Allyship: An Important Part of the Inclusion, Equity, and Diversity Conversation
The global pandemic has challenged us in many ways and reshaped how we live and work. Even as COVID-19 cases surge in Florida and across the country, many are returning to the office in some fashion. While we exchange pajamas and comfortable leisurewear for business attire (at least perhaps a few times a week), we can leverage lessons learned from our long-term remote experience and the coinciding social justice initiatives and embrace the opportunity to refocus on inclusion, equity, and diversity, in an authentic way. A key component to meaningful behavioral change in this regard is allyship.
What is an ally?
The term allyship has a variety of meanings and can often be misused or misunderstood. The term can also be charged or triggering for those who have been subjected to racism, oppression, and discrimination, so informed action is important for those who strive to be allies. At bottom, an ally is someone who is not a member of an underrepresented group, who is active and purposeful in supporting, promoting, and advancing real change to a marginalized group through a focus on inclusion, equity, and diversity. We often think of this in terms of color – a white man being an ally of people of color, but it is intersectional and involves multiple categories – able-bodied people being allies for those of differing abilities or cisgender and heterosexual people being allies for the LGBTQIA+ community. Notably, being an effective ally does not mean one understands what it feels like to be a part of an underrepresented group, only that the ally is willing to support those individuals and provide opportunities for meaningful change.
How do you become an effective ally?
Fostering an inclusive, equitable, and diverse workplace through allyship is a lifelong, imperfect journey starting with active listening, research, and education. Allyship is not about the ally. Instead, the ally must listen to those who have been marginalized with the intent of debiasing their own world. What are your underrepresented colleagues and employees saying, what do their words mean, where are those words coming from, what do they need and want in terms of work, career paths, personal lives? As an ally, listening to different or new perspectives is an essential first step in creating effective initiatives. Researching past historical events, following current events, joining social justice groups, and learning the best ways to communicate with and engage others creates a solid foundation for these conversations. This also provides context to colleagues in the workplace as each of us experiences life differently.
Along with having these conscious conversations, the ally must get involved and cannot turn a blind eye to the experiences of underrepresented groups. Now is the time to act, and this action can take on several forms. For example, begin dialogues with your family, friends, and other coworkers regarding what you are learning and doing. If a family member or friend says something ignorant or hateful, do not let it slide. Speak up. If you see a problematic behavior happening to someone, show support and, with the person’s permission, intervene. Ultimately, focus on support of the person rather than confronting the aggressor. But, if you can intervene safely and in a productive way, stand up. Talk to the aggressor in a productive way that could lead to positive change. Other options for allies to get involved are attending events and following underrepresented groups on social media platforms, which not only broadens your perspective but extends the group’s reach.
Those in supervisory or management positions have a unique platform to speak up, show up, practice amplification, and transfer the benefit in the workplace. Through this process many people will look through someone else’s eyes for the very first time, and it will be humbling. Allies may make mistakes and, if there is a misstep in something said or done, an effective ally should genuinely apologize in a timely manner at the right moment for the person receiving it, with no defenses or pretenses. But allies should not simply apologize for the sake of apologizing. There must be a willingness to address the underlying behavior to avoid those missteps in the future and truly change any offensive behavior. We may do or say the wrong thing, but we must all be patient and not let that end the conversation about racism, gender equality, sexual orientation, and discrimination, our roles in it, and how we will change the outcome to dismantle oppression.
How do you implement allyship in the workplace?
Never has it been more important than now to follow through with effective allyship. And, there are several ways to stay engaged in the workplace. Many companies train on diversity, equity, and inclusion, and unconscious or implicit bias. However, employers should invest in ongoing coaching and guidance as not all leaders have been part of an inclusive leadership team and may not know how to model one, put one together, or lead one. Companies should also cultivate leaders who value inclusion and whose leadership skills embrace service and collaboration. While this usually occurs from the top down, this leadership model can be employed in smaller work groups by encouraging diverse talent within a team, assigning work consistently, and having all team members interact with clients and customers, so everyone has an active voice.
Another opportunity to foster allyship in the workplace is to practice amplification. Don’t take credit where credit is not due. Instead, allies should use their places of privilege to lift someone whose voice has been silenced or who has not yet learned or had the opportunity to use it. For example, in a meeting when someone offers an idea you believe in, but is not recognized, raise your hand, acknowledge the person by name and repeat the idea or statement and support it with your validation. Also, those with a seat at the table can also start recommending other qualified diverse individuals take their place or be considered for visible or key positions within their organization.
Fostering a safe environment where people feel empowered to change, as necessary, and others are comfortable being their true authentic selves is critical. Having strong allies in the workplace allows employees to bring their entire selves to work and feel comfortable with who they are. The ability to be authentic in the workplace leads to a culture of trust and compassion. This work environment in turn creates happy employees with increased productivity. Many opportunities exist in the workplace to listen, learn, and act as allies to foster inclusion, equity, and diversity, and we are all the better for it.