Why being a male ally is the MACHO thing to do

Efforts to overcome the gender imbalance in senior business roles aren’t working. Rebecca Rennison has a new strategy: rather than trying to move the mountain, she’s giving every man a pebble.

“It’s absolutely bonkers that it’s 2024 and there are more CEOs on the FTSE250 called John than there are women,” said Rennison, corporate finance M&A partner with EY and winner of the Changemaker of the Year award in TheBusinessDesk.com’s 2022 Yorkshire Rainmaker Awards.

“Despite having quotas for boards, and everyone working to drive better diversity, I feel like we are stuck. And part of the reason why we’re stuck is that women have been trying to do it all themselves. We need help from male allies, and that’s what Redefining MACHO is all about.”

Rennison was inspired to create the Redefining MACHO programme by her friend Simon Dixon, of ThinCats, who asked her what he could do to help gender equality. It was a watershed moment. She quickly wrote down five key actions and found their initials spelled ‘mocha’. A quick reordering and she had ‘macho’.

The programme – presented as a series of lunchtime debates by 10 speakers – aims to give male allies ideas of how to support women in the business community. The event, on April 24, is sponsored by EY, ThinCats and Eversheds Sutherland.

Dr Michelle King, head of the Global Innovation Coalition for Change, breaks women’s careers into three phases: achievement, endurance and contribution.

At the achievement phase, early in careers, diversity is reasonably good, Rennison said. There are options, open doors and mindfulness.

It is at the mid-career endurance phase that women start to find invisible barriers. The end result is too few women at the senior levels, where they can genuinely contribute to their organisations.

“I’m firmly in the contribution phase,” Rennison said. “But I’m one of the only female corporate finance partners in the north. It’s incredibly male dominated.

“I spent 15 years in investment banking in North America as managing director. It was me and 78 men. That wasn’t that long ago.

“Where we need to shine the spotlight is on the endurance phase.”

This is the phase in a woman’s career where she finds extra responsibilities both in her career and outside work. She might have people to delegate to and motivate, be part of the corporate infrastructure, at the same time as starting a family.

“It was exhausting,” Rennison said. “My mantra was, ‘I just need to get through this week.’ It was like running a marathon at sprint speed, with the weekends to catch my breath.

“I had to be incredibly organised and incredibly disciplined with my time, because I also wanted to be the mum that I wanted to be, and the wife I wanted to be, and the friend and the sister and the daughter, and all of those things that you’ve got going on in your life – but I also wanted the career.

“The endurance phase is really, really intense, and that’s why we’re stuck.”

Rennison added: “There are lots of women’s organisations that serve awareness, there’s quotas for women on boards. But it’s just not working. We need to do more. And I think we’re redefining that by doing these five simple things – and you don’t have to do them all. We’re not trying to move a mountain here, but I’m trying to give every man who actually cares a pebble.”

Redefining MACHO is built around five core concepts showing not why but how male allies can help women in their organisations.

  • Meaningful Mentors
  • Amplify Awareness
  • Capture Confidence
  • Harmony with Home
  • Orchestrate Opportunities

Many unconscious habits can have repercussions, Rennison said. Her example was a chat about football before a meeting.

“It’s been proven that the first two minutes of any conversation is the most uncomfortable. And so you could be 15 minutes into a conversation and Gemma hasn’t talked yet. Whereas John might already have talked about what a cracking goal that was. He’s done his warm-up.

“That’s amplifying awareness. I’m not saying don’t talk about football – I’m saying find a way to include everybody in a conversation before the main event.”

Rennison has many such examples of things men – and women – can do to help their colleagues to flourish.

And that, she pointed out, can only benefit the organisation.

“Any organisation ultimately is either serving or delivering something to the world,” Rennison said. “And so common sense prevails that if you are trying to connect with the world, your team, your decision makers, should look like the world.

“51% of the world’s population is female, so if you still have a board of decision makers that are predominantly men, and predominantly from the same background, you’re connecting wrongly with the world.”

To book tickets for the Redefining MACHO lunch on April 24 in Leeds, please visit the event page. The event is open to both women and to men who want to be better allies