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Gender Equity Group Eyes ‘Men As Allies’

The Forte Foundation has launched a website to give male MBA candidates a toolkit on how to promote women in business

The Forte Foundation has launched a website to give male MBA candidates a toolkit on how to promote women in business

A consortium of nonprofits and business schools dedicated to gender equity on B-school campuses is launching a new initiative aimed not at the women striving to achieve that equity, but at the men they study and work with. The Forte Foundation’s Men as Allies initiative will recruit male allies on business school campuses, leveraging insights from “Manbassador” programs at 10 of the top B-schools in the U.S. and abroad.

Elissa Sangster, foundation executive director, tells Poets&Quants that the initiative is designed to spark the creation of male-led gender-equity groups on campus. The effort — taking its cues from programs at Harvard Business School, Stanford Graduate School of Business, and London Business School, among others — is part of a growing movement in business and society, Sangster says, that includes the United Nations’ HeForShe initiative, Catalyst’s Men Advocating Real Change, and the White House’s Let Girls Learn.

But even amid a surge of interest and the launch of new programs aimed at enlisting men in the fight for gender equity in business, there was a need for a more concerted effort on B-school campuses, Sangster says.

“Many men have felt like outsiders and did not know how to get involved,” she says. “But we’ve seen a lot of conversation in recent years about advancing women. There’s a lot of momentum and a lot of talk about having women on corporate boards and what that does, and a lot of prioritizing of this issue. At Forte, we’ve been doing this for 15 years and we’re seeing a lot of positive trends.”


Elissa Sangster

Elissa Sangster

More women are pursuing an MBA and more men are interested in supporting gender equity, Sangster says, and attaining the goal of 40% women’s enrollment at member business schools is within reach. Currently the number is about 36% at the foundation’s partner schools. “We may have reached a tipping point. … While many of our partner schools were already starting something, like the Manbassadors, like the Wharton 22s, we thought we’d talk to them and put together a toolkit that captures their voice and collects the learning they’ve had.”

The initiative includes the launch of a new website, which contains a “toolkit” for male B-school students interested in creating their own groups or spreading awareness about gender equity, Sangster says, but who need more information to move forward. Among the tools in the toolkit: education about women’s professional obstacles and changing norms for men at work and home; inspiring stories about men making a difference; help identifying and incorporating behaviors that can support gender equity on the job and elsewhere; and practical steps on launching or growing male ally groups.

The toolkit also includes insight on reasons to start a group and how to do it, Sangster says, what kind of activities and events are successful, and how to adopt gender-supportive behaviors and work effectively with campus Women in Business clubs.

The initiative leverages the insights of business schools that have created programs to engage men as champions of gender equity, known as “Manbassador” programs at some schools. Other partner schools with similar initiatives — dating back to 2013 in some cases — are Columbia Business School, New York University’s Stern School of Business, UCLA’s Anderson School of Management, University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, The Wharton School, Duke’s Fuqua School of Business, and Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management.


The initiative has been in the works for about 18 months, Sangster says. It is being launched with help from diversity experts Anne Weisberg of Harvard Law and Lisa Levey, consultant and author of The Libra Solution: Shedding Excess and Redefining Success at Work and at Home. Financial support came from Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business, Cornell’s Johnson School of Management, and Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business.

“We really thought it would be good as an organization that really believes in this and believes that it is ultimately a great step in advancing women into business, that we should put forth an initiative like this,” Sangster says. “Business school is such an incubator for future leaders, and we just felt this is a great chance to act and give students resources to build the movement further.”

Forte, which includes among its partners not only top B-schools and major companies but the Graduate Management Admission Council, is dedicated to helping women achieve fulfilling, significant careers through access to business education, opportunities, and a community of successful women, Sangster says. According to the new website, “Men who champion gender equity — known as male allies — help businesses, women, men, and families win bigger. Businesses with more women leaders reap better financial results.

“Women professionals raising children report very high life satisfaction. Men with more family involvement are in better health and happier in their marriages. Children with actively engaged fathers do better academically and socially. The list goes on.”