Help Wanted: Male Allies Sought
The Americas Women’s Network (AWN), the Employee Resource Group for women at Societe Generale Americas, is looking for a few good men – more than a few, in fact – to become formal allies.
The Americas Women’s Network (AWN), the Employee Resource Group for women at Societe Generale Americas, is looking for a few good men – more than a few, in fact – to become formal allies. “We have male allies at the bank, most notably our CEO, Slawomir Krupa, who sponsors AWN and is an advocate of gender equality,” says Nancy Harrington Jones, Chief Culture & Conduct Officer for the Americas. “But by formalizing a role for men, we can give them a better understanding of AWN’s mission – to promote, hire and retain women – as well as issues that affect everyone, such as unconscious bias.”
Nancy, along with Amanda Cain, Managing Director within Commodities, is chairing the AWN committee to enlist male allies. Though the initiative is its early stages, Nancy and Amanda say they’ll be looking for men who can serve as “ambassadors” for the cause.
“We're going to tap people on the shoulder who have the influence and willingness to create change,” says Nancy. She and Amanda will also seek to include people from different areas of the organization to ensure the messages and real action is widely disseminated throughout the organization.
“We need to take a look at how we’re approaching the advancement of women in a meritocracy,” says Amanda. “It’s become clear men have to be part of the plan.” She notes that many men want to participate, but don’t have a sense of how they can do so meaningfully. “We want our colleagues to feel more comfortable with what’s going on not just with AWN but also with diversity overall.” Adds Nancy, “It’s the right time. We’ve had success in that there are role models for women and the conversation has evolved, but we also need to acknowledge that in many industries, including ours, there is an imbalance of power in favor of men. We need those holding the power to make the change.”
For men with daughters who will be entering the workforce in the next 5 to 10 years, the issue takes on even greater urgency, according to Amanda. “They want an environment where their daughters have the same opportunity as their sons and will be paid equally.” She is quick to note that equality is not tantamount to sameness. “Women bring different skills and approaches, and I think almost everyone is aware of the economic value that is created by diverse teams, with gender being only one aspect.”
Nancy also notes that being an ally could be helpful to men in navigating a workplace where norms have shifted. “Today, even ethical, well-intentioned people have some uncertainty about what’s considered appropriate and the best way forward.”
Nancy and Amanda have targeted the UN’s HeForShe campaign as their blueprint. “Their mission is very clear,” says Nancy of HeForShe. “It’s a global solidarity movement for gender equality. We know it’s not just a women’s issue, it’s a human rights issue. HeForShe is an invitation for men and people of all genders to stand in solidarity with women to create a bold, visible and united force for gender equality and for diversity more broadly.”
An important aspect of the campaign is that individuals are asked to make a personal commitment and publicly report their progress. “We need men who will present themselves as allies, which means actually driving change, and ensuring that the discussion about how to create change isn’t coming only from women,” says Nancy. “For example, Iceland's Prime Minister Bjarni Benediktsson committed via the HeForShe campaign, to revamping Iceland’s policy on equal pay. While a law for equal pay for equal work had been in place since 1961, on January 1, 2018, Iceland became the first country in the world to force companies to prove they pay all employees the same. The burden of proof is no longer on the employees.”
“Obviously most of us don’t have that kind of influence, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make a difference,” observes Nancy. She says that bank employees can commit to such goals as removing names from resumes to ensure that staffing decisions are based solely on skills or by committing to having a team that is evenly balanced by gender.
“I’ve been fortunate in my career to have had strong, amazing mentors, both male and female,” concludes Amanda. “I want everyone to have that same opportunity, and that will only be possible when we have more women in senior roles, wielding greater influence.”