In 2014, I was launching a forum on gender sensitization with a shoe-string budget, it was a passion project, where I intended to share the stories of several women leaders, on how they overcame stereotypes and achieved leadership success.
Although I had partnered with leading associations like Tie Stree shakti and NHRD (womentoring wing), I was struggling with sponsorship. It was then I approached a Padmashree award winning theatre veteran to be a part of this project and he graciously agreed, even with budget constraints. Now that I had a known name associated with the project, I thought that I would be able to garner some sponsorship. However, as luck would have it, I received a very small amount as sponsorship.
Although I was able to cover event spends, there wasn’t much money left for publicity and PR . That’s when I approached an old PR firm I had worked with, and told the founder candidly that I had very little budget, but the project was driven by earnest passion. Something must have struck a chord, and she agreed to sign up. The forum received heartfelt appreciation, but the credit of the success in my opinion can be ascribed to the power of allyship.
There were two strong allies here:
The celebrity who agreed to be associated with the project and supported the project through out and the PR agency that signed up within the limited budget and pushed the envelope to make the event a success.
This sprouts up the question, what exactly is allyship and why is it important in advancing women leadership.
Allyship is a practice where individuals become collaborators supporting an individual’s growth or success in any walk of life. The term allyship is explained as the practice of emphasizing justice, inclusion, and human rights by members of an ingroup, to advance the interests of an oppressed or marginalized outgroup. At the workplace, allyship can also become a strategic tool, whereby an ally can collaborate to promote equity through supportive public actions of sponsorship and advocacy. Allyship can help drive systemic improvements to workplace practices, processes and culture.
Allyship can also be a powerful practice in advancing women leadership. There is a lopsided view that in order to support women at the workplace, only male leaders need to emerge as allies. To share some insights on the voices of male leaders on women leadership, I would like to mention a white paper on women leadership, published by OD Alternatives.
The research included a total of 102 participants i.e. 81 female leaders & 21 male leaders that came from a variety of industries & ethnic backgrounds and represented several fields of the industry.
Quoting from the research paper- “Almost 100% of our male respondents acknowledged the need to create a conscious pipeline of women leaders in organizations and they believe that most organizations recognize the value of diversity and have an intent to hire, develop and promote women into leadership roles. Specifically, they believe that women leaders bring more humanistic leadership traits to the organization.”
Some of the challenges that they perceived were:
Lack of role modeling & mentoring: Not too many women leaders are there who can show the way to others looking for guidance.
Cultural challenges: Women leaders expected to live up to too many expectations.
Systemic challenges: Organizations still don’t have inclusive infrastructure and system
As male leaders accept and advocate the need of advancing women leadership, through mentorship and allyship, it is important to understand that allyship is beyond the construct of gender. How can one then become a powerful ally at the workplace, here are a few suggestions:
- Being mindful of gender biases during role allocation
- Encourage psychological safety, where any gender feels safe and seen and is encouraged to bring their whole selves to work
- Advocacy on gender friendly infrastructure and policies
- Sisterhood circles: Women leaders can support each other by building powerful sisterhood and listening circles.
- Credit sharing: Often women shy away from claiming their achievements with An ally can help the team recognize, celebrate success stories of women leaders and share credit when required.
- Microaggressions: Recognizing microaggressions and speaking up against it.
- Collaborative gender roles-Many women battle challenges at the household with the double burden of responsibilities, spouses can become strong allies by supporting each other and sharing responsibilities.
Allyship can help build a strong inclusive culture. Mentoring and allyship initiatives can significantly improve performance and help women break the glass ceiling. Let us thus remove the ‘darr’ from gender and move beyond social constructs of gender. As allies in any walk of life, we can make our own unique contribution in building a more balanced word!
Mishti Verma is a partner at OD Alternatives, a boutique consulting organization. She has close to two decades of experience in building strategic alliances, IP development, facilitation & coaching. She is also a Gallup certified strengths coach. She has worked extensively in areas of gender sensitization, D E I, leadership development and behavioral training. Her work has been recognized by Times of India, IDIVA, Hindustan Times, BIG FM, Radio One, Cake & Whiskey-New York, Cometsa Radio Worldwide-South Africa et al.