Ladies – Arise and empower supportive men as allies!

By Audrey Ezekwesili, Founder of Facilitate4Me Ltd

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Recently, I was invited to join a panel of seven women and one man at the Dotun Adebayo show on BBC Radio London to discuss, amongst other things, sexual harassment in the workplace. When Dotun suggested that, perhaps, men were the bane of women’s lives, it was encouraging to see the entire panel disagreeing with this proposition.

My view is that sexual harassment is not about men or even about sex, but about power. As a business change specialist, I understand the premise from the Kotter 8 step Leading Change model that there are four sources / types of power:

  1. Position Power - derived from job titles and job status

  2. Expertise - from possessing vital knowledge about core aspects of an organisation

  3. Credibility - derived from a certain status and connections, not necessarily aligned to a person’s job title or position

  4. Leadership power - politically important people with the ability to lead change and make things happen.

No matter the type or source of power, one look at most organisations and you will find that the seats of power are occupied almost entirely by men. The UK transport sector, with 78 per cent of its workforce being male, is no exception. As we know, power corrupts, so it is always admirable to find supportive men who are not power drunk or abusive of their power and who, instead, seek to utilise their power for good. These are the men anyone seeking to advance their careers should be connected to. And professional women working in the transport industry are no exception.

We all need to seek, embrace, and empower supportive men as allies - to teach and mentor us, help clear our paths of obstacles, open doors, extend their networks and social capital. In this, please note, the onus is on us to be proactive. The challenges, therefore, are:

  1. Shouldn’t we assume that the powerful men already know how to support us?

  2. What are “supportive men” and how do we identify them in the work place - especially as job titles alone are not the deciding factor?

  3. When we find them, how do we empower them to support us?

My answer to question 1 is “No, we should never assume!” When a person is in a position of privilege, it is not always easy for them to recognise the challenges of others and in some cases, to even acknowledge that they are privileged. Consider the elephant and the mouse; it would be foolhardy to assume that an elephant notices the little mouse from its vantage position and the elephant certainly wouldn’t see if the mouse is in trouble. So, the onus is on the mouse to squeak for help or, in the case of the woman, show the man when his support is needed and how.

"So how do we identify supportive men and empower them to support us?. In my book Behind Every Successful Woman Is….the Good, The Bad and the Mundane that women navigate through to succeed, I put forward a Supportive Man Matrix (illustrated below) identifying four types of supportive men and the boundaries and range of the support they can offer us in the workplace as well as our private lives. The strategies that we choose to use to empower men to be our allies will be personal and varied, dependant on their position on the Supportive Man Matrix and the situation at hand.

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The Supportive Man Matrix

My favourite supportive man is the ‘Emotional Cheer Leader’. He is the one who is selfless in his desire to mentor, coach and support a woman. He will be the one rooting for you when you are not in the room; the one recommending you for the high profile assignments that will get you noticed (way before said assignments have even been advertised); the one to put in a phone call on your behalf to remove a politically sensitive blocker; and the one who will passionately put forward and defend a case for your promotion or pay rise, even when your imposter syndrome tells you that you are not worthy. However, you need to keep up your end of the imaginary bargain by:

  • Proactively approaching him to mentor you.

  • Articulating your ambitions and goals and your proposed plan for attaining these.

  • Having the right attitude and being positive and willing to try out his recommendations …even if to report back that it didn’t work as expected.

  • Being prepared to listen.

No matter where you have plotted the man on your Supportive Man Matrix, as long as he has some semblance of power, you will do well to empower him to facilitate your goals and to learn from him as your ally.

Below are some learnings from the male allies I have personally encountered in my life (on various positions of the Supportive Man Matrix):

  1. Be unapologetically confident and toot your own horn to anyone and everyone who will listen. [He then proceeded to tell me that he is the cleverest man I could ever meet and that I should learn a thing or two from him 😊].

  2. Pray, believe and relax. Trust that God’s plan will happen after all, if He can protect and guide common birds, why not you?

  3. Network over beers and curry - even if you neither drink nor particularly enjoy curries. It is not about the beers or curries but about the connections and opportunities that follow when people are less uptight.

  4. Always let a man write your CV as this activity is not the time for modesty!

  5. Have a career plan and avoid dead-end roles that don’t pay the “currency” you want – i.e. that don’t facilitate a firmer / progressive footing on your career plan.

  6. On the subject of “currency” - negotiate assertively for your salary or fees based on your worth. Do some research on the value of your contribution and add 50 per cent to it. If they want you, they will negotiate. Do not think that you will lose the opportunity just because you are “expensive”.

  7. Delegate, delegate and delegate. And by the way, that includes the housework too. Nobody likes superwoman and it is exhausting!

  8. Know what you want and articulate it in plain simple English. Stop behaving in a contradictory manner to your wishes. Men don’t have psychic powers and they can’t read a woman’s mind.

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Audrey Ezekwesili is a member of Women in Transport, a mentor for Advance, a registered change management practitioner and founder of Facilitate4Me Ltd. She supports organisations, individuals and teams within the transport sector to transition and adapt to change.

Audrey's book - Behind Every Successful Woman is... The good, the bad and the mundane that women navigate through to succeed is available on Amazon now.