9 minute read 09 May 2023

The art of allyship: Six ways to be an ally for women in tech

Women are still not making it to the top ranks of tech leadership—allyship is one way to help them get there.

Anjali Shaikh

Anjali Shaikh

United States

Kristi Lamar

Kristi Lamar

United States

Erika Maguire

Erika Maguire

United States

Mojgan Lefebvre has plenty to credit for a flourishing career in technology—degrees from two prestigious universities, highly sought-after tech skills, and vast corporate experience have all helped pave the way to her current role as executive vice president and chief technology and operations officer at Travelers.

But Lefebvre points to another important factor in her career trajectory: “A senior manager who made a big difference in my life—an ally,” she says. “We would always talk and we really formed a relationship, so as soon as he had the opportunity, he asked me to work on a project with very high visibility. That really set up my career in the company.”

Lefebvre is one of the fortunate ones. While many organizations state their commitment to women and advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), women are often not making it to the top ranks of tech leadership. In fact, in a 2021 Deloitte survey of nearly 400 senior IT leaders, 75% said their technology department had an authentic commitment to DEI, but that women and nonwhite workers made up only around a quarter or less of leadership teams—far from representative of the working population.1

Enter allyship. By giving voice and value to systematically disadvantaged individuals, allyship can not only empower women to rise through the leadership ranks, but can help deliver significant business outcomes, from increased profitability and enhanced customer experience to improved employee retention.

This article, the 10th in our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for Tech Leaders series, explores what allyship is (and isn’t) and shares six strategies tech leaders can consider to support, uplift, and advance women in tech.

The art of allyship

To truly champion allyship, organizations should first understand what it is—and what it is not. Allyship is a verb—not a one-and-done program—and it’s everyone’s responsibility. It’s the daily, lifelong practice of empathizing with the experiences of systemically disadvantaged groups, looking out for biases, and actively using one’s voice and power to advance equity in all interactions.

“Allyship is a personal dedication to look outside yourself and do for others in ways that you would have them do unto you,” says Earl Newsome, chief information officer at Cummins.

But for allyship to facilitate meaningful and long-lasting change, it can’t be performative or a singular initiative. Rather, allyship should be a continuous journey and embedded within a company's culture. “For the people who work here, allyship is more of a natural state of affairs,” says Jessica Jarvi, general counsel at Western Alliance Bank. “Most of the people who participate in our DEI initiatives wouldn’t label the effort they put in as anything other than doing the right thing. Allyship is simply supporting coworkers and colleagues even if you do not directly share their experiences.”

Allyship also shouldn’t be mistaken for mere guidance. “With sponsorship and mentorship, you’re coaching another person on their professional development,” says Jim Fowler, EVP and chief technology officer at Nationwide. “But if you’re truly an ally, you’re an advocate—there’s a big difference.”

Noting the important distinction between allyship and other modes of support can have a significant impact on everything from talent retention to product development. Case in point: A Bentley University report2 found that employees working amid cultures of strong allyship and inclusion were 50% less likely to leave their companies—a critical advantage given that a global human talent shortage of more than 85 million people is likely by 2030.3

Our allyship definition

Allyship is the practice of empathizing with the experiences of systemically disadvantaged groups, looking out for biases, and actively using your voice and power to advance equity. Allyship is a personal responsibility and lifelong journey. It is not a destination or self-assessed title—others should see you as an ally.

While this article is focused on supporting women in tech, every individual in every industry can serve as an ally to anyone in any systemically disadvantaged group.

Allyship in action

The good news is that IT leaders are already taking significant steps to elevate allyship in the workplace. For example, at Nationwide, Fowler says the company’s Women in Technology Group “brings allies together with women they might not normally meet” during their day-to-day activities. These pairings, he adds, have helped to accelerate women’s careers with the sponsorship of key leaders.

A pipeline of diverse talent is also important to nurturing allyship. Just ask Newsome of Cummins. Newsome is cochair of TechPACT, an organization dedicated to fostering a culture of belonging by building awareness of the importance of DEI across the technology community. Members are required to take “The Pledge,” a personal promise to take steps to increase representation and help bridge today’s digital divide. “We can change the game for underrepresented communities and reduce the digital divide,” says Newsome.

“To make allyship a core part of your culture, it can’t just be driven from the top only—it has to be driven from the bottom too,” says Lefebvre. To help provide personal and professional development opportunities for women, Travelers created EmpowHER+, a cohort of more than 8,000 employees across tech and operations who gain access to upskilling and continuous learning opportunities via formal mentorship programs and more. “This program has been so successful that our finance department launched a similar initiative called SHEAdds.”

Travelers is also focused on supporting high-school and college-age students from underrepresented populations via partnerships with organizations like Girls Who Code and Additionally, the Travelers EDGE program provides students with access to higher education and opportunities to develop and excel as leaders.

Even the smallest gestures, though, can help amplify and encourage diverse voices and set a solid foundation for allyship. For instance, Deloitte has built and launched a pronunciation tool add-on to Microsoft Outlook, called PronounceIt, which allows employees to share the name they prefer to be called, how to pronounce it (both vocally and phonetically), as well as their pronouns.

Insights from Deloitte leaders on the importance of allyship

“We’re at a moment where allyship is critical, because fundamentally, to make progress, we need engagement by all,” says Kavitha Prabhakar, chief DEI officer for Deloitte. “I often say the chief DEI officer is a title, but I believe every C-suite member and every professional is a DEI officer every day. It is the only role in this organization that is shared by all 180,000 of us. And allyship is a huge component of this. Doing no harm is not enough anymore. You have to share your power, engage in change, lend your voice to the marginalized, and invest in continuous learning—keeping in mind that each and every one of us will need an ally at some point.”

“What I like about the idea of allyship is it shifts the responsibility from programs at a corporate level to individuals,” says Ayo Odusote, a principal at Deloitte Consulting LLP and the organization’s consulting DEI leader. “I often talk about ‘everyday allyship,’ or the notion that the biggest impact you can make often comes from the small, intentional actions in the day to day.”

“Allyship is the right thing to do, but it’s also a really important business decision,” says Doug Beaudoin, CIO for Deloitte. “We’re competing for top talent and if you don’t make DEI a priority and if you don’t have allies who think about it every day, you’ll miss the boat on huge swaths of the population.”

What’s more, he adds, allyship can help technology leaders improve application design, refine product development, and bolster customer experience by incorporating diverse perspectives and varying life experiences into IT workflows. “Allies actively work to broaden people’s perspectives.”

Six ways to be an ally for women in tech

Internal programs, industry consortiums, and email plug-ins are powerful mechanisms for driving greater allyship. But organizations should also establish day-to-day best practices to create more opportunities for women in the tech sector. Here are six steps to consider.

Lead with courage and compassion

Allies should have compassion and courage—courage to use their voice to respectfully call out bad behavior when they see it, courage to use their credibility to stick up for somebody else, and courage to be vulnerable.

“If you’re going to be a great ally, you need empathy,” says Fowler. “You have to understand that the person you’re an ally for might not have had the same experiences you’ve had. You have to be willing to connect and identify with their thoughts, feelings, and perspectives.”

Newsome agrees: “You have to speak to people in their own currency. Meet them where they are versus where you want them to be.” With this approach, allyship can become second nature—and spread throughout the organization.

Open up the aperture for tech talent

Supporting women in the workplace requires a diverse talent pipeline.4 One way to diversify the tech talent pool is by considering skills-based hiring rather than solely focusing on pedigree. College isn’t necessarily a proxy for ability and by requiring a bachelor’s degree for positions that don’t need that level of education, companies are automatically excluding potentially talented workers.

Another way to effectively diversify a talent pipeline, says Newsome, is by “moving from STEM to STEAM—science, technology, engineering, art, and math. Focusing on STEAM-related backgrounds, instead of just STEM, opens up the aperture for more people to participate in the technology sector for greater diversity of thought and experience.”

Prioritize inclusivity and tie it to performance

According to Lefebvre, “You can’t have allyship without having an inclusive organization.” Yet increasing inclusivity often requires a set of consistent performance metrics. Case in point: At Travelers, Lefebvre says “inclusive leadership goals are included in every single one of our managers’ annual performance objectives.”

In fact, measuring variables, such as inclusivity and diversity, could serve as a powerful business case for greater allyship. Take, Nabors Industries, for example. Two years into its initiative to intentionally support DEI in their workforce, almost 60% of the company’s hires in 2022 were diverse and 20% of internal transfers were women, says Aparna Mathur, Nabors Industries’ vice president of IT and DEI initiative leader. Additionally, attrition rates for women dropped by 20% over the same time frame.

Secure commitment from leadership

Leaders can play a powerful role in promoting allyship in the workplace. According to Alan Davidson, chief information officer at Broadcom, this begins with “giving people the opportunity to have a conversation with leaders.” These in-depth discussions, he adds, can help women build important relationships across the organization, granting them access to C-suite executives, regardless of title or department.

Western Alliance Bank follows a similar philosophy and has created an executive-led Opportunity Council, which provides employees with access to leadership and continually evaluates best-in-class DEI strategies. “Allyship, DEI, and IT is a team sport,” explains Jennifer Wilson, the bank’s chief digital officer. “There is no ‘they.’ It’s just ‘us.’”

Commit to learning—and unlearning

Great allies are willing to invest in learning—learning the biases they carry, the words that may make someone feel seen or excluded, and the ways they can individually help uplift those around them.

But the journey doesn’t end there. Leaders should also be committed to unlearning—unlearning the language, constructs, and ideas that are preventing them from creating inclusive environments. As an example, consider the word “tone-deaf,” which is often used in professional settings to describe how a message won’t land. This term isn’t inclusive language for people with disabilities. Everyone has the power to empower, but only if they’re willing to invest in continuous learning and unlearning.

Make each day count

Allyship can become a daily practice “if you move from ‘get’ to ‘give,’” Newsome says.

Not all allyship initiatives need to be measurable, sanctioned by the C-suite, or part of a larger DEI strategy. Rather, the biggest impact can come from the small actions in the day to day.

While random acts of kindness—like the senior manager who took the time to show an interest in Lefebvre’s talent—can seem small, they can make a huge difference in a person’s career with long-lasting impact. Case in point: Many years later, Lefebvre says, “I was able to be an ally for this manager and find him an opportunity that helped his career. For me, it was a full-circle moment.”

Learn how to be an ally for women in tech.

The executives’ participation in this article are solely for educational purposes based on their knowledge of the subject and the views expressed by them are solely their own. This article should not be deemed or construed to be for the purpose of soliciting business for any of the companies mentioned, nor does Deloitte advocate or endorse the services or products provided by these companies.

  1. Lou DiLorenzo, Anjali Shaikh, Kristi Lamar, and Erin Clark, Looking beyond the horizon: How CIOs can embed DEI into succession planning, Deloitte Insights, March 7, 2022.

    View in Article
  2. The Center for Women and Business at Bentley University, Elevating allyship in the workplace, Bentley University, accessed April 17, 2023.

    View in Article
  3. Korn Ferry, The $8.5 trillion talent shortage, accessed April 17, 2023.

    View in Article
  4. Kristi Lamar and Anjali Shaikh, “Cultivating diversity, equity, and inclusion: How CIOs recruit and retain experienced women in tech,” Deloitte, March 5, 2021.

    View in Article

The authors would like to thank their clients as well as Deloitte’s Doug Beaudoin and Ayo Odusote for sharing their perspectives on the importance of allyship and how organizations can drive diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives.

They would also like to thank Cindy Waxer for helping them craft a compelling narrative; Angelle Petersen and Adrienne Wyzga for connecting them with leaders excelling in DEI; Haley Gove Lamb for thoroughly reviewing the content; Rithu Thomas, Preetha Devan, and Blythe Hurley for their exceptional editorial and production skills; Natalie Pfaff for creating intentional, impactful art; and Lesley Stephen and Jennifer Rood for sharing and promoting their learnings across the firm and beyond.

Cover image by: Natalie Pfaff

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Kristi Lamar

Kristi Lamar

Managing Director | US Women in Technology Leader
Anjali Shaikh

Anjali Shaikh

Managing Director | US CIO Program Experience Director | Deloitte Consulting LLP


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