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Should you be a leader, an ally or both?

Male allies are required to break down barriers for women at work, transform workplace culture and drive genuine business outcomes. 

There are many courses dedicated to revealing the hallmarks of a good leader. As a male manager, if you want to really make an impact for your team, you need to understand the traits and skills required to be an effective ally.

In the workplace, allies are those who proactively provide assistance and support those who are at a disadvantage. Increasingly, we are seeing the transformational benefits to both workplace culture and bottomline results, when men who are often in positions of power, act as allies for their female co-workers. Importantly, men need to move from just being ‘good guys’ to be being active allies for women at work.

While women account for almost half of Australia’s workforce, data from the Workplace Gender Equality Agency shows they represent just 32 per cent of key management positions. Good leaders will set clear diversity, equity and inclusion goals for their team, effective allies will ensure they are met.

For women, this is the difference between just participating in the workplace, and thriving in it.   

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 in the form of reduced bias, higher engagement and retention, along with increased representation of women in decision-making roles.

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

These are staggering statistics that further validate why it is important for men to be aware of the barriers women face in the workplace, and the role they can play in creating 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.     Deal with bias in your workplace

Women are feeling the effects of negative 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.     Provide better support and opportunities for 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 7 per cent of women always feel supported within their organisation to progress their careers.

Organisations 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 women face by asking questions about women’s lived experience. Further, they should undertake their own training like the Male Allies program so that the onus for change doesn’t rest solely on women.

3.     Create an environment of recognition and confidence

Confidence is a significant issue for women at work, with only 6.5 per cent feeling confident all the time and 45 per cent feeling confident only some of the time or not all. 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. Managers and leaders must be proactive and strive to make progress.

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