How to encourage male allies in the comms business

Finding and building great allies can be done, says Jennifer Risi, founder of The Sway Effect.

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Getty Images

We spend a lot of time talking about needing allies. But finding and building great allies is a much harder task.

Often, people are overwhelmed when they realize just how deeply rooted today’s diversity challenges are and how far we still have to go. We need everyone at the table, including men, to steward the changes that need to be made.

Real, true allies — from all levels, backgrounds and experiences — are needed now more than ever.

This work is difficult and change won’t happen overnight. But there are actions anyone can take to make a difference in their agency and the marketing and communications industry at large. Plus, there can be a lot of hope and optimism in doing this work.

One organization putting in the critical work to transform our industry is the 3% Movement.
The 3% Conference, convening this week in Chicago, aims to increase male attendance from 17% to 29% and give male attendees the feeling of what it’s like for female creative directors, who make up just 29% of the industry.

The bottom line of the conference? Underrepresented groups and allies alike benefit from more diversity, and in this case, more men can gain valuable perspective from being the minority in these spaces.

What the 3% Conference hopes to show is that calling people into these conversations doesn’t have to be an inherently negative experience.

Below are three ways we can bring everyone — including men — into the conversation and encourage them to act where it really counts.

First, advocate for equity. One of the issues I continually see with corporate diversity and inclusion efforts is that they often leave out a third key piece of the puzzle: equity.

It’s not enough just to bring underrepresented voices to the table and make sure they’re heard. Employers also have to ensure those groups have actual financial and positional stakes.

Cindy Gallop said it best this past International Women’s Day: "Don't use words like 'empower' and 'celebrate.' Use words like 'hire,' 'promote,’ 'pay,’ 'raise,’ 'bonus,’ 'fund,’ 'invest,’ 'enrich'—and do it."

Far too often, we see companies celebrate the cold, hard stats, only to find there are pay disparities for underrepresented groups as well as a dearth of those groups represented in managerial or C-suite positions.

It’s time to go deeper. What do promotions look like for marginalized people at your company? Who is mentoring them? Do pay gaps exist? And what are the actionable steps to fix all of these problems?

While some of these realizations may be tough, it’s rewarding in the end to know that so many people will benefit from asking those questions and making the changes.

Second, use your privilege. One of the most important aspects of allyship is using privilege to speak up and advocate for underrepresented groups so they don’t have to do that for themselves on top of just trying to do their jobs.

For example, if a male employee notices a male manager isn’t giving women on his team serious leadership roles, he has the opportunity to speak up, advocate for women, and hold that manager accountable. Similarly, if a white employee notices microaggressions against people of color, speaking to those responsible is critical for creating and maintaining a more inclusive office environment.

Again, these actions don’t have to be shame-filled ordeals; often a quick word and explanation can go far. And the more people see you giving others an understanding gut-check, the easier it is for them to do the same.

Aim for ongoing education and accountability. A piece of the puzzle many fields, including PR, marketing, and advertising, need to improve on is creating ongoing education and accountability initiatives. A single annual diversity, inclusion and equity workshop isn’t going to create lasting change nor is creating a system where leadership isn’t held to the same standards as the rest of the company.

A few key questions can set you on the right path. How is DEI factored into business, HR and personnel decisions? Can you point to DEI support available to employees on a daily, weekly and monthly basis? What processes are in place to correct discriminatory behavior?

These are the questions to start asking. Then, create goals, timelines, action plans and ways to measure progress.

Overall, allyship work is difficult and hardly ever linear. But there are so many steps anyone at any organization can take, no matter their position, to create a work environment that benefits everyone—not just those in positions of privilege.

Jennifer Risi is the Founder and President of The Sway Effect and can be reached at

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