'It's Going to Take All of Us' – 4 Men on Being Allies at Work

Herb Johnson, Jr., Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer at Michelin North America and Stephen Orban, General Manager at AWS Marketplace. Photo: Krisanne Johnson

Herb Johnson, Jr., Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer at Michelin North America and Stephen Orban, General Manager at AWS Marketplace. Photo: Krisanne Johnson

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May 23, 2024 at 11:36AM UTC

GALVANIZE 2018: Making Women’s Resource Groups Powerful, a summit hosted by Fairygodboss, focused on empowering women in the workplace. But as Fairygodboss President Romy Newman noted in her opening remarks, engaging men is necessary on this path toward empowerment. Many men consider themselves allies in the fight for gender parity in the workplace, but most don’t know what concrete steps to take in order to accelerate progress. 

“I think as women we need to be a little more overt about what we expect from our male counterparts,” Salesforce President and Chief People Officer Cindy Robbins said in her keynote discussion. “Men are in the position of power, and they will be for a while… we need them.” 

Four men joined GALVANIZE’s “Men as Allies” panel to discuss how women can ask for help and how men can actively and effectively advocate for more equal workplaces.

Herb Johnson, Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer at Michelin North America, echoed Robbins' sentiment for overt conversation. “Talk to me, talk to us. Create an environment for a frank and open conversation,” he said. 

Stephen Orban, General Manager at AWS Marketplace, told the crowd, "Coach us… Continue to hold me accountable and hold my feet to the fire. I’m sure there are biases I need coaching on… it’s unconscious until it’s conscious.” 

Matthew Richards, Director of Talent Acquisition at Cognizant, meditated on the importance of people across genders, races, religions and organizations working together to reach workplace parity.

“It’s going to take all of us,” said Richards. “I’ve had to reach out to groups [for information and data about achieving diversity]... because it can be hard to get that support internally [without providing data].” 

Meanwhile, Darius Smith, Director of Talent Marketing and Employee Engagement at Brother International Corporation, spoke about the importance of allies staying in the fight even when it gets hard — or controversial. 

“Women are power,” he said. “Stay in the fight with me, even when it gets tough.” 

All of the panelists recognized that male allyship should not begin and end with women. Instead, they argued, men need to take personal responsibility and actively confront others about biases. 

“It’s important to be [an ally] personally and professionally. When we can get men to stop leaving their hearts in the parking lot, we can make real change,” said Johnson. “You have to make it personal. Men are stereotypically competitive… I ask them, ‘Would you want your daughter to be a loser? Would you want your sister to be a loser?’” 

Orban also noted the importance of confronting men to fight biases. He shared that he was once in a meeting discussing a female colleague when a female executive changed his entire perspective on how he talks about women at work. 

“[She] asked: ‘Would you feel differently about this if she were a man?’ There was an amazing lesson there, because I watched someone put themselves on the line to advocate for someone in a way that made everyone in the room uncomfortable.” 

He said that now, he doesn’t hesitate to call out men when he sees them acting on unconscious biases.

“Now, I’m the one to ask. Now that I’ve become predictable about that, people have changed how they prepare for meetings.”

“I have a 17 year old, and I have to push back on him about some things,” Richards added. “That’s my job. And sometimes he talks rude immediately. And then it’s not even talking about what we were talking about, but about how were talking to each other. I feel like that's how this is… it’s about being a person.” 

Richards realizes that his actions are just a small stepping stone toward achieving a gender equal society,  and says other male allies need to realize this, too. 

“I’m not purporting to be the voice for women, but I am a voice. It is important for me to speak up and advocate for women in a meeting. I think I can be just one small piece of the puzzle.” 

“It’s the least I can do, and it’s not enough,” echoed Orban. “We have to do something about it or it won’t get better.”

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