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Group of hands on top of each other of diverse multi-ethnic and multicultural people.


Tim Cox
June 30, 2024

Recently I read a quote on LinkedIn. It went something like this…

“A true ally is someone who stands up for you in a room you’re not in.”

I liked it.

There’s something evocative about it; a call to consistent and sustained action.

Even more recently my colleague Kim invited me to write a short piece on allyship.

She helpfully suggested I start with a couple of examples of when I had been an ally to women; the impact on me and on the people I supported.

My first thought was “Have I?” ... “Have I really been an ally to women?”. I scrambled back through memories...  

...and that didn’t help much. All I could think of were times when I'd fallen short. Times when I would not have qualified for the title of ally.  

So that is where I'll start. Sometimes I have fallen short.

A few years ago, I was basking in the glow of a successful company event. We’d gathered together to review the year just past; celebrate successes, share ideas and look forward to the year ahead. And it had gone well.  

It felt like it had gone well, and people were telling me it had. I was allowing myself to relax now safe in the knowledge that we’d done a decent job. I was stood there with beer in hand eyeing a table of canapés when a new member of the team approached me. “Hello, I wanted to thank you for including me today. How do you think it went?”

That new member of the team was Shona. Shona is now Head of Culture at MF. I've had the pleasure of working with her since and I know she has a wonderful ability to bring support and challenge. She never shies away from asking a question that needs to be asked or highlighting opportunities to improve. I know this now... but I did not know it then.

So with one eye still on the canapés, I thanked her for coming and reiterated the welcome from the start of the event. I said: “It had gone well – that perhaps others were the best judge and feedback was positive so I was happy.”

“May I offer you some feedback?" She said.

And she did. Skilfully and sympathetically, she echoed sentiments shared already, and then (and I will always remember this), she played back a scene from the day, offering the chance to be better next time.  

In short, I had choreographed a situation where three men, in leadership positions had presented to, and fielded questions, from attendees whilst one woman also in a leadership position had taken notes and assisted the session.  

I cringed at the replay. It was stark and undeniable. We were simultaneously ‘celebrating’ our successes in supporting positive inclusive cultures and...strongly signalling something else. I had fallen short.

Yet, there are times that I have been an ally. Sometimes I’ve stepped up.

At another event I was part of a conversation in which four well-intentioned men had circled and were enthusiastically debating a topic. It was a fast-paced volleyball match of a debate. A woman was also within the circle. On three occasions she had attempted to make a point. Each time one of the men talked across her.

I interrupted, highlighted what I'd observed and invited the woman to share her thoughts.

I know the woman was grateful for my intervention because she told me at the time. We are still in contact, so I approached her for her reflections (years later she remembers it).

More recently I was standing on a London Underground train. It was hot and crowded. To support himself a large man was leaning against a central pole. A smaller woman next to him stood precariously on tiptoes with fingertips barely reaching the overhead rail trying to balance. The position of the man meant she was unable to hold the central pole without touching him. With consternation writ large she struggled to stand. The man was oblivious to her struggle - his eyes were shut and his headphones were on.

I debated the options.

I tapped him gently on the shoulder. He ‘awoke’ with a start, confused and alarmed. I waited for him to remove his headphones before explaining the predicament of his fellow traveller. He was immediately apologetic and shifted to enable the woman use of the pole.

I know she was grateful for my intervention because she thanked me twice. Once in the moment and two stops later as she left the train.  

Reflections on my reflections.

Sometimes I've been an ally to women.

Sometimes I haven’t.

At least sometimes I've made a positive difference.


There are many opportunities where we can be an ally. Sometimes, quite literally, it is useful to keep our eyes and ears open; to be vigilant, to listen and identify where we can help. And sometimes we’ll miss those opportunities, we’ll fall short. When we do, we can be open to hear about it from others.

& Action

We need to actually do something.  

Thinking about it can be a positive step towards helping. But it's action that counts; whether you stand up for others when they are in the room or not.  

And years later, this is how the woman I approached for her reflections remembers it:

“You picked up on both verbal & physical cues - you saw my discomfort and without making a big thing of it you helped to change the dynamic of the conversation in a 'safe' way for everyone present."

"For me the key point is 'self' and 'social' awareness and as an ally how you manage these dynamics with positive intent - as so often people are not deliberately behaving in a way that may silence or exclude others."

At least there are some times where I've made a positive difference.

NB - If you’d like to find out how you can provide allyship to others or develop the skills of allyship in your organisation please drop us a line at info@managementfutures.co.uk. My colleagues can help!

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