Most men today want to help elevate women in the workplace, as a survey conducted by Fairygodboss recently found. The problem, however, lies in the fact that out of the 88% of male respondents who said they want to be allies to women, a full 56% are unsure how to help.
Of course, understanding how best to be an ally may feel more seamless when gender diversity is already baked into your organization’s core values. For Charlie Ward, Vice President of Product Technologies at Ultimate Software, he says that’s certainly true of where he works.
“Strong female leadership laid the foundation for our culture from the very beginning, which means we not only embrace, but promote diversity,” Ward said. “We were 50% female on day one, and women continue to make up 50% of our front-line manager positions today.”
Beyond representation, part of what makes male allyship at Ultimate Software so intuitive is its supportive culture, he added. It was this “culture of family” that convinced Ward to join the company in the first place.
“During the interview process, each conversation highlighted a culture of caring and mutual support that was fostered by everyone in the company, not just our leaders,” he explained. “We all truly care for each other. Like a family, we survive adversity together, thrive together, and push each other to excel.”
Ward says one of the areas he sees this support manifested the most is in the company’s multiple women’s networks, of which he serves as a strong advocate. Recently, he spoke to Fairygodboss about the change these networks are making, the need to eliminate gender bias, and how men who want to be allies to their female colleagues can get started.
How long have you been with your company? What about it made you first want to join?
I’ve been with Ultimate Software for almost four years. I was initially attracted to the company because of its great reputation in the southern Florida tech community, but what ultimately convinced me to join was the culture. During the interview process, each conversation highlighted a culture of caring and mutual support that was fostered by everyone in the company, not just our leaders.
What are your main job responsibilities, and what about your role most excites you?
In the last four years, I’ve had the opportunity to oversee various areas of UltiPro. In the past, I led Development Strategy & Architecture and then Application, Integration, and Data. Now, I have the unique and exciting opportunity to lead both the Product and Engineering functions for the solutions that underpin our customers’ service and support offerings.
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 (or beyond) to serve as a male ally?
First and foremost, looking for potential in everyone is key. Even with the progress we’ve made to close the gender gap in technology, bias still exists in our field. Ultimate’s culture of empowerment and bottom-up innovation is unique in that it provides an opportunity for anyone to stand out. When paired with the countless opportunities for mobility and growth here, it creates a natural environment for equality. All we have to do as leaders and allies is to ignore unfounded assumptions and look for the natural talent that surfaces.
What kinds of longer-term initiatives are you participating in to advance gender equality at your workplace (whether an employee resource group, mentorship, etc.)?
I am a vocal supporter of our thriving Women in Leadership, Women in Technology and Women in Business networks. I regularly participate in panel discussions on these topics and promote our mission both internally and externally within the tech community.
I’m proud to say that our message is resonating. Recently, for example, eMerge Americas approached us looking for speakers for their Women, Innovation and Technology forum. They recognize that we are leaders in the field and that we consistently attract some of the industry’s best female talent — such as Jess Keeney, our VP of Engineering Offerings, who will be representing Ultimate at the forum.
Why do you believe your company is a particularly supportive place for women employees?
Strong female leadership laid the foundation for our culture from the very beginning, which means we not only embrace, but promote diversity. We were 50% female on day one, and women continue to make up 50% of our front-line manager positions today. However, I feel that what really preserves our culture is that we all truly care for each other. Like a family, we survive adversity together, thrive together, and push each other to excel. And, like most families, that bond transcends all forms of potential bias, including gender-based ones.
What’s your No. 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?
I know this sounds obvious, but first and foremost, eliminate gender bias and other forms of bias from your organizational and business thought process. When you look for potential everywhere, you will find potential everywhere!
If your organization has an existing or growing Women in Leadership, Tech, or Business employee resource group, see how you can help. If they don’t have a group yet, pitch the idea, find someone to sponsor or lead it, and lend your support.
What was the best quality of the best boss you’ve ever had?
Two qualities that are shared by all of the great bosses I’ve had are an open mind and trust. When a leader has both of these qualities, it creates an environment where people are free to dream, explore and execute on their ideas. These are the building blocks for innovation and empowerment.
What’s the most memorable piece of career advice you’ve received?
Simply, “Don’t be afraid to fail.” Every success in my career (and life) has been built on the foundation of my prior experiences, most importantly my failures. Failing gracefully and learning from your failures is critical for growth and innovation.
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