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Women and people of color are saying “hurry & change the systems” while white men are still saying “where do I start?” For the very folks we need to be included in changing systems, white men, often feel like allyship is daunting. They fear saying and doing the wrong things, so they stay quiet at the very moment we need them the most as allies. Based on my research, there are five key roles men can play as allies – sponsors, mentors, advocates, challengers, and coaches.

Diversity work can be polarizing and it doesn’t have to be. In my diversity consulting work over the last 8 years, I have often heard, “I am a white guy, people don’t want to hear from me about diversity” or “I am so afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing, that it is best to stay quiet about diversity.”

We need more men as allies to speak up about diversity.

Why involve men?
Men, especially white, straight, cisgender, non-disabled men overwhelmingly control wealth and power in the US and abroad. There is a disproportional representation of this dominant group in leadership roles in Corporate America.

One of our clients is a global leader in financial services and has partnered with us on a Men as Allies cohort for the last three years. They have an application process that vets interest and fit for the program and targets senior-level leaders directors and above. They cap the program at 50 participants and intentionally match them with under-represented people in the organization (women, people of color, persons with disabilities, LGBTQ+, etc.). 

Each year, they measure the results of the program and have noticed an increase in retention of underrepresented groups and a boost in inclusive leadership skills for the men that are allies. In fact, the men often report they grow more as leaders and benefit more from the program than those they are trying to be allies for.

I also have found this to be true based on research from 85 interviews across my three books on allyship, and 200+ Diversity Pivot podcast interviews, I have learned of five key roles allies can play to support diversity.

The 5 roles
There are five key roles for men to play as allies – mentors, sponsors, advocates, coaches, and challengers. Each role is framed as a choose-your-own-adventure “umbrella” approach and not a check-the-box activity. 

The mentor

Ideally, a mentor is a future version of yourself. When you think about folks that would be the best fit for you to mentor, the best fit is where you are doing the activities that they hope to do in a few years’ time. Mentoring is more of a one-on-one advice-giving relationship where the mentee or protege owns the relationship. The mentee is expected to set the meeting cadence, and agenda and to proactively prepare to discuss issues with their mentor. Avengers can beat match with mentees based on a variety of factors. The most common approach is based on competencies by matching unique skill sets, behaviors and attributes that the mentee hopes to develop. These could be things like leadership, communication, problem-solving, or specific technical skills.

The sponsor
Sponsorship is very different than mentorship. Sponsorship is talking actively about the person not necessarily talking to the person. In an ideal scenario, the sponsor would be in rooms where decisions are made on behalf of the sponsee or protege. Verna Myers, Chief Diversity Officer at Netflix describes successful sponsorships as being open to commonalities and differences, taking responsibility for your career and being aware of biases. When you have not had the lived experiences of somebody different from you, you won’t have the lived experiences or struggles that they might have had. It’s important to be open to listening first before making recommendations.

The advocate
While sponsorship is the least utilized form of allyship, advocacy is the most popular. It may feel simple in practice; it’s the intentional consistent use of advocacy that separates performative allies from active allies. Active allies know that they need to use their voice to speak up about non-inclusive behavior, amplify the voices of others different from themselves and be proactive about identifying opportunities to improve diversity. That could be using more inclusive language, elevating systemic issues to leadership, or advocating on someone’s behalf if they’re treated unfairly. 

The coach
Coaches do three things really well. They actively listen, ask open-ended questions and they promote self-discovery for the folks they are being allies. Coaching is not about advice-giving nor is it inspirational speech like sports coaching. Our research has found listening to be the number one attribute of effective allies. When we listen first we learn. When we speak first we hear what we already know. Allies know the key to unlocking the potential of the folks they hope to help is based on learning more about them first and then helping them solve their own problem which is far more sustainable for future success. Allies listen more than they speak

The challenger
This role is the toughest for me. The challenger provides constructive feedback to help someone get better and provides stretch assignments for their allies to learn and grow. The challenger pushes those they hope to help out of their comfort zones and utilizes a growth mindset to get people to do things that they haven’t done before. Essentially, they hold up the mirror for those aspiring to be allies to help them improve their confidence.

Allyship is not a self-proclamation. It’s recognized in the eye of the beholder. Using aspirational language to describe your role as an ally is important. “I’m trying to be an ally,” “I hope to be an ally” or “I’m an ally in training” are good examples. When describing the ally role you hope to serve, be mindful of how that might be perceived by people that are marginalized. It’s not a save-the-day conversation. It’s more about meeting the person where they’re and being intentional with the role you hope to serve them 

Get started NOW
Not sure where to start? Think about your strengths. What are you good at? What do you naturally have a passion for doing? Do you enjoy challenging people, giving advice or listening? You can pick the ally rule that best resonates and fits your unique skill set. Start where you feel comfortable and then branch out into other ally roles. Prioritize one or two that you can build a relationship with. Allyship is a two-way street so ideally you would be mentoring and being mentored by folks that are different from yourself. The same goes for other roles. Be realistic about the time you can commit to a relationship and make it a priority just like you would with any other priority in the workplace. 

    Julie Kratz is the Founder and Chief Engagement Officer of Next Pivot Point. She is a highly-acclaimed TEDx speaker and inclusive leadership trainer who led teams and produced results in corporate America. After experiencing many career “pivot points” of her own, she started her own speaking business with the goal of helping leaders be more inclusive. Promoting diversity, inclusion, and allyship in the workplace, Julie helps organizations foster more inclusive environments. She is a frequent keynote speaker, podcast host, and executive coach. She holds an MBA from the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University, is a Certified Master Coach, and is a certified unconscious bias trainer. Her books include Pivot Point: How to Build a Winning Career Game Plan, ONE: How Male Allies Support Women for Gender Equality and Lead Like an Ally: A Journey Through Corporate America with Strategies to Facilitate Inclusion, her children’s book Little Allies, and Allyship in Action: 10 Strategies for Living Inclusively.

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