How Can Male Allies Most Effectively Support Women in Business?

Wharton MBA Mama, Divinity Matovu, with her daughter, Nyah.

In this guest blog post, Alex Dea of shares his thoughts on how male allies can support women in business, in general, and the MBA Mama Movement, specifically. You may recall that Alex previously blogged for us on the topic of women in VC — check that out here. As a man who has been involved in gender diversity initiatives during his time at Kenan-Flagler, our CEO — Divinity Matovu — thought Al would be the perfect person to opine on this topic — as male allies are critical partners in the movement for gender equality.

Al Dea is the Founder and Editor at MBASchooled. He works in the management consulting industry and received his MBA from the University of North Carolina and his Bachelor’s Degree from Boston College.

While at UNC, Al founded MBASchooled to educate people on what it’s like to be in business school, and his work has been featured in outlets such as Business Insider, Time, and The World Economic Forum. While at UNC, Al was involved in a number of activities including serving on the MBA Student Association as the Vice President for Diversity, Coaching students in their career search for the Consulting and Technology industries, and helping undergraduates and MBA’s prep for interviews as a Business Communications Coach. Al is also the Co-Founder of UNC’s Tar Heel Talks program.

Al has an older sister who is currently in business school and his two parents (proud MBA graduates) live in his hometown of Rochester, New York. Al currently resides in San Francisco, where like everyone else, enjoys hiking, tech startups, and going to brunch.

Alex shares his thoughts below:

Care — First and foremost, you need to simply, care. If an issue doesn’t impact you directly, it sometimes can turn into an “out of sight out of mind” mentality. For me, this was a bit of a more immediate issue as my Mom is an MBA Graduate and I currently have an older sister in business school, so I had a bit of an ulterior motive off the bat to be engaged in the issue. So, as a male, you might not be aware of the issues and challenges women face, or even think about it, so really the first step is just committing yourself to learn and be engaged in the topic, regardless of your own initial thoughts or opinions.

Listen — It’s helpful to listen and learn from your classmates about their story, and what they have experienced, and not in a patronizing “I can help you” way, but in genuine manner in which you really do want to hear their voice and perspective. This is important, at the very least, to learn and understand a lens and perspective that is different than your own, which may give you insight you never fully understood or were even aware of, and thus help you down the road. Furthermore, it can also open your eyes to be more cognizant of specific situations or things that happen in the future. As the VP for Diversity on the MBA Student Association at UNC Kenan-Flagler, this was where I spent a good portion of my time, sitting down with my classmates and listening to their experiences in the workplace, business school and in everyday life. I couldn’t possibly know more about their experiences than they did, but I could use empathy to try to look understand their view and perspective.

Guest Blogger and UNC Kenan-Flagler MBA grad, Al Dea

Act — Once you’ve identified that you do care, and you’ve taken the time to listen and learn from your classmates, it’s important to take an action. Action is less about big sweeping transformational things and more about the little things you can do every day to do your part to build an inclusive and welcoming environment for everyone. It’s being cognizant about those around you and making sure everyone has a voice to speak. It’s using “him or “her” instead of just “him.” It’s making sure that you have a team that has people from different backgrounds or with different skillsets, and it’s making sure that when you have an idea that you’re always asking others for theirs. Obviously, if you are in a position to affect real transformational change, then by all means, do it, but for the rest of us, simply caring, listening, and then making small acts that demonstrate that you care and listen can help improve the community around you for all walks of people

Decision Making — I entered business school at 25, with very few responsibilities or commitments outside of what i was interested in doing and where I wanted to go. Many of my married classmates had plenty of other commitments, such as a significant other, a family, etc. Hearing from them about why they chose to come to business school, how they thought about their career, and why they made the decisions they did was very eye opening because I really had never had to make a decision for anyone other than myself. When I decided to move to San Francisco, I asked myself if I wanted to do it and then I did it. For my classmates, they had to think about so many other things. It was great to see and learn how they made their decisions, but I had so much respect for their abilities to at times suspend their own personal thoughts and feelings and to make decisions on what was best for other priorities in their life, such as family, geographic considerations, etc.

Prioritization — One of the biggest lessons you learn in business school is that time is your most valuable asset. With so many competing priorities it can be really tough to figure out how you want to spend your time. I really respected and admired some of my classmates who were fathers and mothers because many of them had such a sense of what their priorities were and they were steadfast in adhering to them. They knew they had to be “Mom” or “Dad” after 6PM, so they’d get all of their work done before then even if it meant waking up early or missing an Info Session. They’d forgo some of the social events at nights, but try to bring their kids along to the ones during the day/afternoon. I learned a lot about prioritization and how to accept the tradeoffs you make when you make decisions.

Perspectives on Work-Life Integration — Similarly, I’ve had the privilege of working with a number of working parents, and in particular, working mothers, who were juggling a demanding career with raising a family. I also had two parents, both of whom had MBA’s, worked demanding careers, and still somehow made family their #1 priority. These people have done a wonderful job of sharing with me the brutal honesty of the good, bad, and ugly of trying to be successful in your career while making family a priority.

On a day to day level, I have been able to see directly how they do a demanding job exceptionally well while still having time to be their for their family. I’m not in a position to start a family anytime soon, but seeing the work of MBA moms in action has given me the confidence and hope that I too will be able to do that when the time comes.

So for mothers or fathers in business school, I think the honest sharing of the good, bad, and ugly of parenting and careers can be really valuable to your peers who aren’t parents.