Understanding allyship: the shared pathway to cultural change

Staff wanting an inclusive and supportive workplace need to actively embrace and encourage allyship, says Talking Talent

Diversity and Inclusion across the workplace are powered by people. For staff who care about creating an inclusive and supportive environment at the company they work, open, encouraged allyship is an essential practice.

Business leaders have a responsibility to utilise their own social capital to advocate for others and encourage teams to do so.

The ongoing COVID-19 crisis has highlighted inequalities across society and has notably had a disproportionate effect on certain populations, including women, ethnic minorities, working parents and young employees.

So, even though D&I may have fallen off, or to the bottom of, the business agenda, businesses simply cannot be complacent about their importance. After all, the companies that fail to build inclusive organisational cultures and foster inclusive leadership capabilities will continue to struggle in this climate and longer-term.

Diversity needs inclusion, and to establish both, you need advocates, you need ambassadors, and you need alliances. By doing so, you enable your staff and, in turn, drive forward embedded inclusion where diversity flourishes.

Establishing allyship

Allyship is the continuous process in which someone with more privilege and power in the workplace uses their position to empathise and support those in a more marginalised group. It is about building relationships of trust, consistency and accountability, and having the confidence to stand up and speak out against discrimination and inappropriate statements.

As with inclusivity, allyship spans all levels of a business. One of the most interesting parts of allyship is that there’s not really a concrete definition or set process; allyship can be unique to each business, reflective of their unique teams.

The first step towards allyship may involve some difficult conversations to ask staff to understand their own privileges. What’s really important is to take a step back and listen, hear and learn about others’ experiences that might be different from yours.

Allyship is all about action. It is not enough to claim to be an ally then sit back and do nothing. It’s all about what you’re doing as an individual to drive transformative change. For those driving forward allyship, you should be thinking about empowering all groups and cultivating a ‘culture of belonging’. Leaders should set the example and not be passive observers but instead have a responsibility to stand up for inclusion and represent the beliefs of an inclusive business.

Allyship in practice encompasses a range of actions, as lifting others by advocating, sharing growth opportunities, not viewing frustration venting as a personal attack and recognising micro-aggressions and prejudices. Most importantly, it involves listening, self-reflection and change.

Measuring allyship

Measuring allyship can be difficult as the concept of ‘successful’ allyship is a moving target. When you are first encouraging allyship, remember – the goal is not perfection. In fact, the initial expectation should be imperfection. Allyship expects open conversations between social groups with learning as the goal. Of course, this can be difficult, especially for leaders who are put on a pedestal but leading by example in your imperfections can be very impactful, as long as you back this up with a commitment to learning. Allyship is a journey; you can’t skip to the end.

What really makes allyship a strong process is the fact that it is personal. Every individual has unique experiences in life and views the world in different ways. Combining these experiences and perceptions gives us a better chance of creating an inclusive culture for all.

It’s also about acknowledging and understanding your colleagues’ intersectionality. First coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw, a black feminist scholar, intersectionality refers to how our identities are shaped by the intersections between multiple characteristics, such as gender, race, ethnicity, economic status, and sexual orientation. Each of these aspects could cause varying degrees of discrimination within an individual’s life. Being an ally means recognising and respecting this diversity – and this is what will drive real change within business cultures.

This means that allyship measurement in business is an ongoing process. Questions such as ‘do you feel supported to raise issues?’, ‘do you feel safe to speak up?’ and ‘do you feel supported by your colleagues?’ are good tools and should be asked across the business. These answers will offer so much direction to your allyship education. For example, if people don’t feel safe, you need to get to the bottom of why and change it. From here, you can implement the learnings across the board, from leadership training to HR to graduate onboarding; it’s a collaborative process.

The importance of allyship

If adopted correctly, allyship strategies can help create that diverse and inclusive environment where everyone feels safe and supported. It has never been so important for people to feel championed and cared for by their employer – and the last thing companies need is for their workers to lose faith in them and jump ship in search of better support.

By Chris Parke, CEO of Talking Talent

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