We cope better when we can rely on others—we know intuitively what it feels like to be supported, and data from the Covid pandemic proved it—solidarity is indeed so important that our happiness depends on it.
At work, the case is just as clear for “allyship” as we have come to call the support from others not in a marginalised group. Research shows allyship makes a difference on multiple levels: in the aggregate, it leads to higher engagement, improved productivity, better career advancement outcomes and less stress. It can also lead to a new understanding of challenges, especially where women are held back.
A whitepaper by LinkedIn found that across APAC, significantly more women than men cite a lack of confidence (61%) and insufficient work experience (54%) as top barriers to reaching new opportunities. This disparity was seen most in Japan, Malaysia and the Philippines. Listening to different voices and leveraging allies to amplify them where bias exists can help organisations pinpoint where discrimination occurs and create support structures that get to the root of the problem.
We are stronger when we rise and raise others
At Yahoo, we are focused on the concept of “Rise and Raise” when it comes to women at work. It’s a concept that came from our people. At the end of 2022, we asked women employees who are part of Yahoo’s WIN (Women Inclusion Network) employee resource group, “what would make the most difference for your career progression?” Around the world, employees said “mentoring” was at the top of their list.
But it can’t be only women stepping into those roles. I know from my own experience how valuable it was for men to use their seniority and credibility to vouch for me as I was coming up through the industry. I am thinking in particular of one ally, a mentor and someone who supported women long before ERGs were even a thing!
I had the good fortune to meet Bob Cesa in 1992 when he opened an office for Twentieth Television in Chicago. We had been introduced by a former mutual colleague who knew of my desire to move back to Chicago to be near my family. After several meetings, Bob offered me a job and off I went.
He encouraged me to learn and grow, publicly celebrated my successes, and had me showcase my work to his boss. He knew I was ambitious and hardworking and he would always praise me for these attributes, but he also encouraged and supported me to have a full life and time for friends and family. One memory stands out: when I attended my first Syndication Trade Organisation meeting as the new head of ad sales for Universal Television, I was unusually quiet. I was the only head of sales who was a woman and, honestly, was feeling a bit overwhelmed.
During the meeting, he proactively asked me to join the conversation. Afterwards, he pulled me aside and said, “do not bow your head to anyone, own your role and speak up.” He had spent the past three years working with me and knew what I could do. Almost a decade later, I was looking to return to New York from Chicago, and he welcomed me back to Twentieth. Just as quickly, he encouraged me to take on the president’s role at Magna.
In his final years in the business, and up until the point we could still connect, he was a tireless supporter and champion, believing in me even when I did not believe in myself. I am lucky to have worked with him but even luckier to count him as my friend, and I am grateful for the mark he made on me as a person and a leader.
I share this story here because it reminds me that we all have a part to play, and our parts can take many different shapes. As Poornima Luthra, author of The Art of Active Allyship, observes in this article, “We don’t experience inclusion through strategies and roadmaps. We experience it through our day-to-day interactions with our colleagues—over lunch, by the coffee machine, during meetings, etc.” Each of us has a role to play to influence change. In my story, Bob used his unique position to help me and the organisation benefit. But this was not the only way!
With allyship, everyone in the organisation becomes a part of the change process. It gives women a broader mandate to take action and contribute ideas on what impacts them professionally and personally. It gives organisations critical cues to address barriers to equity and equality. It gives all employees a chance to become a part of the solution—by rethinking what could be, amplifying ideas, collaborating, mentoring, influencing policy, raising their voices against biases, acting with empathy and learning to support each other emotionally.
Elizabeth Herbst-Brady is the chief revenue officer at Yahoo.