Article: The role of allies and allyship at work


The role of allies and allyship at work

Allyship is about lifelong learning, recognizing biases, and publicly acting to create lasting inclusion through clear processes and systemic change.
The role of allies and allyship at work

As a DEI practitioner, I have experienced ally and allyship as two of the most frequently used words. While building a diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace, allies become imperative. Allies are people who leverage their privilege to stand up for non-dominant groups. They are the ones who create an inviting and welcoming space for all. Allyship is a persistent relationship between dominant groups to actively promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace through supportive and collaborative relationships, acts of sponsorship, and public advocacy to drive systemic change. 

Allyship is a journey that starts with self-education and learning about biases. It focuses on the social aspect of developing awareness and motivation and creating accountability through public action, transparency, and systemic, sustainable change.

What do allies do? 

Allies at any level across the organisation engage to nurture inclusion. They demonstrate empathy in their interactions. They don't make a special effort to be an ally. They display small gestures in various interactions and experiences, ranging from corridor conversations to interactions during lunch, small talk near the coffee machine, and dialogues during meetings.

 Allyship is a lifelong process of building a supportive relationship with underrepresented, marginalised or discriminated against individuals or groups to advance inclusion. Allyship is about progress, not perfection. Allyship is active, not passive. It requires frequent and consistent behaviour. Allyship is not performative. It is about creating platforms encouraging people to share their views and opinions and lift others. Allyship is not about fixing others.

Performative Allyship: We usually observe a lot of posts, events, and initiatives around women, LGBTQIA+, and people with disability during specific months or days. Actions such as changing profile pictures and retweeting posts on social media to illustrate support for social movements (E.g., Inclusion Matters, Women, People with Disability, LGBTQIA+) for people affected by injustice (e.g., war, social unrest) are common occurrences. As per (Kalina, 2020, and Phillips, 2020), they are often characterised as performative or inauthentic displays of support. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, performative is an adjective that denotes an action with an artistic or acting performance.  Performative allyship assumes these individuals mainly engage in accessible, visible, and inexpensive actions. In contrast, social change requires people to spend considerable time and energy. 

Performative allyship refers to a combination of motivations and actions.  The motivation to be an ally is-

  • Out-group motivation- The out-group-focused motivation is rooted in the identification and solidarity with the disadvantaged group's appeal.
  • Moral motivation - Moral motivation comes from bias and non-inclusion being unacceptable as per their values and moral compass. 
  • In-group motivation- The ingroup-focused motivation to be an ally comes from the thought of the concern for their status. They consider allyship to improve their image regarding likeability and protect their high status (Nadler, 2002 & 2009). The ingroup-focused motivation reflects the concern for the status of the advantaged group.  They engage in helping behaviours to protect their high status and improve the group’s image concerning likeability and competence. 
  • Personal motivation-The personal motivation to be an ally is to improve their public image and gain popularity and economic resources. 

In performative allyship, the actions are normative. The actions are easy, visible, and not costly. Normative actions include signing a petition, posting on social media, and attending a protest however non non-normative actions bring disruption at a societal level.  The impact of performative allyship is considered to be inauthentic. 

 There are six behaviours consistently displayed by authentic allies- 

  1. Being inquisitive- An ally is always keen to know about various dimensions of diversity. Ally does not look at diversity in a silo but also looks at intersectionality. The understanding and nuances of identities make the m aware of the challenges and complexities.
  2. Authentic reflection - Learning one's biases and accepting them can be the first step to becoming an ally. Understanding one's biases helps one understand one's perspective towards people, decision-making approach, and the impact of behaviour and interaction on others. The key to being an ally is understanding that everyone has a different starting point. An ally embraces this fact and accepts the other person with respect.
  3. Acknowledge and accept- In diverse settings, it's common to hear that certain biases don't exist, yet these behaviours persist. When someone shares a challenge, others might find it unfamiliar, especially those from privileged backgrounds. Allies recognize their privilege, admitting they haven't faced certain issues. Just because you don't experience something doesn't mean it doesn't exist.
  4. Empathetic conversations- Understanding others is as crucial as self-acceptance. Allies achieve this through empathetic conversations, listening, and asking the right questions to uncover biases. These conversations create psychological safety, ensuring no one is punished for speaking up.  Good allies always avoid denying, dismissing, or belittling colleagues' experiences. Instead, they engage openly, without interrupting or getting defensive, and focus on learning and improving
  5. Open to vulnerability- In unconscious Bias sessions, participants often ask how to identify their biases. I suggest forming a bias compass circle— a trusted, diverse group of colleagues. This circle provides a safe space to be vulnerable and receive constructive feedback on your biases. Your allies will support your inclusion efforts and help you understand diverse perspectives.
  6. Consistency— Being an ally requires consistency. Allies ensure everyone has opportunities to be heard and take steps to include and amplify marginalized voices. They use inclusive language, seek diverse input in discussions, and prioritise recruiting and developing diverse team members to promote inclusion.

Allyship involves becoming a part of the journey with the right intent and effort. It requires moving from awareness to action. Allyship needs to be an organisational value and a priority for the leadership team. Leaders at the workplace can bring allyship to life by sharing their narratives to create authenticity among other employees. Allies should grow as a community within an organisation to promote support, collaboration, and inclusion. 

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Topics: Diversity, Culture, Leadership, Employee Engagement, #PrideMonth, #Work Culture

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