From Aware to Advocate on the Ally Continuum: Insights from the Better Man Conference

Topics: Allies, Corporate Legal, Diversity, Leadership, Personal Effectiveness, Talent Development, Thomson Reuters, Women’s Leadership Blog Posts


Vinod Krishnadas, a member of Thomson Reuters’ Management Associate Program, recently attended the Better Man Conference in New York City as part of the Thomson Reuters delegation. In this article, he shares about his male ally journey and key insights from attending the conference.

Thomson Reuters’ Management Associate Program is an 18-month, intensive, rotational program that launched in 2001 with the aim of building a pipeline of future leaders by attracting and developing diverse, top-tier MBA talent.

Journey as a Male Ally

Krishnadas started his professional career working for an IT company after graduating with a computer science undergraduate degree in India, his home country. Following his stint at the IT company, he joined Barclays’ technology team in India. He credits his employment at Barclays with formally initiating his male ally journey because of the company’s commitment to the HeForShe program, which is a global movement to create a gender equal world.

Working in a technology function that was gender balanced, Krishnadas saw several instances where diversity helped his group outperform other groups within the technology organization. Eager to leverage Barclays’ involvement with the HeForShe movement to further gender equality throughout the technology organization, Krishnadas signed up as a HeForShe champion and earned formal mentoring experience of women technologists.

As a next step, he was intentional about putting his mentoring and gender advocacy knowledge and skills in practice when he moved to the U.S. with his wife and son to earn his MBA. As a leader of both the technology club and the business analytics clubs, he had observed some female members not being as confident as the men in discussing their technology skills when applying to highly sought-after roles at Amazon, Facebook, Google, etc. In response, he worked with the rest of the leadership team to plan workshops that were open to everyone, but especially helped create mentoring channels for the female members.

Better Man

Vinod Krishnadas

“I did not really appreciate the difference of being active versus being an advocate. After the conference, I looked at everything I had been doing in the past. I was like, ‘You know what? I’m probably still just active.’ I’m well-informed, and whenever the situation presents itself, I jump in to pursue increasing diversity and working towards inclusion, but there’s so much more I could be doing.”

Along his ally journey, Krishnadas credits signing up for the HeForShe program as a key mechanism for learning about issues that are specific to women when it comes to pursuing a career. Key challenges that were often referenced by women included getting back into the workplace after maternity leave and misconceptions on what “pulling your weight” meant in the context of meeting a deadline — a problem that is exacerbated in the case of women who are unable to work late hours.

Even more important than the HeForShe program for learning about women’s challenges in the workplace was the chance to interact with teammates and direct reports on the challenges they faced. To illustrate, one of the obstacles for women that Krishnadas observed when he was Barclays in India was having to stay late at the office to meet deadlines and to compound the issue, the social penalties within the Indian culture to be a career woman after having children.

As part of his commitment to mentoring women, he coached a female colleague who was unable to work late hours, advising she start her work day earlier instead. Krishnadas also urged her to have a conversation with her manager that working early — just like everyone else in the team who worked late hours — she was going above and beyond to meet important deadlines on time. The guidance Krishnadas provided challenged the assumption by her manager and her peers that she was not pulling her weight and was part of the process of normalizing flexible work arrangements.

Perspectives from the Better Man Conference

The Better Man Conference for Krishnadas was impactful. A key take-away for him was the action to enhance introspection around increasing awareness of the implicit biases he has and being intentional about minimizing their impact. In addition, he was stunned to learn about the biases that women of color face both from a racial and gender perspectives and the severe shrinkage it has on the talent pipeline from the most junior to the most senior levels.

Better Man

Explaining the Ally Continuum at the Better Man conference.

Indeed, according to the and McKinsey Women in the Workplace survey the promotion pipeline shrinks by 82% for diverse women, compared to a 33% reduction for white women. “Being new to the U.S., I did not understand the complexity of race nor did I fully appreciate how difficult it was for women of color in this country,” Krishnadas said. “The awareness was transformative, because it made me feel that there is something that I should be doing to increase the representation of women of color at senior levels.”

Another insight from the conference came during an exercise where he examined his top 10 professional connections through a diverse lens and realized that his top connections lacked sufficient gender and race or ethnic diversity, among others. “The exercise forced some introspection,” he explained. “I really need to widen my network and be more cognizant of the fact that I need to have a diverse network.”

The final insight from the conference was realizing where he was on the “ally journey.” The conference introduced Jennifer Brown’s ally continuum that outlines stages of an ally from apathy to aware, to active and finally advocate.

Krishnadas realized he was aware of many issues but often waited to be invited to participate in diversity and inclusion initiatives. He has committed himself to proactively engaging in allyship from here on out.

“I did not really appreciate the difference of being active versus being an advocate,” he said. “After the conference, I looked at everything I had been doing in the past. I was like, ‘You know what? I’m probably still just active.’ I’m well-informed, and whenever the situation presents itself, I jump in to pursue increasing diversity and working towards inclusion, but there’s so much more I could be doing.”

Lead at Home and Work

One of the key learnings from the conference was about the portrayal of men in the media that was called out by Jack Myers, the author of The Future of Men. Myers spoke of how the portrayal in media adversely impacts the societal beliefs about gender roles. To act on learnings from the conference, Krishnadas mentioned that he sat down with his son and wife after the conference to watch the movie, Wonder Woman. He wanted to make sure that his son understands that the image of a superhero doesn’t necessarily have to be male.

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The Krishnadas family

Guidance for Men — Krishnadas recommends men take some time to fill in their “awareness gaps.” After the conference, for example, he proactively did some additional research around unconscious bias and gender role evaluation with the Harvard Implicit Association Test.

Guidance for Everyone — Krishnadas advises everyone to determine what stage of the ally journey they are in. More specifically, it is important for everyone to know where they stand and how to advance to the next stage, he noted. “Everyone has the responsibility — both male and female — to understand what it would take to reach the next stage because this is an important issue,” said Krishnadas. “I think in this day and age there should be no place for there to be implicit bias against women, or for women to not have the same opportunities as men, or for any underrepresented group to not have the same opportunities that the privileged group has.”