How to become a male ally

Men have an important part to play in ensuring greater equality for women in the workplace – and in the world at large, writes Kyra Wong

How to become a male ally

In the mortgage industry – as in any walk of life – the reality of glass ceilings for women in many different forms is all too evident. While this is a positive and welcoming industry to be involved in, the existence of those ceilings – whether social, corporate or emotional – needs to be acknowledged.

I’ve bumped up against each of these glass ceilings throughout my career and life, but I’ve also been fortunate enough to have many good men surrounding me as mentors and bosses who have helped me continuously thrive. Without them, I wouldn’t be where I am today, and I’m grateful for the guidance and opportunities I have benefited from as a result of their belief in me and loyal support.

That doesn’t diminish the fact that we all have a part to play in shattering the glass and making sure that those ceilings become a thing of the past, and that the industry continues to become a more equitable, professional environment for women.  The good news is that an ever-increasing number of men are not only aware of that continuing inequity, they want to do some-thing to eradicate it.

That’s a significant development and music to the ears of womankind, because we truly need the support of men to further that goal of true equality. Women can’t be the sole architects to dismantle our own oppression. We make up only 50% of the population; therefore, we need men to be our constant allies to help end the injustices we’ve faced.

For men, a common question about inequality is “How do I get involved and help as a male ally?”. For each of the challenges women face in the workplace, there are clear steps men can take to make sure they’re helping chip away at structures of inequality.

One of the most prominent obstacles faced by women is constantly being over-looked for professional development opportunities. Men can help address that issue by giving women opportunities to take on challenging work and helping them identify and push for stretch goals to bolster their career development. 

I was given such an opportunity myself back in 2010, when I was challenged to run a national account on my own, despite that never having been done within my company. Having the chance to pursue this challenge helped me grow personally and profession-ally, and I become capable of more than I ever thought possible.

As I succeeded, I gained confidence, and it led to even bigger and better things over time. None of it would have ever happened, though, without a client initiating the request and a boss giving me the chance in the first place, believing in what I could accomplish.

Something else that’s important is providing actionable feedback so that women have a clear idea of what they can do to ensure their efforts aren’t going unnoticed and what’s required for them to take the next step in their professional advancement.

That challenge feeds into another: the fact that high-profile corporate roles are often less accessible to women. Here, men have an important part to play. Sponsoring or mentoring a woman can help bridge that gap, and supporting female candidates and providing capable women with opportunities for visibility to senior leadership are other steps to increase the number of women applying for and securing prominent roles.

If all that sounds like a good idea but you’re not sure where to start, the answer is simple. By talking to women in your network and seeking to understand their viewpoint, you can develop a more informed view of the inequality faced by women in the workplace and get a better understanding of what’s required to end it. Additionally, it’s important to read and research to widen your knowledge on the subject – and, crucially, challenge any lingering assumptions about inequality and women’s rights.

Personally and professionally, male allies can support women by presenting them with opportunities, considering them for roles with more responsibility, amplifying their voices and not taking credit for their ideas, and recognizing the unique challenges that women face.

Providing, promoting, listening and advocating are also essential – giving equal opportunity and accountability to women, seeing and treating them as equals, actively listening (and not interrupting!), and, vitally, speaking up when you feel that women aren’t getting a fair shake. 

Kyra Wong is district vice-president of national mortgage broker sales at Manulife and founder of The Magical Unicorn Project, a non-profit movement that supports those marginalized by inequality and injustice.

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