Male allies in the pursuit of gender equity and inclusion

Thursday 21 September 2023

Natalia García
Gómez-Pinzón, Bogotá

Ángela M Jurado
Gómez-Pinzón, Bogotá

The gender equality movement has long been led by women as they vocalise the disparities they experience in education, the workplace, politics and society at large. This movement is intended to push for equal rights and opportunities for all women, backed by a wealth of data that evidences a clear gender gap in any field. To close the current gender gap and level up the playing field for everyone, we need to involve men in this dialogue to have a greater impact, keeping in mind that the majority of leadership positions in governments and companies are still held by men and that these calls for change cannot be heard solely by women. While women continue to push for their rights, the inclusion of men as allies is a pivotal step toward genuine progress.

For men to be effective advocates for women's rights and equality, acknowledging and understanding their own privileges is an imperative first step. In Colombia, the strategic integration of men into gender equity discussions has yielded notable instances of heightened female representation in key leadership roles and board positions within companies. While acknowledging the strides we've made on this arduous path, it's evident that we still face considerable challenges in the pursuit of comprehensive gender equity.

Recognising privilege

A fundamental catalyst for men to actively engage as allies revolves around (1) awareness of the gender gap through access to comprehensive data that supports this analysis; and (2) a grasp of intersectional privilege. That is, the intricate interplay of diverse societal factors (such as ethnicity, race, social class, gender identity and sexual orientation, among others) and how certain positions within society bestow advantages or disadvantages. This understanding is particularly relevant in the context of gender equity, as it highlights the differing advantages that males may experience and the opportunity to foster balanced collaboration for all genders.

One simple example of where men usually have more privilege is depicted by Ruchika Tulshyan in her book, Inclusion on Purpose, where she outlines the ‘prove-it-again bias’, where women are ‘expected to constantly re-establish their presence and authority at work’. Tulshyan refers to a study by the Society of Women Engineers that found that 61 per cent of women reported having to prove themselves repeatedly compared with 35 per cent of white men reporting the same.

Men (especially white men), by virtue of their gender, often hold certain privileges that women do not. This privilege manifests in various forms, such as greater representation in leadership positions, higher earning potential, and reduced scrutiny of their actions and decisions. But the first step towards becoming allies is recognising that acknowledging privilege does not minimise anyone’s personal hardship or suffering. As John Amaechi states in the Financial Times, understanding one’s own privilege can make people realise why other people’s lives are harder than they should be. And acknowledging this privilege is the first step towards meaningful allyship. Men who understand and accept their privilege can utilise it to amplify the voices of women and challenge societal norms that perpetuate inequality.

It is important to note that ‘privilege’ also translates to the gender gap (which includes economic and professional disadvantages for women) and is not an issue of perception. Numerous studies demonstrate the existence of the gender gap. For example, according to Women in the Workplace 2022, a study conducted by McKinsey & Company every year, only 26 per cent of the C-suite in the United States is composed of women. This minority female participation is more critical at the chief executive officer level of the world’s largest companies, as set forth in 2023’s Fortune Global 500, in which only 10.6 per cent of CEOs listed are women (a percentage that is increasing very slowly). The gender gap is also evident in the legal sector: the National Association for Law Placement reports that in the US only 22.6 per cent of equity partners are female, while a 2019 Legal 500 study found that in Latin America, only seven per cent of equity partners are female.

In Colombia, according to Claudia Amore, ANDI Director of the Chamber of Legal Services, only 24 per cent of law firm partners are women. Even though that percentage has increased in recent years, there is no data to determine whether the inclusion of equity and non-equity female partner’s is true and effective.

How can men be allies and catalysts of gender parity?

Men play a crucial role as allies in the pursuit of gender equity, contributing to a more inclusive and just society. By amplifying women's voices and experiences, challenging stereotypes and educating themselves about gender disparities, men actively engage in reshaping societal norms. Intervening in instances of bias and discrimination, supporting work–life balance and advocating for policies that promote equal opportunities are essential steps in dismantling gendered barriers. Men further drive progress by providing mentorship and sponsorship to women, promoting equal representation in leadership and continuously reflecting on their own biases and privileges. By engaging fellow men, supporting women-led initiatives and championing collective action, they foster a network of support and shared responsibility.

One of the most potent ways men can contribute as allies is by using their platform to elevate the perspectives of women. In a society where men's voices are often given more weight and recognition, their advocacy can draw attention to gender disparities among other men that might otherwise go unnoticed. Men who actively listen to and uplift women's experiences and perspectives create a broader understanding of the issues at hand and foster an environment conducive to change. Additionally, if some men begin to understand and actively look for the so-called ‘normal’ behaviours that present invisible barriers for women (ie, when a woman speaks at a meeting and her ideas are ignored until a man repeats them, or making the woman in the room the note-taker, etc), they can begin to make these situations visible to others and maybe even start to call them out and correct them.

Numerous organisations have come to recognise the profound benefits of involving men in these dialogues. This inclusive approach not only enables men to grasp the issues with empathy and insight, but it also strategically appeals to those who might be resistant to change, presenting the arguments through a voice that can be better heard by other men.

Men as catalysts of gender equity in Colombia

In Colombia, we have seen several organisations that promote gender equity including men as allies. One of the most important projects in the country is Project H (H as in hombres), created by the CESA School of Business' Center for Corporate Governance Studies (CEGC). CEGC has studied gender equity in many scenarios, including an alliance with the 30% Club, which involved training hundreds of women to achieve board positions, and Project H, which aims to include men in the gender equity conversation and movement.

Alexander Guzmán, co-director of the CEGC, explains that Project H has worked to position gender equity as ‘an organisational issue, and not a women’s issue’. It has focused on communicating how organisations have the power and the duty to establish and apply best practices that empower not only female talent, but all talent within the organisation.

Emilia Restrepo, Chancellor of the CESA School, says that the gender equity conversation has been focused on, and held, mainly by women. We therefore don’t know what men think, or what they see as the challenges or benefits of being included in these conversations. Men are gradually beginning to understand that every diversity, equity and inclusion issue impacts them directly, whether they want it to or not, and that is why, Guzmán claims, men should also be central characters in gender equity discussions.

Another organisation in Colombia that has been working on furthering gender equity and including men in the conversation is Women in Connection, which brings together more than 20 male leaders from some of the country’s most influential companies, who in open recognition of their bias have volunteered to learn about the gender gap and how to erase it (among many other important issues surrounding gender equity). This in turn has impacted many of the organisations that these men lead or work for.

When it comes to Colombia’s legal industry, there is still a long way to go. At Gómez-Pinzón, the Women’s Committee was set up more than ten years ago and was made up mainly of women lawyers at the firm. In 2017 the name was changed to the Gender Equity Committee, where men and women from all areas of the firm (including lawyers and non-lawyers) could participate equally. In 2020, this committee evolved into the Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) Committee, with special interest areas including the Subcommittee for Gender Equity. The D&I Committee counts male members among its membership in order to raise awareness of these matters at the highest levels of the firm and to jointly face the different challenges of gender equity and work on solutions for the benefit of all (eg, we have approved an extra-legal paid paternity leave). Gómez-Pinzón’s different D&I subcommittees have been pivotal in the transformation of the firm’s culture because each member of the Committee has participated in training, talks and sensibilisation activities.


The path toward true gender equality needs the cultivation of inclusive spaces where individuals of all genders can flourish. Through their active engagement as allies, men play a pivotal role in nurturing environments that champion D&I, thereby affording women enhanced opportunities to participate and excel across diverse fields. This commitment extends to advocating for policies and practices that propel gender equality forward, resulting in the emergence of workplaces, educational institutions and communities where each individual can contribute their unique talents and skills free from the shackles of discrimination, and where men can be allies not only in the professional but also in the domestic areas of life (eg, through a fairer distribution of domestic work).

Furthermore, men's active role in dismantling deeply ingrained gender stereotypes accelerates progress toward a more equitable society. By embodying behaviours that challenge traditional norms and expectations, they lay the groundwork for a future characterised by inclusiveness and parity. When men are welcomed into gender equity conversations, the transformative impact on culture becomes even more pronounced, expediting the pace of change.

As we contemplate the future, it becomes abundantly clear that men's concerted efforts as allies is indispensable in eradicating the invisible barriers that have hindered gender equality progress for far too long. The importance of recognising their privilege, amplifying the voices of women and creating spaces that transcend gender biases cannot be overstated. Thus, men must continue to embrace their role in this collective fight against gender inequality, fully cognisant of the vital role they play in shaping a more just and equitable world for all individuals, regardless of their gender.