Why You Need Male Advocates in Your Career (and How to Find Them)

Do you have a male advocate championing your career?

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 would ever be an option for my career. Fortunately, I had someone in my corner: Mike Troy. Mike was the Vice President of Humans Resources. He provided me career advice, exposure to stretch assignments and he championed me in leadership discussions that I was not privy to attending. At the time, I was just appreciative of his support over the years. Little did I know what was happening. This white male senior executive was championing my career - he was my male advocate. Some of you may know of this term as a sponsor.

Research has proven 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. So, with most senior leaders in Corporate America being white and male, minorities and women miss the senior executive advocacy their white male peers receive.

From the 1970s to now, women have made significant progress in the workplace. However, while there are cracks in the proverbial glass ceiling, it is not yet 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 want a sponsor to champion your career, you will need a male advocate.

Male leaders advocating for women’s advancement is not a philanthropic effort to help women. Organizations that make gender equality in leadership a priority outperform companies that do not. Research shows companies that have diverse leadership outperform their competition in profitability, revenue growth, innovation, and employee satisfaction. Companies like IBM are intentionally creating platforms for male leaders to mentor and advocate for women employees. Last year IBM’s women’s career group, GROW, hosted a Male Allies and Advocates panel discussion with male leaders to discuss challenges and opportunities in advancing women in the workplace.

“We know that when women are empowered, they immeasurably improve the lives of everyone around them—their families, their communities, and their countries.”—Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex

Do you have a Mike Troy advocating for your career? Here are strategies you can implement to obtain one.

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 results and commitments. 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, “In my experience, female employees have more potential and capability than their male counterparts. 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 of male advocates seeking you out.

Build Rapport

One of the challenges women face when enlisting a male advocate is overcoming the feeling of uncomfortableness. One way to decrease discomfort is to increase rapport. Get to know the male advocate informally before establishing a formal partnership. Before these male advocates are senior leaders in your organization, they are human first. 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 fraud and a lack of authenticity. 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.

Be Direct

When seeking a male advocate, be clear on what you want to gain from the relationship and make it a mutually beneficial partnership. 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. Senior men are 12 times more likely to hesitate to have a one-on-one meeting with a woman than a man. Senior male executives talked about avoiding one-on-one mentoring relationships with women to mitigate the risk of a misconstrued relationship. By clearly defining your career goals, support you need from the male advocate, and are purposeful in the mentoring conversation, you eliminate any confusion and concerns on the nature of the relationship.

Make it a priority

Male advocacy can exponentially increase the trajectory of a women’s career. This is not because women are underperforming and need a man to save them. This is due to the reality and statistics that white men still dominate the corporate boardrooms. Having one or several male executives advocating for you only increases 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.

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

What are your thoughts? Do you have a male advocate yet? Any thoughts on your first steps for securing one? Share them below - I'd love to hear what you have to say!

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