Allyship can take you on an eye-opening journey – and change the world. Image: Daniel James/Unsplash
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• Being an ally to under-represented minorities can effect powerful, lasting change.
• Allyship means going beyond passive support.
• Larger networks of allies can bring about meaningful change.
Events in recent months have shone a light on the bias and discrimination that many under-represented groups still face in 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed persisting – and sometimes growing – inequalities in our society. The weeks since the killing of George Floyd have continued to highlight the ongoing role racial discrimination still plays in our society. And as we celebrated Pride’s 50th anniversary in June, we were once again reminded that much work remains to be done to secure equal rights for LGBT+ people around the world.
All this leads many of us to wonder just how we can support those around us who are still experiencing discrimination, and how we can play our part in bringing about long-overdue change.
From my experience as a talent leader and in my personal life, the most powerful way we can do this is by being allies to under-represented minority friends and colleagues in our everyday actions.
Being an ally is a choice. It is about choosing to visibly and vocally stand up for the rights of others, call out bias and unacceptable behaviour, and use your voice to effect change. It goes far beyond expressing passive support; it is a long-term commitment to advocate for others.
I have been an ally in and outside of work for many years. It has been a journey of learning and growth, and has taught me so much – not only about others but about myself. Most of all, I have been amazed at the impact allyship can have on a personal and collective level.
Yes, there are times when I look back on a situation and think I could have dealt with it better. But each of those situations has helped me better understand what allyship means. Here’s what I’ve learned about being a strong ally:
It starts with listening. An ally takes time to listen to others to understand their unique life experiences, and try and “walk in their shoes”. It means being willing to challenge your own assumptions and to change your own behaviours. In my leadership roles at Deloitte, I have been privileged to work with a variety of colleagues whose honest insights and advice have helped make our talent processes more inclusive. Listening to members of our LGBT+ community, for example, has allowed me to understand their specific challenges in the workplace and make changes that could meaningfully foster LGBT+ inclusion. Allyship has taught me, time and time again, to listen to the perspectives of others and let them guide my choices and actions in promoting all aspects of diversity.
It takes you on an eye-opening journey. Being an ally makes you a more empathetic person. Allyship opens up conversations that can be heartening and moving, but also shocking. It teaches you to face up to unfairness and build resolve from those efforts. I have seen some of my LGBT+ colleagues being held back in their professional growth and personal well-being when they cannot be their true selves at work. But I have also seen people being out, proud and thriving. That, more than anything, is what motivates me to be an ally to under-represented minorities and to help people understand the importance of fully inclusive environments.
It can be uncomfortable. Allies need to be ready to step up and call out behaviours or misconceptions when they encounter them. This sometimes means challenging people who are close to us or more senior. It can be tough, but never as tough as it would be for those being treated unfairly. I have learned the importance of having these difficult conversations – but also that I shouldn’t presume that stepping in is always helpful. Sometimes, simply being someone to talk to is the best way to be an ally to a friend or colleague.
Allies are needed both for and within minorities. Allies give a voice and platform to those who don’t always feel they have one, and the growing focus on intersectionality highlights the need for allies both for and within under-represented communities. For example, many members of our LGBT+ network are active allies to our transgender or Black colleagues, having experienced the power of allyship first-hand. This results in an increasing diversity of allies inspiring others and leading by example, having learned from their own experience how to advocate for people facing different types of challenges and bias.
Allyship can create large-scale change. While allyship can be incredibly impactful on a personal level, its power also lies in the way it drives change in the workplace and broader society. Each new ally adds their voice and actions to a growing shift in mindset and behaviours, making it easier for more people to be themselves, access equal opportunities and thrive. I have always believed that all of us should and can play a role in bringing about meaningful change, starting with the workplace. This is why we are rolling out Ally programs throughout our global Deloitte network, and using reverse mentoring to educate our leaders on LGBT+ inclusion.
What is the Forum doing to boost inclusion for LGBTI people?
I am still learning on my allyship journey. But there are things I know for sure: being an ally is humbling, eye-opening and incredibly rewarding. I am a better person, and a better leader, for the relationships I have been lucky to build as an ally. Above all, allyship is incredibly powerful because it enables us all, through empathy and our willingness to listen and act, to drive real change.
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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.
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