Why We Need Male Advocates – and How to Find Them

Do you have a male advocate championing your career? Nearly 100 high potential women registered for the January Pink Power Alliance Zoominar on Finding Males Advocates to glean insight into how to find and work with male advocates to advance their careers and enrich their relationships. While the attendees acknowledged the value of male advocacy, one-third of the high potential women on the Zoominar admitted they don’t have one. “I’m not surprised a third of the group doesn’t have a male advocate,” says Kevin Frank, Director of Consumer Products at Newell Brands. “There’s work to be done on that.” Frank, one of the experts on the Pink Power Alliance Zoominar told participants he’s long been an advocate for women after being raised by a remarkable single mom.

Women appreciate this.

When I started my human resources career 20 years ago, I was bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, and eager to work for a global Fortune 100 company. However, I soon became discouraged when I looked at the senior leaders in the organization. None of them looked like me, an African-American woman. I began to wonder if senior leadership could be an option for someone like me. Fortunately, I had someone who supported my career. He gave me career advice, exposure to stretch assignments, and he championed me in leadership discussions when I didn’t even know it. This white male senior executive was advocating for my career. His advocacy made all the difference.  

As Annette Tirabasso, consultant and former Partner, Deloitte, shared on the Pink Zoominar, an advocate is someone with authority who will “pound the table on your behalf.” Research has shown such sponsorship is a critical component to one’s career success. Sponsors are influential leaders who champion their proteges’ career advancement, provide developmental opportunities and exposure for their proteges, and advocate for promotions and recognition that their proteges deserve. Sponsors use their power and position to accelerate their proteges’ career trajectory. However, the Center for Talent Innovation reported that 71% of executives are of the same gender and race as their proteges. It’s often easier to reach out to another woman in your network. But, failing to include men as advocates is a huge missed opportunity. Let’s face facts –most senior leaders in Corporate America, and those moving into those roles, remain white and male. 

Since the 1970s, women have made significant progress in the workplace. However, while there are cracks in the proverbial glass ceiling, it is far from shattered. According to the IBM Institute of Business Value study, “Women, leadership, and the priority paradox,” only 18% of senior leaders are women. The reality is if you’re looking for someone to champion your career, you will need a male advocate. 

Male leaders advocating for women’s advancement is not pure philanthropy. This advocacy benefits the entire organization. Companies that make gender equality in leadership a priority outperform those that do not. Research shows companies with diverse leadership outperform their competition in profitability, revenue growth, innovation, and employee satisfaction.

Pink’s recent conversation with Impact revealed six things you can do to gain advocacy from the men in your network:

  1. Deliver on Performance 

Leaders put their relationship and credibility on the line when they advocate for their proteges. It is up to you to deliver on commitments and achieve results. International leader Khaled Kilani, Co-Founder and Chairman of Palma, has championed women entrepreneurs in accelerating their business growth for the past 20 years. Kilani shares, “A good mentor can polish a raw diamond, but he cannot create one.” When you deliver on performance and execute exceptional results, you differentiate yourself as a high potential in the organization and increase the chance that male advocates will seek you. “You will be judged on your performance,” says Catherine Jefferson, Executive Director, Cox Media Group. And not just that. Catherine emphasizes that how the work gets done is just as important. She advises women not to be afraid to take on projects others don’t want. She shares, “Ask for what you want. Take a global project. Say ‘I’m ready! What I don’t know, I’ll learn.” She attributes much of her success moving into senior roles to male advocates who saw her step up for assignments. “If there’s an opportunity, raise your hand…work with men who are decision-makers.”

  1. Be OK Being Uncomfortable

During the January Pink Power Zoominar, 63% of attendees indicated their barrier to enlisting a male advocate is because it is uncomfortable. Kevin says, “Get comfortable having uncomfortable conversations. Sometimes you have to just plainly lay out what you’re looking for.” The #MeToo movement has caused male leaders to have concerns about mentoring women. New research by LeanIn.Org and SurveyMonkey reveals that 60% of managers who are men now say they are uncomfortable participating in everyday job-related activities with women, such as mentoring, working alone together, or socializing together. By clearly defining your career goals and the support you need from the male advocate, and by being purposeful in the mentoring conversation, you eliminate any confusion and concerns about the nature of the relationship. 

  1. Build Rapport 

In addition to being direct, another way to decrease discomfort is to build rapport. All of Pink’s expert said this is essential. “You can’t underestimate the importance of soft skills,” says Kevin. “Find commonalities that allow you to foster alliances.” Bottom line? Get to know the other person. “You want someone to advocate for you because they like you personally as much as they want to see you succeed,” adds Kevin. “Make time for networking, virtual coffee,” advises Catherine. Pink’s experts emphasized the importance of knowing the male advocate informally before establishing a formal partnership. Male advocates who are senior leaders in your organization are human first, says Kevin. “They have families, favorite sports teams, pets, favorite authors, favorite musicians, vacation destinations, etc. that bring them joy outside of the office. Find common interests, professionally or personally, that you can discuss to break the ice and create rapport.” Another way to build rapport is to be your authentic self. People can easily sense a fraud and a lack of authenticity. 

  1. Remember Reciprocity

When seeking a male advocate, be clear about what you want to gain from the relationship and what you will give to have a mutually beneficial partnership. Gay told the group that men have an expectation they will help each other. She says women need to know this, “For men, there’s an expectation of that exchange.” When somebody helps you, she suggests saying, “What can I do for you?” And Kevin reiterates this. “It’s a two-way street. You want to make it so there’s some benefit on both sides.” Create a genuine relationship with your male advocate and be willing to share about yourself, communicate your goals and ways to create a mutually beneficial partnership, and actively listen to him. 

  1. Don’t Limit Yourself

“The more you can have folks championing on your behalf,” the better says Kevin. He encourages women to not just consider male leaders as possible champions. The experts also recommended having multiple advocates and not only from the executive offices. “Advocates can include folks at your peer level who are willing to champion on your behalf,” says Kevin. “Look at advocacy in a broader sense… to maximize your opportunity going forward.” Catherine emphasized the importance of this too, saying peers are the ones you work alongside who know your work and who likely will be promoted. And don’t limit yourself to those inside your company, adds Gay. “The outsiders can be very important too.” 

  1. Make It A Priority

Seventy-nine percent of those on the Pink Zoominar blamed a lack of male advocates on simply not making it a priority. Male advocacy can exponentially increase the trajectory of a women’s career. Men advocating for women’s advancement is not because women are underperforming and need a man to save them. The reality is most company decision-makers and influencers are white men. Having one, or better yet, several male executives advocating for you will expand your professional network, access to opportunities, and higher-level exposure. If advancing in your career is a professional goal, then creating a diverse network of advocates, including male advocates, must be a priority. Who can you reach out to today?

Note: Want more?
Click here to check out the Pink Power Alliance Zoominar Video Replay
Here are some resources recommended by PINK’s experts:
Kevin Frank, Director Consumer Products, Newell Brands recommends these books:

  • Becoming by  Michelle Obama
  • Girl Stop Apologizing and Didn’t See That Coming by Rachel Hollis
  • Dare to Lead by Brene Brown an expert on vulnerability/courage/empathy

Gay Gaddis, Women’s Leadership Expert and author of Cowgirl Power, recommends these articles: 

Catherine Jefferson, Executive Director, Cox Media Group recommends this article on sponsorship:

“If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair,” said Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman elected to the U.S. Congress and the first Black candidate to seek a major party nomination for president.

By Michelle Glover
Michelle Glover, CEO of Journey Unlimited, is a human resource professional with over 18 years of experience in leadership, coaching, change management, and HR strategy. 

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