most important ways male leaders and managers can be effective allies for their female colleagues: 

1.  Address bias in your workplace, head on

Women are feeling the effects of bias at work in alarming numbers. Nearly two-thirds of women have experienced negative bias due to their age and this is prominent across all age groups, particularly women aged 18 – 24 years and 25 – 34 years. 

More than half the women surveyed by Women Rising have been undermined by a male leader and half have experienced negative bias at work because of their gender. 

At a minimum, leaders should establish an employee action group within the organisation, made up of women and men – dedicated to advocating and progressing gender equality and women-focused initiatives.  

Education should also be a crucial part of helping employees understand biases and how they impact women.  

2. Establish a culture of mentorship and sponsorship

Results from ‘The Voice of Women at Work 2023 Report’ highlighted that 29 per cent of women are not receiving enough support from managers, mentors or sponsors. Only seven per cent of women always feel supported within their organisation to progress their careers. 

Managers should allocate funding to support women’s leadership development programs and opportunities. Additionally, it is important to schedule routine check-ins with women in the team to find out what guidance and support they need.  

Male leaders should actively listen to women and check their own understanding of the challenges they face by asking questions about their lived experiences. Furthermore, they should undertake their own training, like the Male Allies program, so that the onus for change doesn’t rest solely on women. 

3. Use recognition to build confidence

Confidence is a significant issue for women at work, with only six per cent feeling confident all the time and 45 per cent feeling confident only some of the time. The biggest factor undermining women’s confidence at work is their inner critic and self-doubt.  

A lack of confidence also gets in the way of career progression, with 38 per cent of women reluctant to ask for a pay rise and an equal number disinclined to put themself forward for a promotion. 

Building confidence can be achieved from all levels of the organisation. It can be as simple as amplifying women’s views in meetings and openly acknowledging female contributions to other colleagues.  

Being a passive observer, even when in agreement with the cause, is not enough. It’s time for men to enhance their leadership, scale their sponsorship, and be effective allies to the women they work with.  

Megan Dalla-Camina is the Founder and CEO of Women Rising. She is the best-selling author of Getting Real About Having It All, Lead Like A Woman, and Simple Soulful Sacred. Her next release, Women Rising, is now available for pre-order.  

Women Rising is an IMPACT client

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