How to Be a Male* Ally: A conversation with Aaron Rose

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*Those who identify as male, including cis, trans, non-conforming and gender-fluid persons


What role do men play in the push for great gender equity and equality? To better understand the role of men as allies, we sat down with Aaron Rose, Diversity & Inclusion Trainer and Consultant, to navigate how to effectively change the conversation around male allyship.


How do you define the term ally in the context of male allyship?

An ally is someone who seeks to act in solidarity with a historically marginalized group. In the context of male allyship, this means men committing to supporting women and actively participating in the dismantling of patriarchal systems of oppression. One cannot claim the term ally for themselves. It is an aspiration and an intention, and only those who are receiving the allyship (in this case, women) can truly say whether or not someone is acting as an ally.


What trends have you been seeing among companies asking for ally skills training?

The use of the terms diversity and inclusion in building a workplace, where people of all identities can thrive, has gained significant momentum these past few years. However, the training around how to do so hasn’t quite caught up yet. To put this into perspective, a 2017 study from the Harvard Business Review found a notable disconnect between Fortune 1000 companies’ spending on Diversity and Inclusion initiatives ($2B in 2016) and data showing there haven’t been any major shifts in minority representations since 2000.


The problem is, there’s an important distinction between unproductive discourse and productive discomfort that is overlooked by traditional training models. Traditional ally trainings rooted in presenting facts – using us vs. them narratives and solely focusing on the history of inequality and privilege – tend to leave people with more calcified differences. Conversely, trainings that give people the tools to communicate across differences and give them an experience of connection are more likely to lead to a more welcoming and inclusive workplace environment overall.


Why is ally skills training useful and important?

Ally skills training is a key component of an overall diversity and inclusion strategy, part of a holistic and conscious company culture design. Through this kind of training, a company fosters a culture where individuals feel comfortable being their authentic selves and are able to cultivate strong, collaborative relationships with their colleagues.


People show up to these conversations with varying goals, from seeking an ally to stepping in to be an ally for someone else, or circumventing the mistakes they’ve been making in this relationship. Regardless, there has to be a sense of shared intent where the conversation revolves around this basic model: Here’s what’s true for us (the marginalized group), and here’s how you (the majority) can better connect with us and show up for us so that we can all do better work together.


Our world has patterns of autopilot like exclusion and sometimes violence. We always have an opportunity to take back the wheel and course correct. Ally skills training is one intentional way of doing so.


What are some major tips you have for allies in corporate settings?

Understand that you cannot give what you do not already have for yourself.  If you find yourself having an adverse reaction to someone’s request for a specific way they’d like to be treated to feel more comfortable, ask yourself: What’s keeping me from giving another person the space they need to be respected as themselves? What part of my own authenticity am I denying?  Even straight, white men have an experience of loss within today’s societal power structures. For example, while men experience massive social and material privilege, they often have quite limited self-expression because they are expected to repress less ‘manly’ emotions and conform to certain standards. Acknowledging barriers to your own authenticity is an essential first step. This understanding prevents you from experiencing someone else’s self-expression as a threat, allowing you to respond with care and respect.


To be an ally is to take on someone else’s struggle as your own. Remember: No one is free until we are all free (Thank you, MLK!); recognize this statement and your colleagues’ “freedom” as something that is deeply personal to you, as well.


Speak up, but not over. Open the dialogue, listen and take direction from the people with and to whom you intend to be an ally. For example, a client of mine – a white, cis, straight man – and his colleague – a non-binary employee – had a discussion about the company’s lack of a gender-neutral bathroom. The white, cis, straight man then used his leverage and privilege to advocate for the creation of a bathroom for his fellow colleague. This resolution was reached through a direct conversation with his colleague, where the man recognized his position in the situation and acted through the direction and guidance of the employee.


Build relationships, and build them out loud. I’m often asked:  How can I let people know that I want to be an ally without patronizing them or taking up too much space? The first step is to check in with your peers and let them know that you’re committed to supporting them and are open to feedback about how to do that. By doing this, you’re opening the door for them to reach out if and when they need support.


Building trust with someone to whom you hope to be an ally takes time. Stating your commitment to allyship is just the first step, because you must live your allyship day by day. . Another safeguard against overstepping boundaries as an ally is to build in-group support: find other people who share your own identity (e.g. white, cis, straight) with whom you can ask questions and share experiences around how you’re acting as an ally. This will help you better navigate these ally relationships without putting too much of the responsibility on the marginalized group.


What are some of the common mistakes you see well-intentioned individuals make in the quest to be a strong ally?

Aspiring allies often imagine that allyship is about these really critical moments (these superhero fantasies) of blatant sexual harassment, violent assault, or homophobic or racial slurs. For the most part, though, not everybody is going to have the opportunity to take a bullet in that way. Allyship is really about the moment-to-moment interactions – noticing the small influences or nuances – and the way in which you respond to these could be the difference between a fractured culture and an inclusive one. It’s also important to remember that this takes daily practice – you can’t bench 500 pounds on your first go.


When microaggressions, harassment, or discrimination  occur (a woman is interrupted in a meeting, a friend is cat-called walking down the street, etc.), allies should instead ask themselves “What is the next immediate action I should take to keep this from happening again or to someone else?” If you’re unsure of how or when you should take action, ask your friends, peers, or even Google it! The most important thing is to keep showing up and to keep learning.



Join us for our next event in our Changing the Conversation series on October 25th to continue the conversation on the topic of male allyship in the #MeToo era. You can learn more about it and purchase tickets here.


Feel free to reach out to us at with any questions, comments and ideas. We’d love to hear from you!