Male allies

by Kristen Anderson, EWOB CEO

As the CEO of European Women on Boards, I spend every day trying to further our mission: To increase gender balance in decision making.  I see the shocking lack of progress over the last 10 years … and it can be very discouraging at times.  

McKinsey’s Women in the Workplace (October 2022) highlighted that ’women are more likely to experience belittling microaggressions, such as having their judgment questioned or being mistaken for someone more junior. Quite often they’re doing more to support employee well-being and foster inclusion, but this critical work is going mostly unrewarded’.

So I thought it would be good to talk about the positive aspects of change that we can all create, women and male allies (yes, this is a critical element!) by working together.

One of the most effective ways to accelerate progress and achieve gender balance is by engaging men as advocates and allies. I would like to discuss the importance of men’s active involvement in promoting gender diversity and share some actionable steps we can all take tomorrow to be better allies.

So why whould men work to be strong allies for women in the workplace?

Enhanced Decision-Making for All

Diverse teams bring a wider range of perspectives, experiences, and expertise to the table, leading to better decision-making processes. With women comprising half of the population, their insights and input are invaluable in understanding diverse customer needs and market trends.

Improved Performance and Innovation

Research consistently shows that companies with diverse leadership teams outperform their less diverse counterparts, encouraging innovation and creativity that accelerate progress for everyone, at the same time making more ethical business decisions.

Positive Organisational Culture

A gender-diverse leadership sets the tone for an inclusive and equitable workplace culture. When employees see diversity in top leadership positions, they see positive role models for themselves. 

It’s Also Good for Men

Engaging in gender DEI efforts help men become more inclusive leaders, who are more creative, innovative, and make better decisions.

Research by Dr. Brad Johnson (Professor of Psychology at the US Naval Academy and Faculty at John Hopkins University) and Dr. David Smith (Associate Professor at John Hopkins Business School) shows that men’s emotional intelligence increases.  They found that men’s communication skills and their self-awareness improve….and those skills continue beyond the workplace.  ‘It makes you a better partner, parent and person’.

Overall, it is not a zero-sum game: when we achieve more gender balance, an organisation gets bigger and grows, hence there are more positions and opportunities for everyone!

The Role of Men in Championing Gender Diversity

Acknowledge the Imbalance:

The first step towards change is recognising the existing gender imbalance at the senior level. Men must acknowledge that women are underrepresented and that this disparity needs to be addressed to achieve more inclusive and effective teams.  They can make this visible by committing to a specific action, such as increasing gender diversity on their team, mentoring a more junior female employee, sponsoring or joining a gender balance employee resource or affinity group.

Become Informed Allies:

Men can educate themselves about the challenges faced by women in the workplace. This will enable them to be more effective advocates for change. Really listen to (and believe) women to understand the systemic barriers and biases that they encounter.

Mentor and Sponsor Women: 

Actively mentor and sponsor women within the organisation.  Providing active guidance, support, and opportunities for career advancement are key actions.  The research shows that men are sponsored more than women, so speak up as an advocate for women leaders.

Challenge Gender Stereotypes: 

Men can actively, consistently and visibly challenge traditional gender stereotypes and encourage their peers to do the same. For example, when a colleague is referred to as ‘the new girl in accounting’, correct it by saying ‘you mean Marta, the new manager/expert/associate’.

Lead by Example and Encourage Other Male Leaders to Do the Same: 

Men in leadership positions can set an example by actively championing gender diversity and inclusivity in their organisations. By promoting women to leadership roles and by openly listening and incorporating their voices into decision making, they demonstrate their commitment with more than just words.

What can we do tomorrow to be better allies?  Here are 5 Tips….

  1. Affirm a person’s competency. For example, acknowledge a woman leader’s key contribution to her peers in a meeting or public forum and find ways to make those more visible to the community, such as speaking opportunities.
  2. Notice when women’s contributions are overlooked in team meetings,. When someone else gets credit for her idea, add a comment such as “I’m glad you picked up on X’s idea” to bring back the credit to her. Or when a woman is interrupted, step in and say ‘I do not think that Y was finished with her point’.
  3. Ask clarifying questions when you suspect bias, particularly Iin discussions of talent,. Ask, for example, “What do we mean, exactly, when we say she is not strategic? How are we applying these criteria across all candidates?” or “you say she is aggressive, yet I don’t see her exhibiting different communication behaviours than her colleagues.” Do the Flip Test, asking yourself whether you would have thought the same/made the same assessment if ‘she’ had been a ‘he’.
  4. Bring up and advocate for female talents as potential candidates when you hear others discuss big assignments. This is what a Sponsor does!
  5. Sponsor the Gender Balance or Women’s Employee Resource/Affinity Group in your organisation.  This will enable you to practise key skills to be a better leader: learn to actively listen, become an advocate/sponsor, improve your own leadership style.


Men have a crucial role to play in fostering change and accelerating progress towards gender-diverse senior-level teams. By taking action, challenging biases, and advocating for inclusivity, men can contribute to a more diverse, innovative, and creative environment for everyone. Together, we can make progress, but we need to collaborate and get involved as vocal allies for gender balance.