The Effects of Allyship: 5 Ways You Can Be an Ally
An ally is someone who values belonging and inclusion and intentionally makes decisions to act and behave in ways that empower others, who isn’t afraid to lean into discomfort and uses their privilege to help others. Like any relationship, trust is crucial – it takes consistent action and behaviors of integrity and reliability over time.
I identify as a woman, a person of color, and a first-generation American. As I’ve become more experienced, I’ve proactively sought mentorship and in recent years had the privilege of having colleagues and leaders serve as sponsors for me, sharing advice and insights as I navigate through my career.
It made me think, though, how much that support and allyship was missing in the early years of my career and how different my experiences would have been if I had more options of leaders I resonated with and could relate to. Working in Finance in the early stage of my career, there weren’t many women, specifically women of color, in leadership positions that I could look up to. I finally felt a sense of belonging and connection in the workplace when I had the opportunity to connect with leaders from underrepresented backgrounds.
Brian and I first met in 2020, partnering on a consulting project. Working together meant learning how each of our minds work and determining the best ways to collaborate. Given the differences in our personal and professional experiences, working styles, and personalities, our approach to the work and unique perspectives allowed us to bring much value to the project.
Similarly, as I read through Brian’s blog, 5 Ways You Can Activate Your Allyship, some thoughts came to mind on the effects of allyship based on my experiences. I offer my perspective below on the ways you can show up for others.
- Explore Content. Education is the foundation for being an effective ally to a person from a marginalized group. The first step is to build a level of awareness of the experience of others through reading books and articles, listening to podcasts, getting to know colleagues, watching TED Talks, movies, and TV shows, and observing the experience of underrepresented people in the workplace.
For example, suppose you’d like to learn more about supporting first-generation professionals in the workplace. In that case, this Harvard Business Review article provides helpful insights: “How Does Your Company Support ‘First-Generation Professionals’?”. In addition, deepening your understanding of systemic racism, the challenges people of color and first-generation Americans face, and how your behaviors could be perpetuating inequities will build awareness to help you make different choices and help others.
Other resources include:
- Be a Sponsor or Mentor. We all need mentorship and guidance in our careers (and lives!), especially if we don’t have resources and a network of family and friends to guide us as we navigate a corporate setting. Sponsoring someone can look like mentioning their name in a room full of opportunities or privately recommending a colleague for a project or promotion. Likewise, having the support of mentors who are willing to teach, give advice, and guide you is crucial to anyone’s success. I love the adage, “Pave the path for yourself and then go back for the others.”
- Speak Up. Using the calling-in method is an effective way to help someone understand the difference between the intent and the impact of their words and actions. Some may not realize the impact their words, or microaggressions, have on another person. You can highlight the behavior observed and use non-offensive language to call them in. For example, “when you said/acted this way, it was offensive because…” and then offer alternative language for future reference.
- Open the Door for Others. One way to open doors for others is to acknowledge their potential and skills and to create opportunities for them to grow. People with marginalized identities, particularly women of color, tend to have difficulty highlighting their accomplishments, thus creating a perception that they may not be as qualified or skilled as someone more comfortable speaking about their successes. Imposter syndrome (doubting your abilities and questioning whether you deserve accolades) affects people of color and those with underrepresented identities more. Be thoughtful to call their voices into the conversation during meetings or provide the opportunity for them to take on a new role with increased responsibilities. Being held in specific roles or functions can affect one’s self-perception. Once you give a person the space to grow and stretch, you’d be surprised what they can accomplish.
- Invite Other Voices in the Conversation by encouraging participation. Brian’s observation of some voices dominating the conversation is spot on. As an introvert, I have experienced this many times; certain voices take up the most space in the room and therefore are often heard the most. However, I’ve also experienced the impact of being called into the conversation – it’s empowering, builds confidence, and demonstrates trust in my abilities. Being an ally is being mindful of the space you take up in a room and intentionally creating space for those who may feel marginalized or excluded. You can directly ask for input in a meeting, giving them the floor to share their thoughts without being forced to jump in. Another way to empower others is to invite them into the decision-making process – ask why they agree or disagree with a decision. It’s a guaranteed way to introduce a new perspective and open minds.
There are many ways we can all be allies! What matters most is your intent and the awareness of your impact. Doing the right thing for the right reasons and proactively working to humanize the workplace means opening your mind and using your privilege for good.
This response blog has given me the chance to reflect on ways others have been allies to me, the impact it has had on my career growth, and how I can pay it forward. I hope you take some time to reflect and do the same.
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Samantha Singh is a Diversity, Equity, Inclusion (DEI) consultant, facilitator and strategic partner who has built a career in a variety of roles and industries for over a decade. She helps organizations strategically navigate through change, develops programs and initiatives focused on incorporating inclusion into processes and systems and creates customized solutions to best fit the organization’s needs.
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