Making Allyship more than a Buzzword
Updated: Feb 15
Last time, Liz wrote about showing up for yourself and others. This week, I am delighted to pick up the conversation about allyship as a guest blogger for Full Frame Coach.
What is Allyship?
Firstly, it's vital to answer this question. The concept of allyship has been talked about a lot since the June 2020 Black Lives Matter movement. Often thrown around by workplaces too. However, what does it actually mean?
I summarise it as follows:
Allyship is when someone who is a member of a majority group takes action to create a more equal environment in a personal or professional way for someone who is underrepresented or indeed misrepresented. This could be by shedding light on inequality, asking the questions no-one dares to, showing solidarity through actions and calling out negative behaviours no matter how small or large.
It's easier for people who have of systemic advantage (see image below) to be active allies to those with less access to power. For example, men speaking out against everyday patriarchy that is witnessed but also inbuilt into society. Non-disabled citizens considering access in its broadest sense from accessible lifts with wide turning circles, to website formats and closed captions on video calls etc for disabled friends and colleagues. White citizens understanding how they benefit from a world seen through a white lens, acknowledging discomfort and taking action at work in relation to talent management, for example.
I'm scared I will get it wrong
Now I have clarified how allyship can be summarised, you may think "ah, yes, I have been doing some of those things!". Great, if that's the case. Nevertheless, one of the elements that stops people being active allies is the fear of getting it wrong. While I understand this is overwhelming, unless we try and know that we may well slip-up nothing will move forward.
Making mistakes is human and a part of the process. Even as a professional in equality, diversity and inclusion I get it wrong. The key way to learn from mistakes is to have a conversation, understand, apologise if you need to and move on. Being too frightened and staying silent isn't the right way to go. Start by taking small steps and making allyship actions consistent.
What types of action could I and should I take?
Allyship actions may look and feel slightly different depending on the under or misrepresented group. Here are a number of things you can do courtesy of research by Salter, Nicholas & Migliaccio, Leslie. (2019) from their paper Allyship as a Diversity and Inclusion Tool in the Workplace.
1. The Advocate. This is about working to get others to shift and increase the effectiveness of equality, diversity and inclusion work as a whole. Essentially by using your power to help amplify the voices of others. Power isn't simply about hierarchy on an organisational chart, but power in terms of knowledge, access to internal and external networks and well as institutional knowledge.
2. The Scholar. This may feel most familiar as it is someone who actively seeks to learn, unlearn, and relearn what they know. It is about seeking to understand the experiences and challenges colleagues and friends have encountered to broaden your knowledge.
3. The Sponsor. Focused in a workplace context, this is someone who will use their internal political and social capital to move the careers of under or misrepresented groups forward. A good sponsor, for example, will speak about Global Majority/Black/diaspora staff positively behind closed doors. They provide visibility and endorsement of work that may go unseen and access to their networks.
4. The Upstander. This is someone who speaks out or intervenes on behalf and in support of someone when they see or hear something is wrong, no matter how small the act or word is perceived to be. You may also know this as an active bystander too. The model of the 4Ds is one way to do this.
5. The Champion. Similar to the sponsor, this is someone who helps provide opportunities and visibility for people who don’t usually receive it. The champion could help someone professionally or personally. Such as, recommending disabled staff for opportunities like speaking platforms, high-level projects and Boards. Another example is being very clear, that they won't be part of an all-white or male panel.
We can all be allies to different groups of people. To be an effective ally:
Don’t think you can’t do anything and it's not a one and done. It's consistent daily actions.
Don’t assume what people need and be prepared to have conversations about what would be helpful.
Remember plurality as there isn't a universal experience if you are Black, disabled, LGBTQ+, female etc.
Listen, listen and listen some more to be a true scholar-type ally.
Realise you will make mistakes, apologise if you need to and keep going.
You can’t unlearn any kind of privilege in 45 minutes, so commit time and energy everyday, just as you would to physical or mental wellbeing.
I hope you have found this useful. I wish you all the best on your allyship journeys and know you can be a force for change.
This guest blog was written by Leyla Okhai, CEO and Founder of Diverse Minds UK Ltd. A boutique consultancy focusing on mental health, wellbeing, race and culture. She is the host of the award-winning podcast The Diverse Minds Podcast. You can follow her on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. She loves hearing from readers and listeners so do send her a message on one of the platforms above.