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How can we become real allies for women in the workplace?

Gender equality in the workplace is a continuing challenge and for some, it feels like an impossible mountain to tackle, with no clear starting point. There may be a fear of falling at the first hurdle – of saying the wrong thing or not going far enough, but we each hold the potential to challenge gender bias. Maybe we just need to be a little braver in taking that first, or next, step.

We can all be allies, whatever our gender or job description, so I want to offer some encouragement at a basic, human level. There are actions we can all take to ensure that women’s voices are heard at the same volume as men’s in the workplace. To champion and encourage women is a choice everyone can make, recognising and celebrating their achievements, and it’s important for us to understand that this is a continuous journey that requires a conscious decision to take a step each day.

Support throughout the organisation

Many organisations have worked hard to hit the Hampton-Alexander review’s goal of increasing female representation in the Boardroom. In fact, there are no longer any all-male Boards within FTSE 350 companies, but it is crucial that we each look at our own organisation as a whole, across all levels. There’s so much still to be done - we need to remove barriers for women, right through the workforce, from the junior level to senior executives, ensuring they can reach their potential. Understanding their viewpoint is a good place to start.

It took a women’s leadership event for me to start to grasp the feeling that women might have, working in male dominated environments. From walking into a unisex toilet full of women, to being the only man among a table of 14 women at the dinner that night, it gave me just a small glimpse into how women may feel when the tables are turned. The anxieties about being myself, being aware of every word out of my mouth and feeling like I didn’t fit in. It made me realise that I hadn’t considered how the sole female colleague in my team of 14 men felt. It called me out on the assumptions I had made without talking to her. Putting myself in the minority for a moment opened my eyes to how those who may be a minority in the workplace can struggle to make their voice heard, or don’t feel they can open their mouths at all.

This education was a wake-up call. It changed my mindset and made me look for ways to instigate change where I worked. But it can be difficult to know what to do first. If you don’t know where to start, linking in to national days of action can be a great springboard, with ready-made advice, messaging and actions.

International Women’s Day – Choose to Challenge

International Women’s Day (IWD), on the 8th March, is the ideal opportunity to make a commitment to challenge gender equality and stand alongside those whose voices need amplifying. IWD’s message this year is ‘Choose to Challenge’, taking ownership of our decisions and making a pledge to take action. It’s a chance to educate those we lead, manage and mentor, and an opportunity to challenge behaviours. Days of action can be a catalyst to long-term change, raising awareness throughout the organisation and offering the ideal moment to create a plan to take action. These plans need to be tailored to the rhythm of our individual organisations, but the actions themselves can follow a similar pattern.

Taking action

I think that the first step should be providing a forum to highlight women’s success, inside and outside of the workplace. Recognising and celebrating these successes underlines their value, boosting the confidence to push on. Confidence is a muscle that requires practise, but also needs active encouragement and psychological safety. Every team member can become a better ally, offering crucial support. Whatever your place in the organisation, you can be a platform and amplifier of thoughts and achievements of women. I challenge each leader and team member to do that. Proactively raising your voice will help to collect more voices and as each of us amplify the messages, the movement will gather strength and culture will begin to change.

At HPE we have so many women who deserve recognition for their achievements; those who go above and beyond without asking for applause. I choose to challenge myself to proactively seek out and share these achievements. Accomplishments don’t speak for themselves, we need to celebrate these successes loudly, and often, throughout the organisation.

It’s good to talk

Every organisation is unique, but across the board, simply talking is vital. Having frank and open discussions may be uncomfortable, but honesty is always the best policy and I want my colleagues to know that they can talk to me about any concerns or ideas they have around gender equality and supporting women in our organisation to succeed. I’m acutely aware that we all make mistakes; we won’t always say the right thing or make the right decision, but if we aren’t fearful about being an ally and we step up to champion the women we work with, it supports them in making some potentially life changing choices.

International Women’s Day is an ideal opportunity to ensure that our colleagues know that we are available for them – so I’d encourage you to take that step. Make it known that you and your organisation actively champion women, listen, and provide a forum for ideas to grow. This is a great day to start, and gives a chance to commit to long-term action, embedding a culture change for the future.


Matt Harris
Hewlett Packard Enterprise

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About the Author

Matt_Harris

Starting his journey as an intern, Matt Harris joined HPE in 2004 and in his current position he is heading up the UK Sales Organization, which encompasses the Account Management, Inside Sales, Product Specialist, Presales and Channel functions. He believes in business as force for good and the responsibility that tech leaders carry to make the world a better place. Matt is passionate about the people within the business, the culture of our UKI organization and HPE’s core purpose – to advance the way people live and work.