Great Male Allies Share This One Trait (And It’s Not An Awareness Of Bias)

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Image courtesy of Søren Astrup Jørgensen.

Corner of the Court is a monthly feature on MARC published in partnership with The Corner of the Court Project, recognizing stories of male allies' impact on workplace inclusion, told by women.
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By Sonali D’silva. In 2003, I walked into the office of a senior leader at one of India’s leading Information Technology organizations in the city of Bangalore. I was a young leadership and management development facilitator aiming for a big job.

Back then, gender diversity and equality weren’t popular terms, and men weren’t being called upon to support women as they are now. Plus, I didn’t know how important it was for women to have a male ally in this male-dominated world.

I found myself sitting in front of an unassuming, calm, and approachable person. Team photographs and trophies lined the shelves across the wall. He smiled reassuringly at me, and I instantly felt comfortable.

That was Selvan, head of a large training team that undertook a range of people-development programs and projects for our global organization. At the end of my interview, he walked down a set of stairs with me, asked if I wanted lunch, and then led me to the nearest on-campus café. He even made a menu suggestion! Selvan then explained and wrote out directions to get to my final HR interview. This gesture of thoughtfulness and care has always stayed with me as one of his great leadership qualities.

Selvan shared his intention to be a mentor and sponsor right from the start. We would often run into each other in the pantry, and instead of nodding and moving on with his coffee, he always had a question to ask. Through these frequent and informal interactions I grew in my confidence to be myself and not change myself to fit in.

"Awareness of gender bias is important, but not enough to make a champion."

While he was my manager’s manager, he never talked down to me, patronized me, or brushed away my concerns. Instead, he was a great listener. Selvan truly had an open-door policy—I always knew I could walk in and talk to him. This helped me understand how things worked, which, in male-dominated corporate life, rarely happens for a young woman starting out.

Selvan always pushed me to think bigger and not hesitate to share brave ideas about how I saw my career growing. I now understand the significance of those conversations much better.

Another great leadership value I saw exemplified in Selvan was his sense of fairness. He made sure I got my due credit even when I was the most junior contributor in a task force. He paid close attention to the quality of my work and I always knew how I was doing and what I could do better. To have merit, initiative, and competence rewarded in this manner proved crucial for my future career.

Selvan set the bar for me in how I engage with men, and I’ve used his example ever since when teaching key leadership skills.

Awareness of gender bias is important, but not enough to make a champion. Catalyst research shows that men must have a commitment to the ideal of fairness—a strong personal conviction that bias is wrong and that they should stand up for the ideal of equality.

Our analyses revealed that it was men’s sense of fair play, not their awareness of gender bias, that ultimately predicted whether they were visible to others as champions of gender equity in the workplace.

To learn more, read the report "What Change Agents Need to Know
" on our Research page.
Sonali D%u2019silva bioSonali D’silva is author of Corporate Nirvana and is in the process of writing her second book, 25 Practices of Inclusive Leaders. Sonali has spent two decades of her career in leadership and management development. Her current work involves helping organizations build inclusive leaders, expand the influence of women leaders, and involve men in gender equality efforts.
Posted by MARC Catalyst on May 15, 2018 11:58 AM America/New_York

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