President's Perspective Blog

Showing Up as a Male Ally

woman working

You may be asking why another man is taking over Mike’s Monday Message on this last week of Women’s History Month. I asked this same question when I was approached about sharing my thoughts on male allyship during Women’s History Month. I turned to many female colleagues and peers to seek out their opinion on whether I should accept. The responses were all following the same logic, and my friend Sana Mahboob said it best. “Kerry, be the strong male ally you are. You know women alone can’t be expected to achieve gender equality—we need your voice, too. We need you to champion us and help us honor the women who’ve shaped our history. So, do the article. Help women see they are supported and men to see we need them to take action, step up and do more. Just don’t blow it.” 

Kerry Watterson
Kerry Watterson, CFRE

Ok, maybe the last line was just in my head, but the rest of Sana’s words make complete sense, right?  As a man who has taken an active role in AFP’s Women’s Impact Initiative, you might think I should already know that. You’re right…I do.  At the same time, in an era when we see news highlights everyday of sexual misconduct or other inappropriate behavior and statements made by other men, it can lead even the best-intentioned man to question and doubt how he can be part of the solution and show up as a strong male ally. I am up for that challenge, so I’m doing just as Sana said. I’ll continue to take action and show up—the foundational building block for becoming a male ally—and hopefully I’ll help a few more men find their path to being better allies to women.

It is important to remember that while Women’s History Month draws to a close, our celebration, recognition, and support of women should always be thriving—every day and all year long. It’s easy to move on to the next big awareness month or get distracted by the demands of daily life.  As someone who really strives to be a strong male ally to the women in my life and around the world, I’m going to commit, all year long, to honoring the women who’ve impacted my life. I hope you’ll join me in this challenge.

An easy place for me to start is with Debbe Watterson, my mother.  She left this life on July 4 of 2020 after a long battle with kidney disease and angiosarcoma. It has been a difficult year of those “firsts”—the milestone moments that are the first without your mom.  On each of those—birthdays, holidays, anniversaries—I will be spending time honoring her and her influence on me.  I always credit her as being a major influence in why I became a fundraising professional. 

Mom volunteered everywhere and in any way she could.  She was always motivated to right societal wrongs and make sure everyone was presented with fair treatment and expectations, as well as equal opportunities.  She was the PTA president of every school I attended, and I have so many memories of my brothers and I sitting around the kitchen table stamping and sealing envelopes, sorting and assembling carnival prizes, and doing just about anything to ensure she could accomplish successful fundraising for the school, little league, boy scouts, church, or the family in town whose house burned down. That sense of service is what drives so many of us in this field, and it’s a good north star to follow for anyone wanting to be an ally to women.

There’s also Selma Asebedo Permenter and Laure Skiffington O’Neal, who hired me into my first job as a fundraising professional with the University of Texas at Arlington more than two decades ago. Selma is by far the best boss I’ve had in my career. She taught me how to define my own sense leadership and challenged me to always hear and listen to all the voices in the room to get the best ideas in motion.  Laure inspired my nuanced approach to relationship management and gave me the vision to understand the importance of gratitude in our work. I draw on her relationship investment principles every day in my work as a fundraising professional and as a male ally. Both Selma and Laure have had long-lasting impact in my life, and I’m grateful they stepped into my path to help shape me into the man I am today.

Since immersing myself in the AFP community, I’ve developed rewarding relationships with colleagues and friends who continue to influence my work as a fundraising professional and as a male ally.  Stephanie Thomas and Adrienne Prassas welcomed me into the AFP NYC community and encouraged me to consider engaging in service to our profession. Heba Mahmoud, Birgit Smith Burton, and Tycely Williams helped me understand the role men must play in achieving true gender parity and equality.  All of these incredible women wouldn’t let me just sit and observe the work from the sidelines.  I would be called to service as a male ally to partner with them in the movement towards gender justice.

There are, of course, so many more women that have and continue to inspire me, lift me up, influence my work, and collaborate with me to accomplish real change and social good.  Too many to list in this one article.  So, as the sun sets on Women’s History Month, I will make sure that all year long I continue to honor the many women who’ve made such an impact on me. 

Fellas, please join me.  Make the conscious choice to step up and do more. Show up as a male ally to women in your life. This can take many forms: champion women and their work to their supervisors, make space for all voices to be heard in staff meetings, call out questionable behavior by a male colleague and explain to him and others why it is inappropriate.

Reach out to the women who have impacted you in profound ways and say thank you, share your appreciation and gratitude for them publicly, and pay it forward by being a strong male ally and championing other women in your life and workplace. Take a moment and share AFP’s male ally tools with other men in your life to magnify the powerful impact of your own allyship. There are so many actions you can take to move yourself further down the path of being a male ally. Take the first one now if you haven’t already, and make the decision that the women in your life are worth you bringing your best to those relationships and honor them through your actions and support every day.

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