When tackling sexism in the workplace, allies — men who take a proactive approach to fight it in the workplace — can offer crucial support. “Allyship is about trying to learn what it’s like to walk in someone else’s shoes,” explains Tracy DeCock, Corporate Banking Market Leader for Greater Maryland and Greater Washington at PNC. “It’s about being willing to learn and grow.”

And, for several industries — including traditionally men-dominated sectors, like finance —allyship must become a business imperative to improve gender equality. “Men still dominate executive level positions in financial services, particularly running Profit and Loss portions of the business that have significant power and influence,” DeCock explains. “For women to move into and up in executive roles and positions of power, they have to have men as allies in these areas of their companies.” 

Although men as allies can be powerful agents for change in their organizations, they often need to learn how to advocate for their women colleagues meaningfully. Here’s how organization-wide programs can be paired with individual actions to nurture new allies.  

How allies can help accelerate equality

In 2018, PNC partnered with Forté, an organization dedicated to launching women into significant, meaningful careers, to develop Men As Allies, a learning and mentorship program designed to elevate women in the workplace. Men As Allies helps  men at PNC understand the barriers that challenge their women colleagues and learn the behaviors of allyship. 

“It’s important to understand that Men as Allies was not created with the intent to fix, save, rescue or in any way suggest that women require men to be successful,” says Josh Stewart, the head of Talent Acquisition and Outreach at PNC, who co-created the program. “It’s not just about taking action when something’s wrong. Allies are celebrating and elevating the accomplishments of PNC women every day.”

Men as Allies at PNC is a six-week professional development program during which the allies examine social and personal biases around gender, are taught to recognize microaggressions and learn how to speak up. They’re then given the opportunity to turn that insight into action by becoming a mentor, yielding mutually beneficial results for mentors and mentees.  

“My mentor, Sanjay, helps make connections for me and gives me exposure to individuals who help broaden my network,” says Rachel Wang, senior portfolio analytics and strategy group manager and a participant in the mentoring program. “And the mentoring relationship gives me visibility as a role model for up-and-coming women.”

Mentoring also helps allies strengthen their leadership skills. “My mentorship with Rachel has made my thinking more robust,” says Sanjay Gupta, a Men as Allies participant and head of model development in PNC’s Balance Sheet Analytics & Modeling group. “It allows me to better understand other parts of the business and provides insight into the advisory — as opposed to the problem-solving — nature of being a mentor.”

Nurturing allies in the workplace

Every workplace, no matter how small, can benefit from a culture in which women can thrive and feel supported. And each team member can play a role in creating a more equitable workplace. 

Men should be encouraged to forego gendered terms and use positive, image-boosting language instead, recommends DeCock. “Describe women as leaders, instead of bossy; enthusiastic, instead of bubbly; passionate, instead of emotional,” she says. 

Nudge allies out of their comfort zone to build empathy for how women colleagues may experience men-dominated environments. “As an ally it is about making yourself vulnerable in professional situations,” says DeCock. “Try attending a women’s professional event to learn what it’s like to be the only male at the table or in the room.”

Finally, remember that allyship starts with honest conversation, so provide a safe space for women to share their experiences. “It’as so easy for men to fall into ’bro‘ culture and not even realize it,” says DeCock. “When we talk openly and honestly about what is happening in our midst, it is powerful.”