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Legal Talent & Inclusion

Emerging insights from male allyship study of Gen Z law students at Penn Law

Natalie Runyon  Director / ESG content & Advisory Services / Thomson Reuters Institute

· 5 minute read

Natalie Runyon  Director / ESG content & Advisory Services / Thomson Reuters Institute

· 5 minute read

A new study of male allyship examines how emerging male leaders in law build their idea of what it means to be an ally to women, especially women of color

Male allyship is critical in the evolution of gender equality programs in the workplace. Indeed, when men are included in gender equality programs, 96% of organizations see progress — compared to only 30% of organizations when men are not engaged, according to the Harvard Business Review.

Now, a first of its kind study examined how emerging male leaders in law and business, specifically law students, construct their idea of what it means to be an ally to women, especially women of color. In this randomized study done in collaboration with Penn Law students and Thomson Reuters, we analyze how these emerging leaders build allyship in ways that could alter the concept of leadership in the future.

Read the full report on Male Allyship and the Future of Work covering all 34 interviews of men at Penn Law.

Our first major takeaway from this phase of the research is that allyship is about action. In this phase, our participants listed the ways in which they work to amplify women’s voices, to afford them the credit they deserve, and how they will work to push for policies that create equality within the workplace environment and for methods for proper evaluation that eliminates gender biases from evaluations for promotions.

In order to lift up women’s voices, participants indicated that they would put themselves “on the line with a male of considerable influence and power over me if I feel that that male is perpetuating grave injustice against women,” says participant Michael Machado. However, participants also recognize the need for evaluating situations and determining what type of action will be productive in different settings. For some, proactive allyship is indicative of this type of self-evaluation.

Changes in Workplace Policies and Practices

When discussing improvements that need to be made within the work force, several participants began by noting that law schools can and should first improve diversity in terms of women of color. Then, in discussing workplace policies, participants talked about hiring committees, parental leave, and flexible work:

  • Hiring committees — One participant said that he would create a hiring committee that would be required to review several studies on what comprises a good hiring practice. In addition, he would make sure the committee is made up of people from diverse backgrounds and that it would include a trial period to ensure implicit bias was not being perpetuated in the hiring processes.
  • Parental leave — Some men highlighted the necessity for maternity and paternity leave, allowing families the autonomy to choose which parent, if any, will be taking time off with the option of each parent being able to take a year off.
  • Flexible work — Finally, a few men focused on the need for flex time both in terms of policy and practice with “part-time work commensurate pay” being allowed, notes participant Ryan Plesh (3L).

Generational Responses to #MeToo

In large part, the #MeToo movement has pushed for several of the changes that our participants identified. However, #MeToo has also introduced fears and uncertainty about certain behavior. Justin Pendleton (2L), another participant, broke down the age ranges to explain how the #MeToo movement is affecting masculinity differently across generations:

  • For 50+ Men, Pendleton states: “There is a large backlash and fundamental misunderstanding of how women’s rights to not be harassed do not equal a lessening of men’s rights.”
  • For men age 30-49, the #MeToo movement has created feelings of fear and trepidation on how to properly interact with women in the new era.
  • For men under 30, Pendleton notes that “men of this generation have an easier time grappling with and engaging with protecting women and showing them the respect they deserve.”

To build on this, this study calls upon the next generation of legal professionals to serve as allies that will steer changes and ultimately help advance women in leadership, as well as promote equality between the sexes and fair policies for all intersectional identities. As the research demonstrates, Gen Z men believe that it is the right thing to do and that it is equally good for business.

“Someone ought to be designated an ally not purely because they — from an internal viewpoint — believe in or support a certain unprivileged person or group, but because they have embarked on the conscious journey of allyship, which, as stated above, constitutes education and enacting change,” explains participant Christian Zabilowicz (LLM 20).

Rangita de Silva de Alwis leads the research on transformative leadership and allyship in collaboration with Penn Law students and Thomson Reuters. The student-led research team: Zahra Keshwani (L21), Research Team Leader; Michael Machado (L20), Chukwufumnanya Ekhator (L20), May Alajlan (LLM 20), Margaret Gallagher (LLM 20), and Lindsay Holcomb (L21). Thank you to Dean Theodore Ruger, Dean of the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School for his support of the study, and to David Wilkins, Lester Kissel Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, who inspired this study.

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