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Being an ally means consistently acting to support people from marginalised or under-represented groups and working to build a more inclusive working environment.
Allyship is an opportunity for us to have a greater understanding of our society and how other people experience it, allowing us to develop greater compassion and empathy in tandem.
Why we need allies
Allies are needed to support minority groups and amplify their voices and experiences.
The more voices amplifying these experiences and issues, the greater pressure felt by others to get involved and address them. Numbers are necessary for positive change to take place.
Allies often have the advantage of acting from a position of privilege. This privilege is not that of their job title, but the fact that they are not directly affected by the challenge their allyship seek to tackle.
For example, in the case of race, the privilege of the ally is that they're white. In the case of gender, it will be that they are a man.
Privilege is the innate advantage some people have within society based on their experience or characteristic. People have privilege in varying degrees dependent on a number of variables.
The term does not discount the challenges people have faced but describes the reality that, although all people can have similar negative and disadvantageous experiences, some people will not suffer the biases of their characteristic or class in addition.
Privilege is an important aspect to allyship and the disparity it creates throughout society is one of the primary reasons allies are so necessary
Allies acknowledge their privilege and how they benefit from it. This is a positive thing and necessary for valuable and committed allyship.
We need this recognition to dismantle the inequality that privilege perpetuates.
How to be an ally
Anyone can be an ally and demonstrate allyship in a variety of ways.
Some organisations have encouraged allies dedicated to particular strands, for example race and LGBT+, which helps ensure tailored support, knowledge and activity.
Being an ally is ultimately about taking accountability for your own actions, words and behaviours in support of diverse and marginalised individuals.
Use the resources you have available to you, including your privilege, to make a difference whilst listening to others, making them feel heard and valued.
Your role as an ally should include:
- educating yourself on the inequalities and obstacles faced by minority communities
- listening without judgement to perspectives and experiences, ensuring people feel heard
- actively advocating for change for marginalised groups within your workplace, and society
- sharing development opportunities with others and/or creating these opportunities, for example mentoring colleagues
- reflecting on your biases and how they influence you negatively – recognise which stereotypes you hold, how affected your team is by group biases and participate in undoing these
- questioning decisions and behaviours which exclude people or promote discrimination or stereotypes, for example, a lack of diversity in your team or organisation
- calling out covert and overt discrimination
- offering the advantages of your privilege to others
- accepting and owning your mistakes and learning from them
- have open conversations and ask how you can be an effective ally
Organisational allyship and inclusion
While being an ally is the responsibility of an individual, it's important that employers recognise they also have a role to play in allyship.
Encouraging staff to be allies and facilitating this role by providing resources and guidance to do it effectively, is vital.
To allow for the most success with an ally initiative, it’s important they have a presence within every team in your organisation and at varying levels of seniority, weaving inclusion into your organisation in a visible way across the entire business.
Inclusion tips for organisations
Move away from gendered language, outdated greetings, phrases and expressions and instead educate and welcome staff in using more modern, inclusive language.
For example, encouraging staff to include their pronouns in their email signature is a simple way to promote allyship to the transgender, non-binary and gender fluid communities, show external clients and colleagues that you are committed to inclusion, and promote further exploration into more inclusive language.
Make it clear that discrimination is unacceptable
Ensure your stance on inappropriate or discriminatory behaviour is clear and employees know where to go, and what to do, if they're the victim of bullying, harassment or discrimination.
HR policies and procedures around discrimination should be robust, representative of all protected characteristics and easily accessible.
You may also consider implementing a guardians initiative, giving staff another option for support and guidance if they've been victim to discrimination.
Foster a 'speak up' culture
Psychological safety is having the confidence to question, contribute and share ideas within a team or organisation because you feel accepted and respected.
It's an essential pre-requisite for creating an open and innovative culture. This takes a long time to embed with an organisation but comes with a number of benefits.
Suggestions on getting started include inviting colleagues to ask questions and give feedback and thanking them when they do, making sure everyone has the space and time to speak, like during a meeting, and leading by example, avoiding unnecessary criticism or slights when people do.
Involve everyone in diversity and inclusion
It’s important that all employees are involved and aware of the ways your organisation is trying to advance and contribute to equality.
Diversity within an organisation is a wonderful resource for building a robust diversity and inclusion (D&I) agenda. It would be of great benefit to include your employees in the design of your agenda and ask for feedback throughout its creation.
Alongside this, be aware of how many internal initiatives fall to the responsibility of minority groups.
Internal D&I activities should be assigned to staff of all levels, across the entire business, to ensure everyone has an understanding of diversity and inclusion issues.