When considering his approach as a male ally, John Vance prefers to think he’s helping women to “pull open the sticky door” in the workplace rather than smash its oft-referenced glass ceiling.
“The glass ceiling implies that once it’s broken, it is broken for all, and it also places an emphasis on women being the ones to break through it, alone,” Vance said, quoting a metaphor coined by economist Dame Minouche Shafik. “The sticky door represents an ongoing challenge to navigate to where one wants to be, with the assistance of allies who can both lean into the sticky door and give it a tug from the other side.”
It’s about seeing progress — and the crucial role of allies within it — as a constant, evolving journey, rather than a box that can simply be checked. As a Senior Manager at West Monroe, Vance gets to live this ethos daily as the leader of a 70% female Operations Excellence team. Ensuring his team has the resources and support they need to develop as leaders, he says, is one of his role’s core responsibilities, as well as a major source of fulfillment.
“It is the opportunity to grow and lead this team that most excites me about my role,” he said. “I unashamedly make an effort to put my female colleagues and team members in the forefront and allow them the space to lead, exercise their skills and challenge them to be the very best they can be while providing coaching and support where I can.”
Recently, Vance shared with us how maintaining a “work-in-progress” mentality serves to better his allyship, as well as what makes West Monroe a “people-first company — not a man-first one.”
How long have you been with your company? What about it made you first want to join?
I’ve been with West Monroe Partners for eight years after spending 11 years with our strategic alliance partner, BearingPoint. I was attracted to the culture and the opportunity to work in a progressive, rapidly growing and vibrant organization that puts people and community at the very center of our values.
What are your main job responsibilities, and what about your role most excites you?
Being a Senior Manager at West Monroe means I wear a number of hats, balancing client delivery work with business development and the care and feeding of my team in New York. I am blessed to lead our New York Operations Excellence team, a group of predominantly young women consultants (70% of the team is female) who are vibrant, ambitious, curious and full of promise. It is the opportunity to grow and lead this team that most excites me about my role.
While we’ve made progress toward achieving a more gender-balanced workforce, there remains a lot of work to be done. What kinds of actions do you incorporate into your day-to-day routine at work to serve as a male ally?
We are all a work-in-progress, I believe. I look out for signs of mansplaining both in my colleagues and myself. I look for signs of unconscious bias in task assignment and requests, and I unashamedly make an effort to put my female colleagues and team members in the forefront and allow them the space to lead, exercise their skills, and challenge them to be the very best they can be while providing coaching and support where I can.
I believe in Dame Minouche Shafik’s metaphor of a sticky door in preference to a glass ceiling. The glass ceiling implies that once it’s broken, it is broken for all, and it also places an emphasis on women being the ones to break through it, alone. The sticky door represents an ongoing challenge to navigate to where one wants to be, with the assistance of allies who can both lean into the sticky door and give it a tug from the other side.
What kinds of longer-term initiatives are you participating in to advance gender equality at your workplace?
Probably in my commitment to my team to continue to “prime the pump” by creating opportunities for women in the team, developing our next generation of leaders, and being there to pull the sticky door to allow our women leaders to elevate themselves to key leadership roles throughout the company. In addition, I promote and participate in the activities of our Women’s Leadership Network and support our Ellevate network.
Why do you believe your company is a particularly supportive place for women employees?
There are two reasons. First, because we are a people-first company, not a man-first one. Second, from a business perspective, why would anyone want to ignore 51% of the next generation of leaders?
What’s your #1 tip for men who want to be allies to women at work but aren’t sure of what to do or where to start?
Understand that diversity of thought comes from diversity of gender, race, and sexual orientation, and that we grow personally by being challenged by those around us, especially those who can bring a different perspective. And don’t be afraid to call out your colleagues for naïve or ignorant behavior – educate them on how to do better.
What was the best quality of the best boss you’ve ever had?
Their ability to approach every situation logically, dispassionately and without rancor. I’ve never seen this individual lose their cool even in the most stressful situations.
What’s the most memorable piece of career advice you’ve received?
Find your passion and double-down.
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