Diverse team working together

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ost of us consider ourselves to be allies to an extent — we wear rainbow pins during pride and repost important information about Black Lives Matter during protests. We think that we are not racist, sexist or homophobic, and since we have friends with immigrant backgrounds, we are inclusive and open minded. But allyship is a lot more than that — it’s not an identity, or a passive state of being. Allyship is action, and a very conscious choice of picking a side.

Per definition, allyship means supporting an underprivileged, marginalized or discriminated group without being part of said group. This means that, for example, men can be allies to women, white people can be allies to people of color, or cisgender people can be allies to transgender people. It doesn’t mean that we can identify with the struggles that others are going through, or know how they feel, but we recognize the systemic and structural struggles they face, and choose to take their side.

Allyship is a key element to inclusion at a workplace. This means that to feel included, we need to feel that there are people who not only acknowledge the systemic issues and discrimination we might face, but also actively advocate for our rights and equal opportunities and treatment. Allyship contributes to emotional and physical safety, which are considered to be major pillars in any DEI commitment. Psychological safety is seen as one of the major factors to allow groundbreaking behaviour — such as risk-taking and creativity. It also enables healthy feedback reception and discussion about errors and mistakes, thereby providing a better work performance without forgetting the generation of more innovative products in response to consumer demand.

To what extent we consider ourselves to be allies actually matters very little; it is up to the people we support to decide who is an ally, or whether or not they consider someone to be a real ally. Up to 82% of white men and 81% of white women consider themselves to be allies (LeanIn, 2020), but only 46% of Black women consider themselves to have strong allies at work. It means that almost half of Black women think that they are alone, without someone to support or stand up to them at the workplace. This shows how our perceptions of allyship, and the actual perceived support the marginalized or underrepresented group gets are mismatched. How can we improve at being allies and make our colleagues feel included and supported? We need to go from being passive bystanders to active allies.

A great way of being an ally is using your privileged position to promote and sponsor underrepresented colleagues. Promote their ideas, their work, and use your name to advocate forward their suggestions and endorse them for career opportunities. You can also recommend them for speaking opportunities, new projects and as company representatives to events and meetings. Take part in employee resource groups to drive forward a more inclusive agenda that revolves around multiculturality, rather than integrating people into a dominating culture. When mentoring people you are an ally to, mobilize a two-way mentoring relationship: learn from their experiences as an underrepresented individual, and ask for feedback specifically related to allyship and inclusion.

As mentioned, being an advocate is part of allyship. There are multiple ways and platforms for advocating; it can be as small as talking to your colleagues about the importance of right pronouns, or as big as driving for an organizational change. Make sure that you are working with the group you are advocating for, and proceed on their terms. This ensures that rather than taking space from them, you are advocating with them. Decentering yourself from a conversation might be challenging — we are used to taking every opportunity to speak for ourselves, and to make sure our voice gets heard. In becoming an ally, we need to learn to give space for others’ voices, which is often easier said than done. It can be done as easily as suggesting the person to speak for themselves in a meeting, rather than someone directing the question at you. It can also mean supporting their ideas, rather than going forward with your own. Allyship requires a lot of self-reflection and straight up selflessness, and we are not saying it is easy!

 

Use your privilege to speak up. When you face racism, whether it is direct and explicit or implicit microaggressions and bias. The discomfort you face is not comparable to the discrimination marginalized people face each day. Speaking up can also include taking up events and tragedies that have taken place in the society, such as police brutality and hate crimes, with your privileged colleagues and friends. Ask for their opinions, and if needed, educate them about how systemic discrimination and history affects how we see these events and phenomena. Again, it is important not to ask people from underrepresented groups to educate you on these topics. There are many resources for this online or elsewhere.

 

Use your privilege to speak up. When you face racism, whether it is direct and explicit or implicit microaggressions and bias. The discomfort you face is not comparable to the discrimination marginalized people face each day. Speaking up can also include taking up events and tragedies that have taken place in the society, such as police brutality and hate crimes, with your privileged colleagues and friends. Ask for their opinions, and if needed, educate them about how systemic discrimination and history affects how we see these events and phenomena. Again, it is important not to ask people from underrepresented groups to educate you on these topics. There are many resources for this online or elsewhere.

 

Use your privilege to speak up. When you face racism, whether it is direct and explicit or implicit microaggressions and bias. The discomfort you face is not comparable to the discrimination marginalized people face each day. Speaking up can also include taking up events and tragedies that have taken place in the society, such as police brutality and hate crimes, with your privileged colleagues and friends. Ask for their opinions, and if needed, educate them about how systemic discrimination and history affects how we see these events and phenomena. Again, it is important not to ask people from underrepresented groups to educate you on these topics. There are many resources for this online or elsewhere.

 

If you are not a part of a marginalized or underrepresented group, it is safer for you to speak up than from people from these groups. This privilege means that if you speak up about racism at the office, or question existing policies, you are less likely to get repercussions from it. When speaking up about racism, only 10% of white men and women had any negative consequences, while 36% of Black women experienced some kind of retaliation from this, such as being fired or being excluded from future meetings.

It is easy to fall into the “savourism” trap because of allyship trending as a phenomenon or to soothe one’s bad conscience. Allyship is about stepping down to give space for others to speak up; it is not the meaning of allies to speak instead of the marginalized groups, but for them. Allyship is a key towards unity; not the passive, tokenistic allyship, but the kind that is founded on understanding, empathy and mutual goals, which in this case are equity, representation and inclusion. There is no other kind of allyship than active allyship. You need to be actively anti-racist, rather than “non-racist” or a passive bystander.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dolores Crazover is the founder and CEO of DEI & You Consulting.

She has a passion for microbiology and is on a mission to complete a Rubik’s Cube within four years.

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