Originally published on New Digital Age
Angela Knibb is Head of Performance Media at OMD EMEA. Having joined the industry as a junior in 2010 and then progressed through the ranks to senior management, Angie’s experience has been guided by the allies she has found along the way. Rather than women having to work twice as hard to be taken twice as seriously, Angie believes that women can unite to work smarter, and not harder.
Why is the subject of Allyship important to you and why is now an important time to discuss it?
Allyship isn’t a new concept, although it has been the topic of a lot more conversations of late, which means there’s a risk of it being seen as just another buzzword. That would be a real shame, as there are so many groups in society who can be overlooked or undervalued for something that is outside their control, or something they wouldn’t want to change even if they could.
To me, what matters is listening to people – really listening to people – allowing you to empathise with them by understanding their challenges, so you can support them where you can along their journey. It’s important for so many reasons, and for so many marginalised groups where we as society need to do better, but in the context of women in the workplace, the reason it’s so important to me personally, is that we’re nearly in 2023, women have fought hard for, and in the western world at least on paper won equal rights, and yet we still hear reference to ‘female CEOs’ but never ‘male CEOs’ (because why would you need to specify that one?) and one look at the C-suite of the vast majority of big business shows you there is still truth in the old saying ‘women have to work twice as hard and shout twice as loud to be taken half as seriously’.
Are things better than they were? Of course they are. Are they as good as they could be? Of course they’re not. And that’s why allyship matters to me, so we can all do better.
What is Allyship in the workplace? What does that look like in practice?
Of course, it’s not only women who can benefit from allyship, it’s a valuable tool to help ensure inclusion for everyone. In practice this means different things to different people, but to me it’s as simple as treating everyone as humans. Listen to what they have to say, properly listen.
Don’t think about what you’re going to say next, don’t speak over them or cut them off, don’t negate or dismiss their opinion, don’t mansplain to them, and if they look like they might have more to say, or you don’t quite agree or understand, ask a follow up question. Provide support where you can when it makes sense, whether that’s creating an opportunity, pulling them into relevant conversations, or simply giving them the space they need.
Finally, speak up when you see someone in need of an ally. Something as small as saying ‘let her finish’ when you see her being cut off in a meeting, or giving credit to the source of the idea, where you see that being attributed elsewhere, can make a big difference in building the confidence and authority people need to shine. Which is what we all strive for, and something we should all be supporting in others.
Generally speaking, could women be doing more to support each other professionally?
The women I find most inspiring are those who endeavour to support women professionally, and not just the ones they get on with personally or whose best interests serve their own, but those who listen to, encourage and support all women.
This comes in many different guises, it could be senior leaders mentoring the next level down; it could be managers ensuring they’re offering equal pay to men and women in the same roles; it could even be taking a colleague aside to say ‘you have a point, but you lost it in how you made it’ and supporting them build a better case, if they want it. It could also be offering general career advice to anyone who asks for it or bemoans what feels like an unfair situation.
The bottom line is to listen to them, try to understand, and share your own experiences and how you overcame things (or what didn’t work). We all roll our eyes and say ‘classic’ when hearing that a man is paid up 15-30% more than a woman in the same role, or when a woman is called ‘hysterical’ for raising her voice, whereas a man in the same situation is referred to as ‘angry, and rightfully so’ – but we as women need to make sure that we’re not falling into those same traps, that we actively correct ourselves when we fall short of our own expectations, that we challenge them more when we see them happen in front of us, and that we’re creating opportunities for the women around us.
In what ways can allyship contribute to women working smarter not harder?
I often find myself struggling with this one. As I said before, I feel there is an element of truth still to the adage that we work twice as hard to be taken half as seriously, but those who excel are often able to do this without simply overburning on hours and effort. I see this as a lot to do with personality – let’s not pretend that doesn’t shape us at work as well as at home – and to find those smarter ways to excel is where we can lean into our allies and mentors.
I try to observe those around me who I admire on this one. When and how do they lean in, and how do they draw the boundaries to protect themselves? How do they inspire and lead others so they take a fair share in the workload? An ally is someone who can guide and advise here, perhaps speaking up when you see us working harder, not smarter.
Can a man be an ally in this sense?
Absolutely. Men can be allies to women – some of my most valued professional allies are – and women can be allies to men. On a fundamental level, if you have someone who listens to your challenges, offers advice – even and perhaps especially when challenging your viewpoint or approach – helps ensure you have the space and support you need, celebrates with you when you win and helps you figure out what went wrong when you don’t, then you have a strong ally. As far as I’m concerned, we all need allies to lean on, and we all need to be allies to others, whether we’re the same gender or not.