The backstory of my great allies


Last week I shared the post on the actions ALLIES take. While I’ve talked about the growing need to build more allies in our industry, many do already exist – and their behaviors are something we can all learn from. For instance, 15 years ago when I made the bold move at Microsoft to move out of licensing sales leadership and into product management, there were many people who told me flat out that I would fail. This advice did not inspire confidence but it did inspire me to prove them wrong so I took the decision to make the move anyways. Knowing that this would be a tough road, I asked a leader in the engineering team, Brad Anderson (now President of Products and Services at Qualtrics), to help me learn how to speak to engineers and provide value back into his organization. Though I did not know it at the time, I was building an ally. 

Brad subsequently advocated on my behalf in many ways, most notably by introducing me to his team members, sharing my objectives and as a result, providing a level of credibility to me that enabled me to lead some extraordinary efforts with his team and at Microsoft.  At the time, I don’t know that Brad even understood the impact of his allyship and the actions that he took but he has learned from his experiences with me and other individuals that he has chosen to support how to work with even more intentionality to be an ally.  You can hear the full story here ALLIES – Gavriella Schuster #beCOME an Ally Power Panel with Gavriella Schuster – YouTube

We all seek to be heard and be seen. Allies give you the space for both, by including you in the conversation and valuing your contributions.

Having the support of ALLIES does not guarantee that your own career trajectory will accelerate at the same pace as these women, but it will empower you to find the courage and confidence within yourself to unlock your full potential.  You may be surprised at how far you will go when you believe in yourself and give yourself permission to go bigger and lead.

Play Video about Gavriella Schuster and Brad Anderson WIC Inspire



Have you ever been in a meeting where someone turns to you and asks you to take notes on the conversation?  If you are a woman, I bet this has happened to you more times than you can count.  This is one of those unconscious bias’ that seems to have persisted through the decades.  What make a woman more capable of taking notes than a man?  Nothing. 

If you are a man in the room and you observe this interaction, if you step in and offer to take notes, challenge the person handing out that specific task on their process of selection or come up with a neutral approach to selecting the daily note taker, then I would call you an advocate. 

When you are an ally and being an advocate, you work in the moment to observe behaviors that might either be excluding the minority representative in the room or singling them out. 

Very often when there is only “one of” a minority, a woman, a black, a native American, LGBTQ+ individual, etc, and there is some behavior directed towards that individual as consequence of their association with that group, the majority group will lean on that person to represent their group. An advocate, who is not also associated with that same group, will take intentional action in that moment to stand with the individual and or stand on behalf of the “group” so that the burden of representation does not unfairly fall onto the person who is a member of that group.


Tuning your sensitivity to when someone might either be excluded or singled out, takes practice. It also takes courage and intentionality.

Let me give you another example.  At the start of the meeting, very often there is chatter among participants.  That chatter can take the form of inclusive chatter that applies to everyone in the room or exclusive chatter that might be political or sports oriented or even child oriented that by the nature of the topic will exclude some participants in the room.  An advocate will take the action to notice those who are being excluded and will either work to shift the conversation to something more inclusive or point out, that the current discussion does not appear to be inclusive and suggest a new topic of discussion. 

This type of ally behavior is very subtle and can often go unnoticed by most of the people in the room.  Or sometimes this type of ally behavior can take a tremendous amount of courage on the part of the ally to speak up.  Either way, this behavior will always be noticed and appreciated by the individual who “in that moment” could use an ally. 

Tuning your sensitivity to when someone might either be excluded or singled out, takes practice.  It also takes courage and intentionality.  When an individual does work with intention to observe and act in this way routinely, it does get easier over time and mitigates that impact that these subtle and unconscious microaggressions can have on the minority representative – in my case, the only woman in the room.

I want to share the story about Melissa and Rune.  Melissa was a strong, competent leader in her field developing new and innovative ways to showcase how organizations could build profitable partnerships with Microsoft.  She was building content and concepts that could make meaningful impact on businesses and the CEOs that ran them.  But there were many times when Melissa was the only woman in the room, speaking and directing the conversation to a room full of male CEOs.  She would feel outnumbered and sometimes the responses would shake her confidence.  Rune was one of the CEOs in the room and an ally.  He practiced being an advocate.  He was attuned to look out for those microaggressions and moments when he could practice being an advocate.  I want to introduce you to both Melissa and Rune to share with you more about their story.

The many times that Rune acted as an advocate and ally to Melissa enabled them to form a strong working relationship.  Melissa is now the CEO of Crayon and Rune the co-founder has moved onto to focus on being the chairman of the board.  Thanks to the many years of allyship and sponsorship from Rune, and kudos to her leadership, Melissa is now successfully running and leading that organization onto transformation and innovation. 

Tell us, who are your allies?  What have they done to support you? 


Allies listen to learn.
Allies listen to learn.

As part of my series on ALLIES, today we are going to talk about the first L in ALLIES, Listening.  What does it really mean to listen as an ally?

I would like to introduce you to two people who will share their story with you about how listening made a huge difference in building that ALLYSHIP.  My esteemed colleague, Mitra Best, who is an entrepreneur, technologist, future-maker and innovation leader. As PwC’s Technology Impact Leader, Mitra leads the application of advanced technologies to address critical environmental and societal problems.  Mitra has held leadership positions in innovation and technology for the past two decades, responsible for creating new technology platforms and business models that deliver results to organizations, the ecosystem of stakeholders, and the workforce. She has successfully led large-scale initiatives in both private and public sectors focused on sustainable new growth and efficiency models through innovative applications of technology.    Today, Mitra will share her story of allyship and how it has made a difference in her experience at PwC.

I would also like to introduce you to her ally, Tim Ryan who is US Chairman and a Senior Partner at PwC. Previously he served as the Vice Chairman, having responsibility for the PwC’s strategy function and stakeholder relationships including investor relations, regulatory affairs, public policy, corporate responsibility, marketing and sales and human capital. Tim has over 25 years of diversified experience serving clients in the financial services industry in the U.S. and internationally.

Both of these individuals have led impressive businesses and hold executive roles at PwC.  But we are going to play Monday morning quarterback and take you back to a time in their history when they were just connecting and the road that was paved by Tim’s intention to become an ally for Mitra.

let’s first talk about Listening.  What does it mean to listen with intention and become an ally through that listening?  There are several elements that a great listener employs:

  1. They listen to learn. They don’t listen to respond or listen to solve, but they listen generously with honest intention and curiosity to hear what the other person has to say.
  2. They ask questions – not to challenge the credibility of what that other person has to say, but to better understand their perspective
  3. Genuine listening requires focus, sincerity, empathy, a refusal to interrupt and a genuine value for the other person’s experience
  4. It means you quiet the other “chatter” in your head and become fully present for the other person
  5. It means you “check in” to ensure you have clarity and understanding of what they are saying
  6. It means you convey appreciation, interest and empathy for the other person’s perspective

Listening requires energy.  It is a valuable and intentional act.  When you genuinely listen to another person without trying to “solve” their problems but just to hear them, you build trust, respect and allyship.

In Mitra’s case, she says: “A male senior leader who “saw” me and the value I could bring as a software engineer to an accounting/business consulting firm, advocated for me with our Board and sponsored me to become the first-ever partner at PwC in a purely technology role, setting a precedent in the firm’s partner admission process and helping me crack a glass ceiling at the same time. “

When Mitra talks about “being seen”, she is talking about “being heard”.  To quote @Tarana Burke “we can’t see people if we don’t hear them”  –  when you don’t hear someone they become invisible.”