Multicultural Women Benefit from Male Support in the Workplace

Kathy Gurchiek By Kathy Gurchiek July 19, 2017
Multicultural Women Benefit from Male Support in the Workplace

Having male allies in leadership positions at work makes a sizable impact on the career advancement of multicultural women, according to a report from the Working Mother Research Institute. A higher percentage of multicultural women with male allies received a promotion, a pay increase or a new assignment in the last 24 months than those who didn't have male allies, according to the findings.

It's up to HR to work with men to make them aware of how they can champion multicultural women and to help multicultural women understand their responsibilities in seeking workplace allies, said Subha V. Barry. Barry is senior vice president and managing director for Working Mother Media in New York City.

Working Mother Media released the report, The Status of Men as Allies for Multicultural Women, in May. Findings are based on a survey conducted in November and December 2016 with 1,181 black, Asian-American and Latina women and 753 were white women and men of all races. Among the men, 255 were in middle-management level positions. All respondents were college educated.

The report was commissioned for the 15th anniversary of the institute's recognition of the Best Companies for Multicultural Women. Respondents were employed full time in salaried fields other than education, retail and health care. The survey findings show the impact male allies can have on a multicultural woman's career advancement. In the 24 months before the survey was conducted, multicultural women with male allies were more likely than those without male allies to have: 

  • Received a new or challenging assignment (74 percent versus 41 percent).
  • Received a pay increase (72 percent versus 55 percent).
  • Received performance feedback (67 percent versus 42 percent).
  • Had a career discussion with their manager (63 percent versus 43 percent).
  • Received an award, bonus or other special recognition (58 percent versus 38 percent).
  • Participated in a leadership development program (43 percent versus 14 percent).
  • Received a promotion (42 percent versus 20 percent).
  • Attended a roundtable with senior executives (35 percent versus 15 percent).

Men as Workplace Allies

"When men serve as allies for multicultural women, powerful things happen," Working Mother magazine editor-in-chief Meredith Bodgas said in a news release. "The survey shows that the women who felt men in leadership care about their advancement correlated not just with feelings of satisfaction but also with tangible career progress for women of color."

More than three-fourths of the men surveyed—executives, middle and front-line managers, and nonmanagers—said they were comfortable being an ally for multicultural women.

So what action can men take?

Being a sponsor or mentor would help, according to nearly three-fourths of the multicultural women surveyed. However, white men—who make up 75 percent of executives in S&P 500 companies—are most likely to mentor or sponsor other white men, the report found. Multicultural women were overwhelmingly mentored or sponsored by other women. Among men who served as mentors, only 19 percent did so for multicultural women.

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That low percentage can be attributed to several factors, including a fear of doing or saying the wrong thing, Barry told SHRM Online.

"It becomes a bridge too far" to cross, she explained. "We're so afraid of what can go wrong … we allow [the desire to be] great to get in the way of being good."

She advised HR to coach white male managers to be candid with multicultural women about that fear.

Reach out to the men who are doing a good job recruiting and developing women and ask them to extend their efforts to multicultural women, Barry recommended, and meet regularly with the men to review their efforts. Having these individuals be champions for multicultural women enables them to serve as role models for others in the organization.

Other ways men can be allies:

  • Give stretch assignments. Multicultural women with mentors or sponsors are more likely to have been given stretch assignments and special recognition over the past two years.
  • Use all the social and professional connections they have at work to help women make strategic career moves. 
  • Invite women to roundtables with senior executives. These kinds of networking events spark mentoring and sponsoring relationships that can provide critical career boosts.
  • Make sure everyone's voice is heard at meetings, and don't interrupt or talk over women.
  • Rotate who makes presentations to large groups. Don't automatically give high-visibility assignments to the loudest voice.
  • Provide regular feedback that is constructive, specific and actionable.
  • Be flexible in how and where work gets done. Difficulty balancing work and personal life is a large barrier to the advancement of multicultural women, the survey said. 

17-0698 multicultural women graph.jpg

Steps Organizations Can Take

Some ways organizations and HR can help encourage men to serve as allies:

  • Develop programs and opportunities that allow employees of different levels and functions to mingle with leaders.
  • Train leaders to talk with women about their career aspirations.
  • Reward executives who help advance diverse employees. Among Working Mother's 2017 list of the 25 Best Companies for Multicultural Women, 28 percent have formal compensation policies that reward managers who help multicultural women advance.
  • Encourage inclusive team-building, and train leaders to talk to each of their team members regularly about their career aspirations. They shouldn't assume they know how far or high someone wants to go. about their career aspirations. 
Ninety-two percent of CEOs on the Best Companies list embed diversity and inclusion into the business growth strategy. 

Multicultural women also have a part to play.

They need to be bolder and ask for feedback, Barry said. That includes being open to constructive feedback and not just seeking "pats on the back" from people they are comfortable with, she added.

"You can't put this onus just on the men and male leaders in the organization. You can't just put it on the multicultural women themselves, and on HR," Barry said. It takes everyone working together.    

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