Allyship is one of the most critical aspects of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging work. Allyship is not only about people from one community supporting all others, it includes all intersectional communities becoming allies to one another as well. Through working with hundreds of global DEI leaders, Mathison has garnered years of research and data to help some of the most impactful leaders in the world make changes within their organizations.
What is an Ally?
Everyone has the ability to be an ally. For example, men can be allies to women. People who identify as straight can be allies to members of the LGBTQI+ community. Able-bodied people can be allies to those with disabilities. Economically privileged people can be allies to those who are not and so on.1
Talisa Lavarry, Keynote Speaker and Anti-Racism Coach, considers true allyship as opening doors for the marginalized that they cannot open themselves. Talisha has deep expertise in helping leaders navigate DEI challenges within organizations. In her TEDx Talk2 titled “Your Journey to True Allyship,” she shares a story about facing extreme inequities in previous roles. As Talisa mentions, as with much of the DEI work, one must pace themselves, arm themselves with knowledge and humility, and use their privilege for good.
Uplifting Team Members from Underrepresented Communities
There are key steps leaders can take when attempting to support team members from underrepresented groups. It is essential to be aware of your own biases and to recognize the privilege that comes with systemic power. It is also essential to listen to and accept feedback from those on the team who may have experienced discrimination or microaggressions. When employees provide feedback, clear communication about resolving the issue goes a long way to instill trust in employees. In addition, leaders can actively seek out and uplift the voices of underrepresented professionals, even if it means going against the majority opinion. 3
Use Resources to Support
Resources are essential to any growing team. Mathison has free DEI education and training4 content and leaders can schedule a call with us for more in-depth support. Mathison can also facilitate the training required to upskill your employees or help build additional programming to support their needs. That’s why high-growth companies like Bowery Farming5 chose to work with Mathison to develop their DEI strategy. We also created a free community for DEI practitioners, Gather, to connect people working in DEI with free resources.
Continued Allyship Practices
In certain moments allies should strive to move out of the way and ensure they are not taking up space that would otherwise be given to those they are trying to support. This includes speaking up in meetings or leading initiatives and ensuring that others have a chance to contribute as well. Allyship is an ongoing practice6, and it is essential that allies continue to learn, grow, and support their team in meaningful ways to create a truly inclusive environment.
Potential Challenges and Boundaries in Allyship
Some of the work in DEI can be uncomfortable and may force leaders to operate outside of their comfort zone. With that, mistakes are par for the course. But, the following list contains major challenges that leaders must be aware of as they navigate allyship with their employees.7
- Making commitments and not holding up their end of the bargain
- Avoiding tokenism and performative allyship
- Recognizing one's own biases and the impact they may have on one's allyship
- Understanding the lived experience of the marginalized community and the unique challenges they may face on a daily basis personally and professionally
- Finding ways to authentically connect with members of a marginalized community without exploiting or appropriating
- Being open to learning and growing as an ally, as the community's needs may change over time
Next Steps: Become an Actionable Ally
To be an ally, your words, intentions, and actions must be aligned. Words without actions can be detrimental and work against changing behaviors and outcomes in organizations. To be an actionable ally, leaders should consider6:
- Lifting others up by advocating – Leaders may notice only a select few voices being shared in important conversations. Considering other voices in the room could lead to fruitful insights.
- Using inclusive language – Words are powerful. That’s why the inclusive language in external and internal communication should be inclusive. Mathison has a bias scanner to help eliminate bias in the workplace
- Sharing growth opportunities with others – When leaders share aspects of their journey, it could help other employees model their behavior, making room for more authentic and impactful conversations.
- Not viewing venting as a personal attack – Grace and empathy are important in
- Recognizing systematic inequalities and realizing the impact of micro-aggressions
- Listening, supporting, self-reflect and change
- Becoming a sponsor – championing someone from an underrepresented community to support career growth and increase company retention. Being a sponsor is different from being a mentor – sponsoring is being actively involved in aiding someone’s career progression, and mentoring is providing advice.
- Calling out inappropriate behavior – People in privileged positions have the ability to call out unacceptable behavior towards underrepresented people and be heard.
- Tasking all employees with getting involved with diversity and inclusion-related tasks – embracing diversity & fostering an environment of inclusion is good for business. Everyone should be involved. Do not assign this daunting task to underrepresented people only.
- Following an array of voices – Learning and growth will not happen without being challenged. Follow different people and listen to them. Challenge yourself to cross-examine your bias after learning from different voices.
Like many aspects of DEI, being an ally can be challenging work, but it’s worth it. In addition to using the resources at your disposal, remember to be open to having more open conversations to help encourage personal and professional allyship amongst intersectional groups within your organization. At Mathison, we help people leaders and employees navigate topics such as allyship, unconscious bias, gender identity, inclusivity, and much more.
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- Ally definition, Merriam Webster, 2023
- Your journey to true allyship, Talisha Lavarry, Ted.com, 2021
- Masterclass, How to be a Better Ally, Underrepresentation: How to Support Underrepresented Groups, October 28, 2022
- Mathison, DEI education and training, Mathison, 2023
- Sowing Seeds of Inclusion: How Mathison's DEI Platform Transformed Bowery Farming’s Organization, Robert E. Woods III, Content Strategy Manager, Mathison, April 17, 2023
- USF Multicultural Center, Allyship
- Tsedale M. Melaku, Angie Beeman, David G. Smith, and W. Brad Johnson, Be a Better Ally, December 2020