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6 Roles Male Leaders Should Play to Support Gender Equality at Work

Now more than ever, male leaders are empowered to be fierce supporters of gender equality. If you’re a man in a leadership position who wants to know how to better support women on your team, start by recognizing what obstacles women are up against in the world of work.

In the largest study of its kind, LeanIn.org and McKinsey & Company examined the state of women in the workplace. The 2021 study reported some staggering statistics and key insights about the challenges women face that I believe are worth highlighting:

  • The “broken rung” still held women back as they tried to move up the metaphorical career ladder into leadership roles.
  • For every 100 men promoted to manager, only 86 women were promoted. Women of color faced even more barriers to career advancement and accounted for only 4% of C-suite leaders.
  • Women in leadership were more likely to face certain microaggressions. For example, 36% of female senior leaders reported being interrupted or spoken over more than others, compared to 15% of men. Thirty-four percent of senior female leaders reported having their judgment questioned in their area of expertise, compared to 22% of men.

Now let’s identify the six key roles that men can play to champion emerging and seasoned female leaders in their workplaces.


Having allies at work has many advantages. An ally is an agent of change, someone who speaks up for others.

According to a 2019 national allyship study by Promundo-US, most men said they invested in gender equality; however, 60% of respondents (men and women) agreed that men did very little to speak out against inequities on behalf of women in the workplace.

One example of a specific action that men can take to be better allies for women at work, according to the report, is to “Listen better. Seek opportunities to hear women’s stories, acknowledge their experiences, and inform other men.”


A sponsor is someone who takes an active role in endorsing, influencing and progressing the career of someone they are supporting. Through strong and established social networks, sponsors facilitate professional connections and openly vouch for those they choose to champion.

For men dedicated to gender equality, assuming both sponsor and mentor roles is critically important for promoting the career advancement of women in the workplace.


A mentor is someone who develops a close short-term or long-term relationship with a mentee. Mentors help, advise and are a resource to that mentee.

Men in leadership roles can do more to get measurable results on diversity, equity and inclusion efforts in their workplaces by mentoring or sponsoring women. According to the 2021 Women in the Workplace report, only 26% of senior-level men mentor or sponsor at least one woman of color.


An advocate speaks up for the voiceless. In the role of an advocate, male leaders amplify the voices of women they lead and negotiate for resources, promotions and opportunities that benefit women in their careers.

The Promundo-US national allyship study specifically noted that “men can point out when credit for an idea or project is because of their female co-worker, openly defend women who are the targets of sexual harassment by male associates, advocate for equal pay and let other men know when they are saying inappropriate comments in a work setting.”

Role Model

Modeling behavior that promotes gender equality at work has a ripple effect. Male leaders must walk the talk in supporting fair treatment of their female co-workers.

When male leaders model behavior that shows that their voices, presence, input and decision-making are no more valuable than a woman’s, it has a positive impact on workplace culture. Other male leaders pick up on these behaviors and model them in their relationships with their colleagues.


Women leaders rising amongst the executive ranks can benefit immensely from coaching. A coach offers valuable feedback, trains and provides needed resources for their team, and develops others. Basketball legend Michael Jordan once said, “A coach is someone that sees beyond your limits and guides you to greatness.”

Male leaders can play the role of a coach in helping their female colleagues get ahead and navigate the unsteady terrain of gender and politics at work. Coaching is a unique skill set that requires a leader to focus on developing others to reach their fullest potential.

Resources for Supporting Gender Equality

Stepping up and speaking out is not without risk for male leaders. According to the Promundo-US report, 47% of men and 48% of women said men who support women’s leadership often face significant criticism. Getting to a place where gender equality cuts across all industries and work sectors will take time, energy and effort by everyone in the workplace.

To illustrate what it means to support gender equality at work, I’ve included a list of additional resources, articles and links that highlight specific behaviors that can move the conversation forward:

Interested in becoming a Featured Contributor? Email topics you’re interested in covering for GovLoop to [email protected]. And to read more from our summer/fall 2021 Cohort, here is a full list of every Featured Contributor during this cohort and a link to their stories.

Kima Tozay is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and subject matter expert on Counseling and Advocacy programs in her role at Navy Fleet & Family Support Center, Everett, Washington. Her government career spans 15 years, starting in the Navy. Kima completed her Masters in Social Work degree from the University of Washington and has held positions with the Veterans Affairs Department (VA) and the Army. Kima’s greatest career accomplishment is receiving the Federal Employee of the Quarter Award for her leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic. She earned an Executive Leadership Certificate from Graduate School, USA. You can connect with Kima on LinkedIn.

Photo courtesy of Marcus Winkler

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