Emily Ralph (2Y 2021) and Bri Leon (MMM 2021) share why allyship and empathy is critical in the fight for gender equity.

The Manbassador Challenge: Building Allyship Through Empathy  

By Emily Ralph (2Y 2021; Manbassador VP of Content) & Bri Leon (MMM, 2021; Manbassador Co-President) 

Last Friday marked the close of the first Manbassador Challenge, a two-week series of daily prompts and tasks inspired by and adapted from Lydia Marik’s Feminist Challenge. While open to individuals of all genders, the prompts and tasks were geared primarily towards cisgender men and were meant to encourage participants to build their own personal testimonies of awkwardness and inconvenience in an effort to better understand and empathize with aspects of life as a woman. No two women share the same experiences, of course, and the prompts and activities included in the challenge were certainly not representative of ALL women’s experiences. Our hope was that these challenges provided a sample of those experiences to help educate and empower men to be better allies, wherever they are on their allyship journey today. We also acknowledge that gender is not binary, and the challenge did not intend to represent all gender identities.  

Most of the challenges touched on aspects of life that women have long accepted as the status quo: paying more for pointlessly gendered items (particularly if they’re pink!), pressures and stereotypes around raising children, the inconvenience of name changes, safety concerns and necessary precautions when traveling alone, a lack of pockets, consent and giving women the benefit of the doubt, and many more. Some challenges took a lighter approach (i.e. carrying a tampon around all weekend without anyone seeing it), while others dug a bit deeper (watching and reading testimonies from sexual assault victims).  

Challenge participants reconciling the emotional and physical work it takes to take a spouse’s last name.
Challenge participant letting a female friend know he made it home safely at the end of the night.

One of the most rewarding parts of the challenge was watching all of the discussions and insights that were shared amongst our challenge participants. Not only did they embrace the daily tasks and prompts, but they also dug deeper into the topics and were not afraid to share their thoughts – not only with our team and with others participating in the challenge but also with their friends and significant others.  

Why are we doing a Manbassador Challenge?

At this point you might be wondering how two weeks of (sometimes silly) actions can help further gender equity. While these actions do not directly challenge the status quo, the empathy building mentioned above is integral to bringing men into discussions on gender equity and fighting gender fatigue 

Evidence overwhelmingly shows that organizations who incorporate men in gender inclusion programs are more likely to see progress. One reason for this success is that, by including men, these groups can reframe gender inequities as systemic issues that impact all of us. This erodes the idea that men do not need to be involved and begins to pull more men along on their allyship journey.  

The Manbassador Challenge allows us to engage the men at Kellogg and offer them a lowpressure opportunity to learn more gender equity and experience it firsthand. As Jennifer Brown has said, allyship is a continuum ranging from apathetic to aware to active. It is our goal to create as many active allies as possible, but we hope efforts like the Manbassador Challenge can help first make men aware of the numerous small issues that impact women on a daily basis. 

Who better to share about the impact of the Manbassador Challenge than participants themselves? Here are a few of our favorite stories, observations and reflections from participants:  

As noted earlier, one challenge prompted participants to carry a tampon around with them all weekend (without anyone seeing it!). This proved to be particularly difficult given that another challenge was to not use their shirt or pants pockets all week. One participant shared, I left [my tampon] out on the couch (because I didn’t have any pockets to put it in!), a friend thought it was hers and said, ‘That’s embarrassing.’ Then, I replied, ‘No, that’s embarrassing for me!’ ” 

When asked what the most surprising aspect of the challenge had been, one second-year student cited, “The amount of extra mental energy and effort it takes to complete these simple sounding tasks (like not walking home alone at night). It is not as easy as I thought. 

Reflecting on the most challenging part of the experience as a whole, a second-year MMM said, “Remembering to do these things and staying on top of it in general. He acknowledged that “the only items I was successful at were those that I basically set an alarm/reminder for. And also, the fact that it would get tiring over time. Like, I have work to do and I need to do all this on top of it? But obviously, that is the point to recognize that this is what life is like for women.”  

Similarly, a secondyear 2Y student  explained that “the minor inconvenience of each individual challenge seemed easy at the start, but as we have moved through the week and we are balancing multiple challenges at once, I’ve realized how all of these issues compound and become a constant to consider throughout the day. I have to check myself each time I feel the annoyance in my head when I run into another instance in my life where I need to follow the challenge guidelines, and remind myself that this is the entire point of the challenge!”    

In addition to awareness, the immersive nature of the Manbassador Challenge creates a much stronger emotional connection. Statistics, data and facts are all necessary components of educating allies, but facts alone are not enough of a catalyst to inspire action. One can easily see this in the persistence of gender inequity. Despite numerous studies showing companies with gender diverse leadership teams outperform their peers and the consensus that diversity is good for organizations, today only 8% of Fortune 500 companies are led by a woman, the US Congress hovers around 30% female, and glass ceilings around the world continue to hold strong. It is clear data alone is not enough. An emotional link pushes against gender (and data) fatigue and helps keep concepts of gender equity top of mind. Whenever a challenge participant now hears a quip about the size of women’s pockets, the difficulty in finding the correct foundation, or pejoratively saying people must be ‘putting makeup on’ if running late, they will be reminded of their own fleeting experience in a woman’s shoes and the large impact of these seemingly small annoyances.  

Creating more engaged & more empowered male allies

Our hope is that this experience will encourage and empower all Kellogg students, particularly the men who participated in this challenge, to more readily and more consistently take on the perspective of others. We believe it is critical to have support from both men and women in the fight for gender equity, and recognize the importance of creating a culture and creating spaces where open dialogue on these topics can be had. Just as the competition encouraged proactive participation, support amongst peers and accountability, we hope participants are able to incorporate those dimensions into their personal allyship journey.  

A new initiative at Kellogg this year, our hope is that future classes can carry on the tradition to create the culture we just described right here in our community. We also hope that the lessons and insights learned from this challenge can transcend the bounds of Kellogg to also equip and empower participants to tackle these topics in their personal lives and professional career.  

For those interested in continuing to learn about gender equity, Kellogg’s Full-Time Women’s Business Association and Manbassadors will be hosting Gender Equity Week this week (4/19-4/23). Keep an eye out for updates on future programming!