Reebok’s Matt O’Toole: Redefining Allyship to Advance the Workplace
Change doesn’t happen by accident.
If you believe in equality, you’re a feminist. But let’s take this further. If you believe in equal pay for equal work and equal chance for upward mobility, you are an ally. An ally is anyone who supports or empowers another person or group.
Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex, recently said at a speech given at the Government House in New Zealand that “feminism is about fairness.” That might be scary for some. For those of us unnerved by giving up privilege and being judged solely on merits. But there’s also opportunity, because fairness means that everyone has a seat at the table and we open ourselves up to new opinions, voices, and views. As an ally, you have to have strong, unwavering intent. Fairness and equality does not happen by accident.
At Reebok, we’ve built our foundation by focusing on the female consumer. Sixty percent of our company population is female, and that is the result of intentional focus.
As you move up the ranks of management, it is clear that we have made significant progress on the senior team.
The business impact of equality is also important; McKinsey’s 2018 report, “Delivering Through Diversity,” shows that gender diversity in management positions actually increases profitability – companies in the top 25th percentile for gender diversity on their executive teams were 21% more likely to experience above-average profits.
Change doesn’t happen by accident. It happens with intent.
Remember, you can do more than one thing
My mom taught me that your focus doesn’t have to be singular. She was an artist, raised five children, kept her career going, was socially engaged and an active volunteer. She first showed me that you can and should have an impact across multiple areas in your life.
“Our conversations will only become richer by having more diversity, varying experiences and fresh viewpoints.”
That lesson – that you can do more than one thing – applies to every area of life. That’s the beauty of allyship. For Reebok, it means that we can serve the female consumer without abandoning the needs of men. It means that we can actively pursue gender equality while putting even more focus on fighting for underrepresented groups. That’s progress!
Our conversations will only become richer by having more diversity, varying experiences and fresh viewpoints – which is difficult to accomplish when you have a group that’s too monolithic. And being an ally is a good start.
Be a truth teller
Michelle Obama is in the headlines at present following the release of her memoir, Becoming. One of the reasons it has resonated with so many is because Obama’s honesty about herself, her marriage and her path to having children is relatable to many. It’s refreshing.
She’s made it her purpose – her intent – to lift people up who might not otherwise feel they have opportunities. She talks about how if you don’t believe that you’re capable of doing something, it’s pretty much impossible to do it. I’m inspired by her.
It’s about identifying and calling out areas that need extra support or attention. I consider Michelle Obama to be a truth teller and sometimes it’s hard to speak the truth. She’s willing to tell the truth about what’s important to people across the country, no matter what your political bias might be.
Our truth at Reebok is that we’re making progress. We have groups like the Women’s Network. Our senior leadership team is the most diverse it has ever been. But if we are genuinely telling the truth, we can acknowledge that there’s still work to be done and that brings me back to the broader topic here, diversity. That doesn’t simply mean diversity in gender, race, ethnicity or nationality but diversity of thought and experience. Fairness, equality and diversity is about opening the aperture to become more accepting of different points of view.
It sounds so basic that everyone should be treated equally and fairly in the workplace. But we all have to be intentional. People still feel like this will happen naturally. We have to decide that that’s the outcome we want and then work towards it together.
We have to be purposeful in the way we create a fair recruiting pool for open positions, for example. There are other things we can all do, too. Diversify our circles and learn about different cultures, experiences and backgrounds. Build authentic relationships. It sounds so simple, but it’s intention that makes the difference.
I recently read this quote by Susan B. Anthony and I think it’s important for all of us to remember: “Forget conventionalisms; forget what the world thinks of you stepping out of your place; think your best thoughts, speak your best words, work your best works, looking to your own conscience for approval.”
People: this is a what a Servant Leader Ally looks like.