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How To Encourage Men To Be Better Allies With Brian Boche

How can male allies help cultivate a supportive workplace environment? And what does it look like to build a male allyship program?

In Episode 126, Brian Boche, Solution Architect at Boche Networks, joins Melinda in an empowering conversation around strategies for encouraging men to become better allies. Brian delves into his allyship journey and shares insights from developing and co-leading multiple allyship programs for individuals from underrepresented backgrounds. He also discusses simple and effective ways to engage men and drive meaningful change in the workplace.

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This videocast is made accessible thanks to Interpreter-Now. Learn more about our show sponsor Interpreter-Now at www.interpreter-now.com.

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One, when in doubt, do something. Stand up, speak up, go to an event, learn, listen. Two, make sure you’re doing it the right way by calling in, not calling out. Soften your approach, you’re going to catch more bees with honey always. Lastly, find those champions at the executive level that will support your cause and champion that as an organization because… at some point, you’re going to need some horsepower to get more people on your side, money, time commitment, to get the opportunity to speak to the organization, and have it become part of the culture.
Guest Speaker

Brian Boche

Solution Architect at Boche Networks

Brian has been in the tech industry for the past 20 years in a multitude of roles including network engineer, sales engineer, and sales engineering leader. His true passion lies in co-leading an allyship programs as well as building programs delivering monthly events, an allyship bingo card with 25 actions men can start taking today as well as fireside chats and panel discussions with business leaders to showcase the importance an ID&E culture and specifically an emphasis around allyship. Brian’s passion comes from the desire to remove the misogyny that exists in our lives and at work all while removing the hurdles that women must overcome to achieve parity in regard to equal pay for equal work, opportunity to leadership positions, and a work environment free of micro-aggressions, “mansplaining” and the like. He is excited to share his personal examples of allyship as well as focusing in on how to build an allyship program as well as the how and why to become an ally.

Learn more about the host and creator of Leading With Empathy & Allyship, Melinda Briana Epler.


MELINDA: Welcome to Leading With Empathy & AllyShip. I’m Melinda Briana Epler, Founder and CEO of Empovia, formally Change Catalyst. I’m also the author of How to Be an Ally, and your host for this show. 


What is allyship? Allyship is empathy in action. We learn what people are uniquely experiencing, we show empathy for their experience, and we take action. As a part of that process, we learn and unlearn and relearn. We work to avoid unintentionally harming people with our words and actions. We advocate for people, and we lead the change on our teams, in our organizations, and across our communities. 


In this episode, you’ll learn tangible actionable steps that you can take to lead the change to be a more inclusive leader, no matter what your role is. Want to learn more? Visit Empovia.co to check out more of my work. 


All right, let’s get started. 


Brian, super excited you’re here, and welcome. 


BRIAN: Fantastic. Thank you for having me. I’m excited to be here.


MELINDA: Yeah. All right, Brian. So we’d love to know from you what your story is. Where did you grow up? What is that path that took you to get here?


BRIAN: Yeah. So I grew up in the suburbs of St. Paul, Minnesota. McGriff Heights is the name of the town I grew up in. The path I started on as a young child, I can still hear my mom saying about how life’s not fair. I’ve always been a fairness person. So much so, I know that we spoke last week that you learned I referee high school and college football, so much fairness. Trying to make things fair, even on a football field. I realize life is not fair. But I think that’s where I got the beginnings of this. Also, when I was younger, I was a short, chubby fat kid with glasses. So I got picked on for some time of my elementary school, until I got through my awkward stage in middle school and played sports. So I’ve always been an advocate of the underrepresented, me being one of them ex facto, through my younger years. Fast forward through high school and college, pretty stereotypical guy, if you will. Up until, I would say probably about 10 years ago now. 


I was at Juniper Networks at the time, and I had the opportunity to lead three women that were newer in their career. They were all of Indian descent, and the opportunity for them to land on our channel SE team afforded me an opportunity to learn from them, champion them, sponsor them, mentor them. But at the same time, this isn’t about me. It was watching them flourish in their career. It was really profound for me, and again, no pat on the back. But the thumbprint that I assisted them in their career; the learning the do’s, the don’ts, the how’s, the where’s. They were right out of college and green, and still learning how to be a sales engineer; what that looks like, what it sounds like. And watching them blossom their career was so rewarding, and watching them do what they did, and showing up and taking ownership of meetings and using their voice, standing up and making a point when a point needed to be made, as they were learning how to massage meetings and C-level executives. Fast forward to now, we’re still good friends, all of them have moved on to bigger and better things; one is at Google as a solution architect, one is at Palo Alto, one is still at Juniper doing great things. 


But that really was the impetus for understanding the change that I could affect, as well as the underrepresented status they had. So coming from a multicultural background, and English as not their First Language, and immigrating here, and all those things, on top of being a woman in tech. So I know we’ve talked a lot about that as well, where there is a big discrepancy on a lot of levels when it comes to women in tech, whether it’s been spoken over, manterrupted, mansplained, appropriations, some of those things we’ll get into later. But the fact of the matter is, is Women in Tech have had an uphill battle for a long time. It’s been a boys’ club, full stop. For me, removing those hurdles and those biases, and standing up and speaking up, and simply giving the floor to other women in meetings, is really, again, low hanging fruit. We’ll talk more about this as we go along. But being able to do that has been wonderful, and then continuing to build these programs. I will talk more about that as well, how I’ve done it, where I’ve done it, what’s worked, what hasn’t. Now on the other side of working with you and others in the industry, Integrating Women Leaders is an organization that I work with out of Indianapolis, Male Allyship Advisory Board. 


It’s been rewarding. It’s challenging, and at the same time, it’s fun, being able to explain to another human how they could show up and stand up and speak up for others. I’m on a journey, and I continue on my allyship journey. No expert by any means, but I continue to learn and continue to try to do the right thing.


MELINDA: Awesome. You talked about a lot there. One of the things that we found in our research, is that the number one motivator for people to do the work of allyship is that fairness, that justice component of it. Is that what keeps you going, that motivation? I mean, obviously, sometimes it’s not easy, and it takes extra time and work. What is it that motivates you to move forward?


BRIAN: I think where I am in my life, it comes down to making a difference for others. I’ve kind of had that epiphany in my life where I want to leave the world a better place than where I found it, and this is one of the avenues that I do that with. We’ve talked a lot about, I am a father of three young women. However, I’ve learned feedback. That just because I know another woman, is that why I’m passionate about supporting other women? No, I don’t lead with that any longer. I want to make sure for the audience that it is 100% valid, and I see you and I hear you if that’s the reason that you’re here today and learning. Whatever reason you have for being here today, to become a better ally, is fantastic. But as I’ve worked through my journey and learned that there are other reasons for me. So I just want to make sure I’m clear on that, I don’t want anyone to think that that’s not a good reason. But yeah, the fairness piece that you went to, and also, just making the world a better place is really why I enjoy being passionate about making a difference.


MELINDA: Awesome. What are your biggest challenges? For a lot of people I speak with, a lot of White men who are well-advanced in their careers, they are often challenged by the fear of saying or doing the wrong thing, or of not knowing what to do, or that there’s this perceived risk around this. What are your challenges first, and then I would love to know, because you’ve worked with so many men, what do you say to folks? But let’s start with your own challenges first.


BRIAN: Yeah. I would say my biggest challenge to this 10-year journey has been overcoming the status quo. Depending where I’ve been, whether it’s AWS or other employers that I’ve been at, there’s a certain temperature and a bias that exists, that exists still today, that is real. This isn’t perceived that, hey, we’ve taken the anti-harassment training, sexual harassment isn’t a thing anymore, why are we still talking about this? And when it’s brought up, there is a level of resistance still today, northbound southbound peers, about why do we need to continue to double-down on this topic? 


So for me, that’s my biggest hurdle. Being able to articulate a succinct message, especially to leaders, when you get to the C-level and VPs and directors, of why this is important. I’m a big believer in starting with that why. Why? Because of all these things, I’m not going to go back with them, but the things that still exist; the mansplaining, the manterruptions. Again, I call them low-hanging fruit, there’s much more to it. But these still happen today. When you have discussions about this with panels, with women, and these leaders hear directly from them, these individual contributors or otherwise, that yes, just last week, I was interrupted in a meeting. Or yes, just last week, I was at a hotel lobby, and I was objectified about being a mom, and who was watching the kids. Or something to that effect. It still happens. 


So the other thing I want to touch on is that when men are hesitant to speak up, and I get it. Through the MeToo movement, we may be hesitant about standing up, speaking up, especially on the how. Maybe you feel passionate about the why, why I’m doing this, and maybe even have done some research on the what, what can I do. Like, for example, giving the floor to another woman in the meeting, or calling out someone who may have interrupted a woman in a meeting, saying, “Hey, I’d like to what Jenny has to say.” You’ll be given grace. You may say the wrong thing at the wrong time at the wrong place in the wrong tone. Again, worst case scenario, it all goes wrong. But look, all you need to say is, “I’m sorry. Thank you for the feedback, and I’ll do better next time. I’ll choose a time and place that’s more applicable. I’ll use a different tone. I’ll call you in instead of calling you out.” We’ll talk more about that later. But you’ll be given grace. You’re trying to do the right thing, make the world a better place, and you will learn from it. That’s all you have to do. So again, it can be scary, it can be challenging. But just know you’ll be given grace, when you decide to have the opportunity to speak up and stand up for others.


MELINDA: Awesome. Fantastic, thank you for that. As you take action on an ally, do you feel like it has in any way hurt your career? I think that a lot of folks who are new to allyship think they’re taking a big risk when they’re stepping in and stepping up and advocating for change. How do you feel like that has played out in your career?


BRIAN: That’s a really good question. Most recently, I did run into some headwinds for my passion around allyship. I mean, just back to what I said about how you do it, where you say it, what you say, it’s important to understand, especially when you’re new to an organization, which I recently was, you have to be vocal about that. I am passionate about it, I am an impassioned person, and sometimes that comes across strong and ruffles feathers, full stop. I learned from my most recent employer, that there was probably some things I would do differently next time. One of them, maybe just slow-rolling my involvement in the affinity groups, instead of day one, bull in the china shop. That’s just some Brian-itis, if you will. But overall, 99% no. No, there’s never been any retaliation or big pushback or things like that. 


But again, being fully transparent, there were some things I learned and I would do differently. Standing up and speaking for others is great. But when you’re standing up and speaking up and sharing your impassioned views about things with a room of executives, there is some probably softer words you may want to use when you have those discussions. But again, full disclosure, there was a lesson learned, and it won’t deter me in any way from continuing to do the work that I do. 


But yeah, overall, it hasn’t impacted my career. In fact, I would tell most of the audience here that it has made my career that much better. When you walk into the corporate office after COVID and you’ve been doing this virtually, and people recognize you as the allyship guy, that’s pretty cool. Again, it’s not a pat on the back. But it’s like, “Wow, that’s the person that’s been doing these webinars, and I’ve seen him or her do that. That’s kind of neat.” You start building a brand around that, and people respect you for the work that you’re doing, and making your employer a better place to work right. So long in the short, it hasn’t detracted from my career. In fact, it’s only made it better.


MELINDA: Awesome. Why don’t we jump a little bit into the programmatic work that you’ve done around building allies? Then within that, I think we can talk about some specific things that you share with men who want to be better allies and how they can make a difference. But to start, my first question around that is, can you talk about some of those different programs? Can you share what some of the programs are where you’re really working to build allies for people with underrepresented identities?


BRIAN: Yeah, for sure. So my first big foray was where we met, so at AWS. When I got there, as I started having the chance to mentor and sponsor and lead those three women, when I got there, it was right at the start of the pandemic. It was a big company, AWS. A lot of work. Didn’t go anywhere, didn’t know anybody. So I learned of the affinity group, the Women of AWS organization, joined. They kind of had an ambassador program that I get involved in. Slowly, but surely, they were looking for someone to lead an allyship program. I’m like, “That sounds amazing! I’m passionate about this, let’s do it.” So it really came down to just deciding to do it, full stop. A lot of the times, I speak with organizations that have done this work, and they’ve built websites, and they’ve built content, they’ve got slide decks to share, and they’re not sure what to do next. Just do it. At some point, you just need to go out there and share your message. Being new to it, new to the ERG or affinity group or whatever you want to call them, life groups, I didn’t know what I was doing or where to go, or what content, or how to build it. I love to present. I love to create storytelling presentations, short and sweet. But I had never run one of these things. 


So first things first, I found a co-leader. I thought that was really important to have a female co-leader, the yin to the yang. That there’s maybe something that I thought was a great idea, where Kelly would say, “You know what? I’m not sure if that’s a great idea.” And vice versa. When I would get feedback, when we were in our initial days, I would say, “Hey, do you think this feedback is valid?” Kelly would be like, “Yeah, I can see how maybe someone can misinterpret that. Maybe we say it this way.” Or on the other hand, “No, someone’s actually just getting wrapped around the axle. I think we’re doing the right thing.” So that was number one. So I did, I got a co-leader. 


Then from there, it was just building some programmatic things out. Then what we ended up building there was a quarterly cadence of content. That was just a simple 30-minute intro to allyship. You’ll hear this a couple times today probably, but we start with the why. Why is this important? Data, specific, underrepresented, the pay gap. Just some points of women that are supported, some of the work that you’ve done, I’ve highlighted, Melinda. They feel more supported at work when they have one ally, two allies. Especially when it comes to women of color, that goes up exponentially. So when you drop some knowledge or some data on people, they’re like: Oh, wow! These are actual Harvard Business Review type documents. So that’s one. So explaining that, the why, the what, and then the how. 


We created an allyship bingo card. So when people would actually complete the bingo card, they’d send it in, they would get an allyship. It was called a phone tool in AWS, think of it as a badging system. For people to get that, that they now had a badge that they had done some work to learn about allyship. Secondly, in that quarter, we did an Allyship Coffee Chat. Just a safe space for people to come and learn and discuss about their trials and tribulations, successes and failures of allyship. It was just an open forum. We talked about, what said here stays here. But it was a great place for people to come and share and understand what’s going on. 


Lastly, I was able to take the opportunity and build upon a program that was built, Men as Allies. It was a three-day course, four hours per day. It really dove into the nuts and bolts of how we got here. When I was born, I was given a blue blanket. If I was a girl back in the late 70s, I’d end up getting a pink blanket. From there on, we were put in buckets of our gender, and what we should or shouldn’t do. I should play with G. I. Joes, girls should play with Barbie, so on and so forth. You kind of go back to how did we get here, to some extent? The what, and then the how again. 


And we did that with a small group. It was only 20, 16 men and four women. So when we did our breakouts, which were the most exciting part, where people would go and talk about specific topics, come back and share with a greater group. There was a woman in there, again, being the yin to the yang. “Hey, not sure if that’s correct. Hey, have you thought about this? Here’s an experience I’ve had, have you ever experienced that?” So it was fantastic. So that was our quarterly cadence. Then we had some other big events, one that we brought you out on, an International Women’s Month, a History Month, where you came and spoke as a guest. We had some leadership panels, where we found leaders that were passionate about it. That was really the catalyst, unintended, to get mindshare across the business. When you’re on a sea levels all-hands call, and you grab them for 10 minutes of that and do a coffee chat, like a fireside chat, all of a sudden, it spread like wildfire. Other organizations were reaching out, they wanted us to come give our 30-minute pitch. It really just snowballed from there, away we went. 


So that’s it. That was the organic work of figuring it out, putting it together, delivering some content, and getting some mindshare when you had opportunities and had bats to hit it out of the park with some executives, to get an audience, a larger audience to further our cause. So that’s kind of how we did it there. Then I can talk more about more recently things. Similar recipe, just a little different tact in my most recent employer.


MELINDA: Yeah, and I know you have an industry-focused allyship program as well. You want to talk about that a bit?


BRIAN: Yeah, you bet. So again, back through AWS, through the grapevine, I learned of an organization called IWL, Integrating Women Leaders. They’re based out of Indianapolis, led by Kim Graham Lee. I found through the grapevine that they were doing all this great work around not only empowering women, full stop, mainly in tech, but other sectors as well, but also had this allyship component that they were delivering to AWS services team. So through the grapevine, there’s a couple phone calls with Kim and her team. I found that they had a male allyship advisory board. So myself and Dan Byrne, who works for Lilly out of Indianapolis, co-lead that; we host that quarterly. And what we really do is focus on exactly what I just talked about, how do men in their organizations start, foster, and grow an allyship program. Most recently, we just had our first allyship conference. That was back in September, it was in-person and virtual. They host an annual women’s conference as well. But this is going to be an ongoing thing. That was the first ever, and now we have another one coming up this fall for another allyship conference. It’s amazing; we have panels, we have guest speakers, people that have written books, people that are passionate. We have allies for all underrepresented. We have people from the LGBTQIA+ community, people of color, on and on, underrepresented people. I don’t need to mention them all, but you get my point. Have them speak and have different breakout tracks. So it’s been great, being a part of that organization, and having a platform to support others growing their allyship programs.


MELINDA: Fantastic. So maybe we could talk a little bit about, one, I think a lot is on a lot of people’s mind as they’re starting to build allyship programs. How do you convince White men that allyship is important? I know you’ve touched on that a little bit. But how do you enroll them in an allyship program specifically?


BRIAN: That’s a great question. Where I’ll start is that one thing I’ve had to realize with this, although I feel that all men should be on the bus of allyship, there are those that just won’t, and that’s okay. That’s okay, and maybe they will at some point, and that’s also great. But my point is, is that take the winds where you get them, so we’ll start there. At the same time, that enrolling men into the programs is simply about at bats. It’s about having the opportunity to speak with those teams, whether it’s off-sites, QBRs, all-hands meetings. Again, you’ll get a small chunk of time, maybe you get five or 10 minutes on an all-hands call. So you have to be passionate, you have to be succinct, and what’s in it for them, the old WIIFM? Hey, if you decide to come to our meeting, or you decide to invest any time in learning about this, what is the outcome? The outcome is a more profitable and successful workplace, that’s it. All the data points to that, yours and others. And who doesn’t want that? I’m working tech in the sales side, who doesn’t want to make more money in tech sales? Who doesn’t want to be happier at work? Who doesn’t want to have more diversity of thought that just makes you a better company overall? So if you start there with what the outcomes are, men are opening their eyes going, wow, or their ears, and saying, “Well, it makes it a better place. It makes it make more money. It makes it happier. It makes me a better leader. It makes me a better individual contributor.” Then the ball starts rolling. 


When you do get them to come, it is demystifying that stigma of “If I actually do this, Brian, if I stand up and speak up in the meeting and say: Hey, John, I’d really appreciate if we give Jenny the floor. I don’t think you meant to interrupt her, but I don’t think she was done speaking.” Again, calling someone in versus calling someone out, that’s a huge component of this. Because men in general, typically, I’ll even say it as a middle-aged White guy, we call people out. “Hey, John, that’s baloney. I think you should do this.” That doesn’t go very far, especially with DEI topics. It doesn’t. It comes off as, “I’m a know-it-all. You should be doing what I do, because I’m passionate about it.” That does not fly. So if it’s just, “Hey, in the meeting yesterday, I recognized you did this, or you said this, and I think it might have.” So just very soft. “Maybe that made so and so feel uncomfortable. The way I’ve overcome that, in my career, how I’ve changed, is done this and that.” Now I’m calling them in, I’m giving them an opportunity to learn, and I’m also giving them some tools to maybe do it differently next time.


So those are some of the components that have helped get men on the bus. Also remember, it’s a flywheel. As more men hear about this going on, it’s just like anything. If all of a sudden, black shirts are the thing and everyone wears black shirts to the meeting. If everyone’s showing up to the allyship program, and all of a sudden, some aren’t, they’re like, “Wait a minute, what is everybody doing over there at the Women’s Conference and all these men are going? I want to be part of that. I want to make this a better place.” The flywheel starts going, and every time you stop at the bus stop, more men get on the bus.


MELINDA: Yeah, thank you for sharing that. In the work that I’ve done to advise allyship programs and also ERG programs to bring allies with them, one of the key things that I find is often missing is the What’s In It For Me message. You want allies to come to your events, you want allies to become enrolled in your allyship programs, and you need the message that says: “It’s a safe space for you here. You’re going to learn, you’re going to grow, you’re going to become a better leader. You’re going to build a happier, more productive team, where everybody’s going to feel better on that team. And you can do it at your own pace and learn. Everybody’s at a different spot in their learning journey.” All of those messages I think are crucial in really enrolling people in programs, whether that’s ERG programs or allyship programs, or Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion programs and committees as well.


BRIAN: Yeah, all of them, agreed.


MELINDA: Yeah, awesome. So how do you approach programming? You had a bingo card at AWS. Maybe you could talk about some of the things that were on that bingo card, and how you thought about composing that bingo card, and then what do you do in terms of education and really helping people to learn and supporting them in that path?


BRIAN: Yeah. So I won’t take credit for the allyship bingo card there. I found something on the internet that was similar, kind of a DEI bingo card, if you will. I brought it up to our group when I at AWS, and we thought it was a great idea. So we just reswizzled it. There was a free space in the middle. So boom, you get a free one just to show up. But everything else was a conglomeration; read this article, watch this video, stand up and speak up for someone that was interrupting, send an accolade. We had an accolade program; most companies have an accolade program. It takes a minute to say, “Hey, so and so did this on a call last week, they were at a meeting and they got knocked out of the park.” Because more often than not, men are rewarded for their successes more often, where women are criticized for their failures more often. That’s kind of what it boils down to. So simply just sending a kudos email to their boss saying, “Hey, they knocked this meeting out of the park, these are three things they did, these are two follow-ups, and we got the sale.” It takes you a minute to do that. That was a piece. But a lot of articles. So read this, how did you feel about it? And when they would submit a bingo card, we’d always ask them to write a couple sentences of what they learned. 


So what else do we have in there? Videos. Articles. Asking someone in their network, a co-worker, a female friend, a sister, a cousin, about their experience. Have it hit home for them. So for the audience, I think that’s a great idea. If maybe you’re like, maybe you’re on the fence, or I don’t think this probably happens in our company, ask. I’m not saying that you send out a company-wide email or a Slack blast to everybody. That’s not what I’m saying, because that’s happened. What I’m saying is, someone that you’ve earned some trust with, maybe ask next time you have a cocktail or coffee. “Hey, what is it like being here as a woman? Do you feel supported?” You’d be surprised what you’ll hear. When you hear that coming from someone you know, or love, your family, your wife, your spouse, otherwise, it’s going to hit you right in the chest, that “Good grief, I do need to stand up and speak up!” So I think that helped, understanding from someone in their network. That was one of the bingo pieces. It was pragmatic, and we always got a tonne of positive feedback. “I learned this, I learned that. I shared it with a friend, I shared it with a co-worker.” Again, that was starting that flywheel. 


Once we got over that piece, the other key, I talked about this earlier was, at some point, a lot of times you get into the ERG space, it’s like, who’s your executive sponsor? When I started at AWS, that was one of the first things I wanted to get, I need an executive sponsor. The Women at AWS organization was like, timeout! You’re just figuring out what you are. You’re going to go to an exec and say I want you to come do this, but not able to explain what it is or how you’re doing it or what you’re doing. So I would caution those of trying to go get an executive sponsor right out of the gate. It is an important process in the journey of building an allyship program. But It’s not necessarily something you need to do right out of the gate. 


However, as I explained earlier, being able to garner some exec somewhere somehow, that is impassioned about DEI and allyship, women in the workplace, whatever the case may be, definitely take advantage of them. “Hey, could I have you come and speak at a panel? Could I have you do a fireside chat? Could I get five or 10 minutes on your all-hands call? Take that political capital or that interest or passion they have, and turn it into a win for your allyship program. I shared how it worked at AWS. Most recently at Nutanix, we also did the same thing. We had our CMO, we had our SE leader, and we also had another woman in the organization speak about their successes and failures and tribulations. Because what happens there is people show up because of who was on the call. So when Taylor Swift comes to town, everybody goes, that’s just how it works. Two, when they hear those leaders being vulnerable of what they’ve learned from a man, maybe what they hadn’t done in the past or what they’d learned through their journey. From executives that you typically don’t hear from saying, “Hey, one year ago, five years ago, 10 years ago, I was in a meeting.” I’ve heard your story a number of times, Melinda. People go, holy cows, that happened to that person? Look how successful they are, and they’ve overcome, they’re able to explain it. All of a sudden, you tug at those heartstrings and people are like, “Wow, this is something I need to do.” 


So I don’t want to beat the drum too hard here. But you kind of see those pieces in play with the content, building some cadence of meetings, webinars for people to join and learn. Then also, grabbing those opportunities when they arise with execs that are happy to have you on their call, and then it starts to flywheel starts turning.


MELINDA: Fantastic. When you were talking earlier about the three women that you were mentoring, you actually you talked about three things in that. You talked about being their champion, you talked about mentoring, and you talked about sponsorship. Can you share how you think about those three different? Well, not necessarily different, but those three different concepts?


BRIAN: Yeah, I totally get it. So this is something that comes up pretty often, and depending who you ask, I’m sure my opinion or the other is different than yours or others. But I have some strong opinions about the difference between those. So I’ll start here. So mentorship to me is the blocking and tackling of your career. You reach out to someone you’ve worked with, typically a manager, maybe a leader, or someone that’s a veteran in the industry. “Hey, I’m looking for this job. Where do you think I should go? This happened at work, how would you handle it?” Blocking and tackling of mentoring, of working your way through your career; the do’s and don’ts, the how’s and why’s. That’s great, we all need mentors. 


Now, the 200 level, you move up to that sponsorship piece. For me, sponsorship is speaking about someone when they’re not in the room. “Hey, Jenny did a great job at that meeting last week. I know there’s a management position open, I think you should definitely put her in the mix.” Now I’m actually championing Jennifer for fhat open role, when she’s not in the room, for work that that leader may have seen or not seen or not heard of. It’s also not only speaking when they’re not in the room, but sponsoring them in their career, opening the doors. “Hey, you should talk to so and so. There’s this industry conference going on, have you ever thought of going there? You should actually talk to Jenny and John when you get there, good friends of mine. Let me make sure I connect you with them.” That’s the sponsorship piece. That’s actually helping them along, and actually taking action to make that happen. That doesn’t happen by just, “Hey, you need to probably get a job here, talk to so and so. I’ll send an email, maybe sort of.” That’s more the mentorship piece, the sponsorship is actually doing those things and opening those doors for them. 


So championing for me is, I really think it’s what I do. So again, it’s not about me, but of standing up and speaking up and championing women in those rooms and not in the room. I’ll give an example. When I’m out at the happy hours or the conferences, or the hotel lobby bar, or the elevator, and someone I know or don’t know, says something off color, about a woman or about a minority, I have no problem standing up and speaking up and saying, “Hey, we don’t say stuff like that anymore. We don’t talk like that anymore. We need to do better.” You can probably hear the calling out versus the calling in there, because I am passionate about it, and it does frustrate me from time to time. As my wife would always say, “Brian, it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it, and I continue to work on that journey.” 


But yeah, for me championing is, when those opportunities arise, is standing up and speaking up and breaking those biases. I gave the example earlier, but this still happens today. You’re having a cocktail, you’re with a group, and all of a sudden someone’s like, “Hey, Jenny, who’s watching the kids while you’re off at at this meeting?” Simply what typically my response is, “Hey, John, that’s a great question. You’ve never asked me who takes care of my kids when I’m out at these meetings.” Typically, that’s usually enough. Again, I would probably soften a little bit more than that, but I want to be succinct. They’re like, oh! You kind of see the light bulb go on, like maybe that wasn’t appropriate. Or, on the flip side, next time I see John for coffee next day, you’re like, “Hey, just so you know, when you ask people that, you’re minimizing their career, you’re minimizing why they’re there; you’re minimizing them as a person, that they’re only a mom and can’t be a successful businesswoman, as well as a fantastic mother.” When you kind of articulate it that way, that for me is the championing piece. That these things need to be called out and brought into the light and have people start to understand that the things we say and the things we do and the biases we have, consciously or unconsciously, can hurt or help people, and we want to help people.


MELINDA: Love it! Now, did you learn all this, and did you learn how to be a better ally?


BRIAN: I would probably start that my whole life, I’ve just kind of had a high emotional IQ. I feel like I’m good at reading people in the room and what people are looking to hear or looking to see or how they feel, just by their body language, and how they fidget with something. You can just tell when someone’s uncomfortable or they feel like they’ve been slated. I’ve always just had a high emotional IQ for things like that. So I feel like some of it is just internal Brian. 


But on the flip side of the coin, yeah. It’s reading a lot of articles. It’s going to conferences. For me, I reach out to my network. So my mentors when it comes to allyship, I have had the luxury and opportunity to work with a lot of fantastic women in tech, and I’ll reach out from time to time. I have friends that are VPs and individual contributors and everything in between. “Hey, how’s it going? What’s going on? What has happened recently? Here’s something I ran into, does it still happen?” Yeah, it still does, and they give me an example, and I put that in my bucket. “Hey, I just spoke to someone in the industry that this happened to them last week.” So to me, the biggest thing is hearing other people’s experiences and how they navigated that. They had an ally that spoke up, and I can use that example or as a learning opportunity. Or someone didn’t speak up for me here, Brian, and it would have been great if someone would have done this. Then having a dialogue about that. A dialogue about that, “Hey, here’s maybe what I would have done.” Maybe my mentor says, “Hey, you know what, that’s great. But here’s what I would really like.” It’s important to understand that in this journey, it’s not a one size fits all. Everybody’s different. Captain Obvious, right? But asking someone what they need. 


I make it sound like every time I hear something, I jump in with my Superman cape. I will tell you that most women aren’t looking for men to show up with their Superman cape and fix it. They are looking for someone to listen, learn, and help them along the way. It isn’t Mr. Fixit, Mr. Superhero. So be mindful of that, that although you want to do well, you also may be stepping on their toes at the same time. So sometimes I’ll just slack someone. “Hey, do you need me to jump in here and help?” They’re like, “Oh no, I got it.” Perfect. But again, it’s about earning that trust and making that relationship, so that you are speaking up at the right times and asking where the help is needed. I know I’ve kind of diverged a little bit there. But I think that’s an important piece to cover. 


MELINDA: Yeah, agreed. Any mistakes or learnings that you can share, either about your own allyship journey or the program’s? I think a lot of folks would be interested in what you’ve learned, that didn’t work too?


BRIAN: I talked about the executive sponsor, you don’t necessarily need one out of the gate. So I pushed hard for that, and I’m glad I didn’t, because we just weren’t ready. So that was a big learning opportunity. I talked about my most recent experience, where I’m trying to find the right words, demonstrate is not the right way, maybe a little too passionate out of the gate at my most recent employer. Again, it didn’t prevent me from success, and things were still good, and I was still doing great things, and people appreciated that. But there were times when I got feedback like, “All right, maybe a little softer next time when you’re talking to the brass about some of these things.” So that’s one thing I’ve learned. 


Then lastly, I started with this, and I’ll just end with this. When in doubt, just do something. I’ve talked about organizations that have all this stuff on the runway, and they just won’t put the coals to the fire and take the airplane off the runway. Just do it. Go try it. See what works. See what didn’t. But if you build all this in a vacuum, and you have all this great content, but you’re not sharing it with anybody, it doesn’t do anyone any good. So just go. Ask, reach out to these ERGs. Show up to a women’s call. So the Women at AWS, show up and just listen to what they’re talking about. It doesn’t have to be International Women’s Day for it to be important. They probably have a monthly or quarterly or whatever call, show up and just learn what they’re talking about. 


So those are my main three things. One, when in doubt, do something. Stand up, speak up, go to an event, learn, listen. Two, make sure you’re doing it the right way by calling in, not calling out. Soften your approach, you’re going to catch more bees with honey always. Lastly, find those champions at the executive level that will support your cause and champion that as an organization. Because you may be one or two or three people that are trying to get this thing off the ground, and at some point, you’re going to need some horsepower to get more people on your side, money, time commitment, to get the opportunity to speak to the organization, and have it become part of the culture. The ultimate goal for me is to have allyship be a part of the culture. That yes, we have women in tech, and yes, we have the Black employee network. We have these five or seven or 10 rigid ERGs. But allyship spans all of them horizontally; all of us need allies. That’s where I start my talk always, because I can’t mention every underrepresented group. I try to be clear that my passion is around male allyship for women. But we all need allies for everyone. 


MELINDA: I love it! How do you measure success of an allyship program? How do you think about success there?


BRIAN: There were a couple of ways we did that. For anybody on the call that’s familiar with AWS, they are a data-oriented company. So we’d had to have metrics to prove our worth, whether it was the number of bingo cards that were submitted, the number of badges that we sent out, those phone tool icons. How many people joined our events? How many people were on our mailing list? Those were all metrics that we tried to go with. It’s hard. I can’t all of a sudden say, “Hey, the culture has shifted 72% for allyship.” It doesn’t work that way. Especially in today’s world, where getting data about retention and diversity numbers from HR is really private, rightly so. It’s PII, it’s private information. So it’s hard to get some of that data to be concrete that we’re making a difference on retention of women and promotion of women and so forth. But those things that I shared with: how many people are showing up, who’s doing the bingo card, how many calls have we had, how many people attended those calls, who was on the mailing list, what does the Slack interaction look like? Those are things that I’ve used to metric how successful we’ve been.


MELINDA: Fantastic. Anything that we didn’t touch on, that you think is really important to cover on this topic?


BRIAN: I just want to thank you. This is so much fun. I’ve watched so many of your podcasts. I was telling my wife this morning, I’m so excited to be on Melinda’s podcast today, and being part of this. I love the work you do, and your surveys and so forth, it’s just fantastic. The data behind right, the why, the wisdom that we talked about just a little bit ago. I know you’re working on launching something really cool soon, I don’t want to steal your thunder. But that’s going to be amazing. I’m just excited to continue this cause. Anything else? I’ll just double down one more time for the audience. When in doubt, do something stand up, speak up, learn, read, attend an event. Learn about how you can stand up and speak up for others.


MELINDA: Fantastic. Brian, where can people learn more about you or the IWL Program? Is it open to new members? Can people learn more about that?


BRIAN: Yeah, absolutely. Integrating Women Leaders, I believe It’s IWL.org. I’ll clarify that, we’ll make sure we put that in the notes at the podcast. On the flip side, you can find me on LinkedIn, I’ll share that. I think it’s just linkedin.com/BrianBoche. That’s my LinkedIn page. Otherwise, that’s probably the best way to get a hold of me is on LinkedIn. I’m with pretty active there with, again, to your point earlier, supporting you, and amplifying other voices and sharing things that I find, I think are relevant for people to learn about.


MELINDA: Fantastic. Thank you, Brian. Thanks for sharing your wisdom and your work in building allies. We get questions all the time. I get questions all the time about this, and I think you’ve shared some really tangible things that people can take away. The Do Something message is very clear throughout, that you don’t have to have all the answers. I think so often, that is the key blocker for folks wanting to do the work of building allies. You don’t have to have all the answers, just do something.


BRIAN: Absolutely. Well, again, thank you so much for having me. This has been wonderful, and I look forward to working with you more in the future.


MELINDA: Excellent. 


All right. Thanks, everybody. Please do take action, do something. If you’re on your own allyship journey, do something. If you’re working to build allies across your organization, you don’t have to have all the answers, do something and take that action. Thanks for listening and watching. 


Thank you for being part of our community. You’ll find the show notes and a transcript of this episode at ally.cc. There you can also sign up for our weekly newsletter with additional tips. This show is produced by Empovia, a trusted learning and development partner, offering training, coaching, and a new e-learning platform, with on-demand courses focused on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. You can learn more at Empovia.com. 


Allyship is empathy in action. So what action will you take today?