How Successful Organizations Engage Men in Gender Diversity: A Talk with League of Allies’ Jennifer Peterson (Part 1)

Topics: Allies, Client Relations, Corporate Legal, Diversity, Law Firms, Mentors & Sponsors, Talent Development, Women’s Leadership Interviews & White Papers


In the Legal Executive Institute’s ongoing series of examining the role of men in gender diversity, we feature an interview with Jennifer Peterson, a partner at League of Allies, a professional services firm that “in-powers gender equity” with organizations that want to be on the leading edge of equality and inclusion. Peterson has participated in the first and second roundtables for the Real World Implications of #MeToo for the Legal Ecosystem series, hosted by Thomson Reuters and Her Justice.

Legal Executive Institute: Tell us about League of Allies, in particular its commitment to the role of men in gender diversity, and how you work with clients toward their goals

Jennifer Peterson: League of Allies is dedicated to engaging leaders, managers, and boards to realize the power of gender balance and inclusion. We work with organizations to: i) recognize the business case for diversity and inclusion within their organization; ii) define and commit to the personal and organizational actions needed to achieve an authentic and sustainable culture of inclusion from their employees’ experience.

Our founders and partners are all executives with years of experience in C-level operating roles in the financial services and technology industries, as well as strategy and turn-around consulting. Their life experience and career paths have brought them to this commitment to gender diversity, because of the value they have seen at different points in their careers.

One of our differentiating core beliefs is that accelerating gender parity and lasting inclusion really require a deep commitment and broad engagement of men. Some of our offerings are explicitly designed to further the engagement of male leaders to emerge as sponsors, advocates, and active supporters of gender balance and inclusion. We work with companies of all sizes and across industries — some that have existing diversity and inclusion (D&I) programs and some are just beginning to think about this as a strategic issue.

Please describe in detail the programs that you do with men in the gender parity or gender diversity space.

We conduct diagnostic assessments to provide a gender-lens view of the practices, policies, and employee experiences to executive leadership teams, which are most often predominantly men. We then partner with leadership to develop a roadmap, which may include workshop-based sessions and coaching (1:1 and team-based) targeted specifically to men. We employ a “four-A” framework:

  •        Awareness — Create an intellectual and emotional connection;
  •        Adoption — Provide models, tools, and techniques to support behavior change, and elicit commitment to one specific behavior change;
  •        Advocacy — Share best practices and identify opportunities to move beyond personal behavior change, to promote diversity and inclusion concepts and practices in the organization; and
  •        Ally — Introduce the behaviors and mental paradigms to be an effective ally within the organization, and also introduce and put into practice mentorship and sponsorship models.

Since you have been involved in in these workshops, where do you see the most resistance or challenge from the men’s perspective? And at what stage of the “four As” do you see a tipping point to drive change?

The resistance will typically come up in the “Awareness” phase. Often, it’s based in a lack of recognition of the difference in lived experiences and the buy-in to the value of diversity and inclusion. For others, the connection is made through the business lens and the correlation between greater diversity and higher financial performance.

league of allies

Jennifer Peterson of the League of Allies

The first tipping point (the buy-in to the value) typically occurs in the “adoption” phase where a personal connection can be made — often that occurs when men imagine someone they care about into different scenarios, and they think about a wife, daughter, mother, or close friend experiencing exclusion, discrimination, or harassment. The second tipping point (commitment to action) typically occurs when men analyze their own behaviors to identify where they unknowingly putting up a barrier. A common example is when a male manager compares how he delivers constructive feedback to a female versus a male employee. Is there a difference in frequency? Are they less direct with a female? How might that impact their development, their successful work outcomes, or their career progression?

How would you define a culture of inclusion? And, what does it look like in terms of the day-to-day behaviors?

A culture of inclusion is one that provides both equal access and opportunity for individuals from all backgrounds, experiences, and personal identities. It is one that actively values and encourages the strengths, perspectives, ideas, and participation of all. Though we typically step into these engagements with a focus on gender, we do often expand that lens to a wider definition of diversity. Inclusive behaviors can be applied across the board.

The most foundational behavior is respect. There is mutual accountability here. Respect must first be granted by all members of the team, a message that all are deserving of their role and their place on the team. And it is the responsibility of the leader to set the tone, and the members of the team to carry it out in their day-to-day interactions. In that context, people have room to be human, to acknowledge and course correct if they stumble by saying or doing something that may be unintentionally offensive. The expectation of respect and shared accountability as an organizational norm should be explicit and continuously reinforced through the words and actions of leaders.

We approach respect multi-dimensionally. Respect involves fostering open communication and transparency — ranging from broad information-sharing to candid constructive feedback. Respect is demonstrated through fairness in distribution of work and in decision-making in rewards and opportunities.

Respectful behavior is not all about being nice and friendly to each other. In order for any organization to be successful, productive conflict has to occur. We see challenging and supporting each other going hand in hand. In a culture where respect is truly the norm, and diversity is valued, productive conflict like challenging logic or ideas, or giving feedback are recognized as supportive and done with the intent of a positive outcome.