Shanna’s Story: Bob

“At 19, I cold called the Associate Vice President of Development at Duke to ask him to hire me as a summer development intern – when there weren’t any job openings. That phone call to Bob Shepard changed my life. He hired me for the summer, hired me back the next summer and remains one of my most treasured mentors all these years later.

Today I am the Associate Vice President for Individual Giving at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. I lead a team of 25 people who raise money for research, clinical care and programs at one of the best children’s hospitals in the world. As I started to think about how I may want to leverage my strengths and grow my career before making this most recent move, I sought Bob’s counsel. I talked about jobs that were one level above in the org chart and he listened and thoughtfully offered advice. During one of our conversations, he offhandedly said, ‘You know, I think you could be looking at AVP jobs, if you wanted to.’ I remember thinking in that moment how much his feedback meant to me. This was, after all, the role he had been in when I first met him – the job I wanted to have ‘someday’ – and he thought I was ready.

Women can tend to downplay our skills and accomplishments; we do not think of our own achievements as special compared to others. The value in Bob suggesting this idea to me is that I learned to consider it for myself, and what it really meant. It wasn’t about a title for me; it was the opportunity to lead an organization at the enterprise level with all the challenges and learning that came with it. My own thinking had been limiting me from doing exactly what I wanted to do and Bob reminded me of my strengths.

Throughout my career, Bob has been a sounding board, an advocate and a sponsor. From the very beginning, he took a chance on me. He challenges me to think broader and bigger, sharing his insights while encouraging me to follow my own path. Bob is the kind of person who says great things about me to other people when I am not there. He believed in me and I learned to believe in myself.”

– Shanna Hocking, Associate Vice President, Individal Giving, Children’s Hospital of Philadephia
Philadelphia, PA

Shanna Hocking writes about leadership and fundraising and has been featured in Forbes and Huffington Post. Learn more about Shanna’s exemplary work at

Sonali’s Story: Selvan

Photo courtesy of Sonali D’silva

“In 2003, I walked into the office of a senior leader at one of India’s leading Information Technology organisations in the city of Bangalore. I was a young leadership and management development facilitator aiming for a big job.

Back then, gender diversity and equality weren’t popular terms, and men weren’t being called upon to support women as they are now. Plus, I didn’t know the importance of a male ally in a male dominated world for a woman.

I found myself sitting in front of an unassuming, calm and approachable person. He sat behind a wooden desk and with team photographs and trophies lined on shelves all across a wall. He smiled reassuringly at me, and I instantly felt comfortable.

That was Selvan; head of a large training team that undertook a range of people development programs and projects for our global organisation. At the end of my interview, he walked down a set of stairs with me, asked if I wanted lunch and then led me to the nearest on-campus café. He even made a menu suggestion! Selvan then explained and wrote out directions to get to my final HR interview. This gesture of thoughtfulness and care has always stayed with me as one of his great leadership qualities.

I got selected and stayed on for six years with the organisation, and Selvan remained the head of our team and my skip level manager through that time. I can confidently say that his mentorship steered my career in a far better direction than if I had met a leader who didn’t focus on crafting a young woman’s career and providing her support and guidance through those crucial years.

Selvan shared his intention to be a mentor and sponsor right from the start. We would often meet in our pantry, and instead of nodding and moving on with his coffee, he always had a question to ask. Through these frequent and informal interactions I grew in my confidence to be myself and not try to fit in.

While he was my manager’s manager, he never talked down, patronised or brushed away a concern, instead, he was a great listener. Selvan truly had an open door policy. He engaged in a way that I knew I could walk in and talk to him. This helped me understand how things worked, which in the natural course of male dominated corporate life, rarely happens for a young woman starting out.

Selvan always pushed me to think bigger and not hesitate to share brave ideas about how I saw my career growing. I now understand the significance of those conversations much better.

Another great leadership value I saw exemplified in Selvan was his sense of fairness. He made sure I got my due credit even when I would be the most junior person in a task force to have contributed. Instead of ignoring my share, he paid close attention to the quality of my work and I always knew how I was doing and what I could do better. To have merit, initiative and competence rewarded in this manner proved crucial for my future career.

I hope this story helps someone identify if they have a male ally in their lives. Selvan has set a high bar for me ever since on how I engage with men. I’ve used his example several times as I’ve taught leadership skills across levels over the years.”

– Sonali D’silva, Founder and Principal Consultant, Equality Consulting
Adelaide, Australia

Sonali D’silva is author of Corporate Nirvana and is in the process of writing her second book ‘25 Practices of Inclusive Leaders‘. Sonali has spent two decades of her career in leadership and management development; her current work involves helping organisations build Inclusive Leaders, expand the influence of women leaders, and involve men in Gender Equality efforts.

Kim’s Story: Todd

“I like to tell people when they work with me, they are getting a ‘two-for’. I’m a Clinical Associate Professor of Marketing at the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University. My husband, Todd Saxton, also teaches at the Kelley School, as a Associate Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship. On many projects, we are both involved – either formally or behind the scenes: we are true partners in that we share ideas and seek the other person’s input. Most people and projects then, get both of our ideas, rather than just one person’s.

Todd is an ally in many ways. I am lucky to have him. He watched the struggles his mother faced in her generation, and can spot inequality early. Metaphorically, if I’m pushing a stone up hill, he’ll push with me… or will back up when I say, ‘I need to do this myself’ and be my biggest cheerleader. We have listened to ‘Lean In’ together. But, he also holds my feet to the fire. If I am being biased against other women (hey – we are all human), he’ll call me out on it. We make each other accountable for advocating for women and minorities.

One role Todd plays very well is anticipating and raising issues on my behalf if needed. The research shows that if a woman or minority engages in gender/ethnicity balancing, they are penalized. But, men gain respect when they advocate. If I raise a statistic or gap about women’s representation, for example, it may land with certain stakeholders as, ‘There goes Kim again.’ But Todd recognizes the situations in which his voice could hold more influence, and proactively addresses issues head-on. He will say things like, ‘What are we doing to support the women?’ Or, ‘we all know that these performance metrics may be gender biased…’

When I’m happy and successful, Todd is too. Said differently, he doesn’t sacrifice himself to help me. He helps me when doing so is something that brings him happiness and in his best interests. That way, he never resents the help he’s given. Our ‘two-for’ partnership shows how gender equality can greatly amplify the impact we make in our careers.”

– Kim, Clinical Associate Professor of Marketing, Kelley School of Business, Indiana University
Indianapolis, IN

Kim’s Story: Shawn

“I had a great boss, Shawn, when I worked as a Technical Consultant in Market Research at Eli Lilly. Shawn did two things very well: he knew how to navigate the company culture to build influence, and he showed his advocacy through a behavior I call signaling.

Shawn hired me to create change by developing the technical expertise in marketing and market research for the organization. If you value a person, you want to make them successful; at Eli Lilly, they highly valued pedigree. When Shawn introduced me, he used my full name and credentials, leading with “This is Kim Saxton, she has a BS from MIT and her MBA/PhD in marketing and statistics from IU.” In doing so, he was setting me up for success immediately among the senior team and other staff.

He would also display a powerful behavior, signaling. When I was to serve as his delegate at a meeting, he’d go in with his coffee cup, say hi to those already there, and then leave as the meeting began. Everyone then knew that I was his delegate. Then as any initiative was getting started, he would introduce me and let me run the meeting or presentation. One initiative, he set up 33 presentations that I managed on his behalf. The intentionality he showed certainly reinforced his commitment to me, and to his overall role as an advocate.

Shawn and I had a great working relationship. This was in the pre-laptop days. As a technical consultant within Lilly, I was working with 10 different brand teams and on several organization-wide initiatives. We had a big presentation on one initiative to the top management team – the top 13 executives at Lilly. Shawn came in over the weekend to help me prep the final presentation. But, he was color-blind. So, as we were changing graphics on the slides, he would ask me which color – which row and column? When I finally took a vacation and came back, he noted, ‘Holy moly. I had to get on your computer to find a file. I was shocked. I had no idea how much you’d been working! I’m glad that so many teams are asking for your help. Thank you for just taking it all in stride.’

It seemed like a win-win-win situation. He helped me be successful, he made the organization better, and he demonstrated how to be a great male ally.”

– Kim, Clinical Associate Professor of Marketing, Kelley School of Business, Indiana University
Indianapolis, IN


Erin’s Story: Dr. David Borst

“Finding male allies and mentors is a challenge for women. However, once you do strike gold and find them, it is key to remain engaged with them in the long term, throughout your career.

I’ve been lucky enough over the course of my own career to find many male mentors and allies. And, I love working with them as well on projects that have a larger impact and outcomes.

One recent example of this long-term engagement happened when I lucked out and struck up a mentor in my former business school dean, Dr. David Borst. Although I graduated several years ago now from Concordia University Wisconsin, he recently also retired as dean. We had the opportunity to chat and figure out how to collaborate on a bigger project, now that he had more time to dedicate to something broader reaching.

As someone who had additionally set up a women’s mentoring program in his hometown of Milwaukee, WI (he calls it an ‘advisory board’), we decided it would be important to collaborate on a book project that describes how to set up a mentoring program for women – through the lens of a male perspective (his) and mine as a woman.

The S(He) Says Guide to Mentoring was born in the spring of 2017. It is a his and hers perspective on setting up women’s mentoring programs.

Once the book was launched, I attended his women’s advisory board and we shared our story of the book and the collaboration. He held a fire side chat and book launch in Milwaukee later that evening, where we chatted from a his and hers perspective about the value of mentoring women, male allies and collaboration.

We also had each other on our respective radio show/podcast to discuss the collaboration. Dr. Borst’s radio show is on the air in Milwaukee, where I appeared as a guest about the book, and I had him as a guest on a podcast that I co-host about career development, The Pharmacy Podcast.

I also had Dr. Borst come to Indianapolis, my hometown, where I serve as president for a nonprofit association, The Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association, Indiana Chapter.  Dr. Borst moderated a panel of all men — we called them “Manbassadors” — to discuss why and how to mentor women in healthcare and life sciences.

In the end, on this project, my mentor became my peer in many respects (although I certainly still consider him a mentor). And more than a dozen years after b school for me, I have the pleasure and honor of remaining connected to Dr. Borst.

No woman is an island, and we need to continue to engage and foster long term, collaborative partnerships with our mentors and allies. I appreciate his time and talent, and most of all the opportunity to share an idea with and through him to a wider audience.”

– Erin, Author, The “S(He) Says Guide to Mentoring”
Indianapolis, IN

Erin Albert, MBA, PharmD, JD is an author, entrepreneur, pharmacist, lawyer and podcaster. She has authored over 20 books, which can be found at her website,

Dr. Borst also has a website,

Megan’s Story: Mike

“One kind of ally is a sponsor. I speak a lot about how sponsors are critical to help push your career forward.  I’m the Founder of #GoSponsorHer, a campaign for leaders to play an active and intentional role in the success of high-potential women.  I’ve personally been inspired and supported by many strong sponsors — both men and women — I’ve had in my career at McKinsey and at

Today I want to focus less on my sponsors and more on a different kind of ally in my life, in fact the most important ally in my life who supports every step of the work I do – my fiancée, Mike.  We had the benefit of starting our relationship together, on equal footing, at university.  We were both highly ambitious students, majoring in business and supporting each other through interviews.  He went into investment banking, I went into consulting; first as interns and then full-time.

Early in our relationship we experienced the extremes of one partner having significant demands at work. We first went through it as Mike worked his job in investment banking; though the hours I put in at my consulting firm were high they were not as crazy as his so I did more of ‘the lift’ in our personal lives — making sure our lives together ran smoothly in every other element besides career.

Then we experienced a shift: Mike made a career change that gave him more time and flexibility and I got promoted at McKinsey making me busier than ever. Accordingly, Mike started taking on the role of doing more of the lift at home. It has just always worked that way with us; we are very clear on where we both are in a given week, month or year in terms of demands on our time and energy in order to make the rest of our lives work. We take turns.

We’re both good at knowing what the other needs, whether it’s a pep talk, and/or sympathy.  Hopefully that is what a good sponsor or mentor also does for you:  they know when you need a kick in the pants, or, a little bit of sympathy… I think a relationship should do the same… though we humans tend to be less good at doing that for people we love: we tend to over-index toward sympathy or tough love.

Mike and I together maintain two killer careers, a network of family and friends and a house.  All of those things contribute to a huge pie. Sharing the pie 50/50 is tricky given that the proportions are always shifting and someone always ends up needing to do more of the grunt work at any given time. Mike and I are explicit about those shifts and explicit about who is taking the lead on the Homefront at any given time. It’s been amazing to have a partner who is, quite frankly, willing to do that, because you look at the research and it always says that no matter who has the successful career, the woman is doing more at home.  If we are going to make real change, we have to allow men to change too — they needn’t carry the traditional pressures being the sole partner with a career.

If we are going to level the playing field, our efforts in the corporate environment must extend to home life. I am so grateful to have found a partner like Mike who cares just as much about supporting my career and my passions as I do his.”

– Megan Anderson, Business Development Director,
Toronto, Canada

Megan Anderson is the co-founder of #GoSponsorHer. a social campaign to accelerate the sponsorship of high-potential women in Canada and beyond. She created the project out of a deep desire to empower the next generation of Female CEOs and break the glass ceiling for good.  #GoSponsorHer has enlisted an expansive network of both male and female allies who are sponsoring women at their organizations.  If your your or organization would like to participate, please check out!


Jen’s Story: Bruce Arians

“Some of the biggest moments in my career have come from guys who took a risk and bet on me. When there are no women in the room, it takes a man to open the door. In my case, it was Wendall Davis, who gave my first coaching opportunity, and Bruce Arians, who hired me to coach in the NFL.

As the first female coach in the NFL, so many people have focused on me and my journey as a woman coach, but personally it is important to me that my work honor Bruce.

Bruce, the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals, took a chance on me. He didn’t have to do that. He took a risk that, if one thing went wrong, his entire legacy would have been destroyed. In order to better understand why he was willing to make that choice, I interviewed him for my upcoming book.

I was so excited to interview Bruce, that I discussed the interview and his decision to hire me with his wife, Chris. She said that she told him he was crazy.

‘Oh honey,’ she said to me, ‘I told him he was crazy.’

She went on: ‘But that’s what I love about My husband. He was 100% sure about you — he had not one doubt.’

I loved Chris for being so honest with me. It’s not like it was an easy decision, and certainly it was not one that had been made before. Bruce is known for his saying, ‘No risk it, no biscuit,’ and that statement definitely applied to his decision to hire me.

In the process of deciding to hire me, Bruce consulted with his players. He wanted my position to be something his players were also proud of — in a way, he was letting the guys on the team be heroes in championing me. I always had the support of these guys.

Bruce Arians is one of the coolest guys I know. He is so easy in his power and just so real. I knew within five minutes of talking to him on an NFL sideline, that I would walk through a wall for him.

His courage in hiring me, a woman, has now opened the door for many other coaches to follow. I take great pride in knowing that Bruce was the first.”

Dr. Jen Welter, Author, Speaker, First Female NFL Coach
Dallas, TX

Liz’s Story: JC

“‘What can you do to go the extra mile?’

My good friend (and unsponsored life coach) JC, has always tried to find a way to get me to think beyond the finish line.

I met him during a time that I was breaking through many self-imposed mental limitations in my life. I was in my junior year at the University of San Diego, approaching the finish line on one of my biggest life goals, to join my brother and sister as a first generation college graduate. The following year, I transitioned into my first post-graduate world of work experience. I faced many mental roadblocks, the imposter syndrome and endless string of fears and doubts. Being originally from the Bay Area, I had a limited support system in San Diego and often turned to JC for help and advice.

The main way that JC supported me is by encouraging me to believe in myself, to build up my confidence and to find a way to increase my performance. He often asked me questions to get me to expand my thinking to go above and beyond. How can I make a better impression? How can I be better prepared for a meeting? How can I be better prepared for tomorrow?

JC is a personal trainer who always reminded me that accomplishments begin with mental and physical training. My daily accomplishments should begin in the morning, before I got to work; by planning, exercising and reflecting on my goals and next steps.

When I landed an opportunity as co-founder of the startup the Me Tyme Network, a flurry of doubts and insecurities plagued me. The idea of being an entrepreneur scared me. I knew entrepreneurship, as most other industries, is primarily male dominated. I had so many insecurities about being a female founder. The support of my mentors, including JC, helped me grow past those limitations. Turning weakness into strength, I transformed my fear of being a female founder into a passion to inspire women, specifically, the next generation of female entrepreneurs.

My team made huge strides in progress in year one. We developed a business plan, a business model, launched our product and verified demand in the market. In year two, we began to fundraise and discovered the harsh realization that as a minority, female founded company, there was a less than 0.05% chance of us securing venture funding. Pretty daunting. Once again, my male ally stepped up, to remind me that regardless of the odds against me, I had to dream big, take action and relentlessly pursue my goals.

Even after we break through this limitation and secure funding, I know other challenges will arise as we continue to grow our business. But I also know the importance of focusing my energy on the one thing I can control, myself. I can’t change the odds or the stats against us, but I can work on myself and improve my output in the hope that I will be more readily prepared to face the challenges of tomorrow.”

– Liz, Chief Millenial Officer
Los Angeles, CA

Emily’s Story: Alex

Growing up, Alex and I bickered like every other sibling. We’re the only ones we have. He is 3 years older than me with many of the same ambitions that I have professionally so I’ve always benefited from his hindsight.

Like clockwork, his entrepreneurial journey led to a spiritual awakening that preceded mine by about 3 years. During that time, I was embarking on my own journey of new beginnings.

I had just joined a startup that I was excited about. Our parents gave me the same lecture as they gave my brother for choosing a path that didn’t include insurance or 401ks.

Alex had primed them well, though. Between his announcement years earlier, the resilience he showed through his journey, and my history of not submitting to them in arguments I cared about, my news was easier to break.

The difference between his journey and mine was that I had positioned my career over safety nets.

Alex didn’t have a degree to fall back on. I graduated with my teaching degree. I’d always have the option to apply that credential to the corporate training or communication fields.

The startup he helped build was from the ground up. I joined my startup after it had already been around for a couple of years.

He had no family or friends around him (not even social media to keep up with them). I live about an hour away from our parents and the nature of my job puts me in frequent contact with people.

I had all the external safety nets that would allow me to perform professionally without feeling like I needed to change anything personally. If I was feeling guilty about something in my personal life, I could easily mask it from my colleagues and compartmentalize it from my work.

Alex didn’t have the same luxury.

Through our weekly conversations, he shared with me how he worked through his own challenges when I shared mine with him. We began having weekly calls to catch up on each other’s lives.

Seeing his journey inspired me to strive for my own goals and have the confidence to walk toward my dreams on my own.

Alex is the brother I wouldn’t want to live my life without and the ally who showed me how to appreciate it fully. ”

– Emily, Recruitment Marketing Specialist
Orlando, FL

Karen’s Story: Digby

“What I learned from Karen is…”

“Earlier in my career, I worked for a software company that was acquired by Adobe Systems. In the first few months following the acquisition, I noticed something happening in engineering leadership meetings.

My new manager, Digby Horner, who had been at Adobe for many years, started prefacing things with, ‘What I learned from Karen is…’ He then went on to summarize an earlier discussion we’d had.

He demonstrated a great deal of respect for me in front of my new colleagues. The simple phrase of ‘What I learned from Karen’ made me feel great; who wouldn’t want to be recognized for teaching their more experienced manager something new. I think it was the ultimate compliment.

It was also a strong action of sponsorship.

Each time Digby said those words, he helped me build credibility with my new colleagues. He took action as an ally, using his position of privilege to sponsor me. His shout-out strengthened my reputation as a technical leader, and definitely made me feel great.

This story is just one of many that I’ve witnessed over my career. Situations when allies stepped up with simple, everyday actions that made a difference. Often a big difference.

I firmly believe that being an ally isn’t so hard, and that it is a journey. Whether you’re just embarking on it, or have already traveled far, I recommend checking out @betterallies on Twitter or Medium.  You’ll get straight-forward ideas for creating a more inclusive work culture where all can thrive.”

– Karen, Adocate for Women in Tech,
San Francisco Bay Area, CA