Barry Baird is TD Bank Head of Payments Capability and Delivery. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author.
When it comes to gender equity, believing in the cause is only one piece of the equation. Proactively advocating for female leadership in the workplace is key for enhancing productivity and business growth.
For male allies, actively and publicly leaning in to advancing women has different benefits from the traditional mentor/mentee relationship. There needs to be a public element to this form of advocacy. When male allies elevate women and discuss change in "broader rooms" and in front of other leaders, it encourages other male allies to lead by example from the entry level to upper management.
TD Bank launched its first Women in Leadership Allies Pilot Program this April. I'm proud to be leading this special initiative as it begins to take shape. The program will offer executives a mix of facilitated sessions, group discussions and self-driven learning with the goal of encouraging self-awareness, improving gender acumen and understanding of gender issues, and fostering allyship.
The new program will ultimately culminate with each participant's commitment to their individual action plans, centered on how they can make a difference through allyship at work. It's an exciting step in the right direction, and I'm looking forward to supporting this work.
Advantages of Allyship
When looking at promotions and leadership, there is a clear gender gap. For every 100 men promoted to manager, only 85 women were promoted, according to research from McKinsey & Company. This gap was even more significant for Black and Latina women with only 58 Black women and 71 Latinas being promoted.
Only 37 of the companies on this year's Fortune 500 are led by female CEOs, the highest number reported, but still leaves significant room for improvement. Black women are severely underrepresented in senior leadership, with 1.4 percent in C-suite; 1.6 percent in VP roles. This data is sobering, but it's a signal that we need to shift to new ways of promoting and supporting women in the workplace.
For me, male allyship is another key element of how I support my colleagues; however, there are some key differences between allyship and the dynamic of mentorships or sponsorships:
- Mentor and sponsor have an element like that of a hierarchy. The concept assumes a power differential which is why the more senior person is reaching out to help coach or advance with specific career steps. However, the advantage of allyship is that it can apply up, down or sideways.
- Mentorship and sponsorship have a built-in assumed knowledge or familiarity with an individual. Conversely, allyship can also be tied to an individual, but it can – and often should - apply across an entire group or dimension.
- Mentorship or sponsorship can be a point in time, while allyship is an ongoing process usually involving a marginalized group. It's an ongoing initiative because participants must continually seek understanding to appreciate the challenges and differences and take accountability for actively supporting their allies in overcoming those challenges.
Action is at the heart of allyship. The impact of allyship includes educating others while being an ally in ways minorities cannot; eliminating the bystander effect and improving company culture of acceptance and tolerance; which, in turn, improves employee wellbeing, satisfaction, and overall productivity. To be effective, allyship must be active and always consider the experience and perspectives of groups that are underrepresented or marginalized.
COVID-19 has hurt women in job market
The impact of COVID-19 on the workforce has exposed many examples that underpin the need for allyship. Women have lost more than 5 million jobs during the pandemic – millions more have voluntarily left the workforce because of reasons such as lack of childcare. In comparison, less than 2 million males have left the job market.
This discrepancy has driven the pandemic outcomes to be referred to as a "shecession." Even for those able to continue to work, there has been a disproportionate division of labor falling on women as they've struggled to cope with the challenges of closed daycares, the demands of virtual school, and other obstacles. We need to continue to evolve our thinking and maintain awareness around the issues that women face and how they're adapting.
Why it matters
Embracing allyship at the organizational level leads to results. In fact, companies with more than 30 percent women executives were more likely to outperform companies where this percentage was lower. Allyship impacts every facet of an organization, but there are three key areas to call out:
- Decision Making: As an executive, if I'm sitting at a conference table and I've chosen to surrounded myself with a team of men who look like me and come from similar educational backgrounds, am I really going to have the diversity of perspective and opinion needed to make that group successful? The answer is unlikely.
- Retention: If people see inequities in female representation (or representation from any group that feels underrepresented or marginalized) then why would those people stay with that employer? How would they feel confident in growing their career with a company that isn't leaning into their needs?
- Recruitment and Hiring: If a strong female candidate interviews with a slate that's exclusively male, how welcoming will that feel to her? There's a lot of discussion about diverse interview slates from a candidate perspective, but companies show their colors (or lack thereof) by who they invite to the interviewer slate as well. We need to display diversity there too.
Our journey with TD Bank's Women in Leadership Allies Pilot Program now begins. We hope these initial steps will lead us to our destination to help create the required sustainable change where full inclusion at every level is achieved. Women have made great strides in the workforce, but there is so much more work to be done.