Beyond Allyship, Accelerating Progress on Gender Equity and Inclusion

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January 11, 2022
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Misperceptions of men’s private beliefs about gender bias can undermine their willingness to speak up against it, states the Stanford Social Innovation Review. According to the review, 77.5% of Fortune 500 board seats were held by men and 22.5% were held by women in 2018. It is also unfortunate that NO country is on target to meet the sustainable development goal on gender equality by 2030 and it has been projected that it will take 257 years to achieve economic gender parity.  Stakeholders have been discussing Allyship as a way to accelerate gender equity. For leaders advocating for gender equality to get ahead and accelerate progress, they may need to pursue support in unexpected places. Thus, at the Rise and Lead 2021 Summit, the discussion was taken a little further into “Beyond Allyship”. During the discussion we got to understand:

  • Why Allyship?
  • Barriers, Biases and Allyship
  • Beyond Allyship


The discussion was moderated by Rick Zednik, Director at Pangea Connections and was joined by:

  • Stefan Tonnon, Vice President of Human Resources at Insight EMEA
  • Sandra Ondraschek-Norris, VP for Global MARC Learning
  • Adiya Mobley, Senior VP and Co-Practice Lead at FleishmanHillard


Why Allyship?

The issue of gender inequality is not just a business or leadership challenge; it is also a societal issue, says Sandra. And because it is a societal issue, it is not just the role of women to fix it, but all gender identities should be working together for this common course. In Adiya’s words “it is a human issue rather than a woman’s issue”. The most important allies to have is that of the dominant group and, according to Sandra, the vast majority in this case are men as they hold positions of leadership globally. She says men who are engaged in gender equity are happier, healthier, more involved as parents, have better relationships at home, and work and feel better able to live without the restrictive masculine norms that they may have grown up with.

Still looking beyond the business advantage of gender equality, Stefan emphasized the societal angle of gender inequality and how parity is needed to turn the tide against negativity towards people from different backgrounds and different genders. He says everyone in the society has a right to have the feeling that they belong and it is everyone’s responsibility to be allies in this course. As a leader, he has the responsibility to ensure such communities are built within his company and he is proud to say he is a supporter.

Meanwhile, Adiya pointed out that allies can be found and created at any level of an organization and those who are in positions of influence are the catalyst to diversity, equity and inclusion. She went on to state that the most effective allies are the ones who do not seek recognition and praise, but will rather offer space and visibility for others who need it the most.


 Barriers, Biases and Allyship

One of the barriers to men’s initial engagement in gender equality is the mentality that “if women gain, men lose”, says Sandra. A wrong organizational culture, like a climate of silence or futility, can also hinder the most engaged men from speaking up. In addition, the need to dismantle norms and have a collective accountability for culture change is needed. In her words, “to fully engage men, we may have to unpack masculinity”. Personal biases on the other hand – trying to change or improve on behaviour that has been part of one’s upbringing – is something most allies struggle with. According to Stefan, he, just like everyone else, is struggling to remove his biases from his conversations. Adiya noted that the issue with unconscious bias is not only that it exists with everyone, but we do not immediately realize that we harbour these biases in our leadership style or the way we behave towards others.


Beyond Allyship

In order to go beyond Allyship, we may have to look at the root causes. This involves concepts like systemic privileges and social conditioning, which are the foundation of our unconscious bias, says Sandra. These biases form the dominant leadership models in every aspect of our society. Therefore, if we do not unpack them and have an honest dialogue about it, we may not be able to make the link to the kind of corporate leadership model that we are struggling to change.

She further discussed Allyship being more than just lip service. Sandra shared with us a study recently conducted that shows 86% of men are committed to interrupting sexism in the workplace but only 31% are confident enough to act on it. Speaking about confidence, Stefan points out the fact it takes a lot of courage to speak up and become an ally, especially when you are in a leadership position. Because people are constantly watching leaders to catch them out on certain words or actions, they try to be on the defensive and not to appear vulnerable.

To watch the full discussion with these panelists and to enjoy more discussions from the Rise and Lead 2021 Summit, please subscribe to our YouTube channel. Remember to turn on your notification bell so you don’t miss out on any of our uploads. Thank you.

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