Note: The following article on allyship recently appeared in Catalyst, the official publication of IABC. Our chapter has hosted several webinars on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), and we felt it was important to share the piece.
Modern leaders understand the business case for diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), yet many struggle to bring DEI principles to life in their companies. Allyship is the bridge between intention and action.
What is allyship? Some experts describe it as empathy in action. Allies use their privilege and power to create positive change for co-workers, neighbors and friends. Allies make it their business to become aware of social injustice. They develop allyship acumen by listening and learning from people’s lived experiences. Allies take action to correct inequity with no expectation of reward.
As professional communicators, we’re called upon to raise awareness of our employers’ DEI programs and promote them among our colleagues. Our position gives us enormous influence to drive the success of the DEI agenda. The best place from which to do this important work is from the position of allyship.
As allies, we are better equipped to listen to employees’ voices — even when what they tell us might be hard to hear. Every internal communicator has heard colleagues complain that DEI activities are merely performative; or conversely, that employees feel pressured to adopt DEI principles they disagree with. The goal of DEI activities is to create the lasting change that ensures a diverse, inclusive and equitable workplace. Communicators can influence that positive culture by becoming an ally to colleagues whose voices and concerns need to be amplified.
The greatest thing about becoming an ally is that it is a personal choice. Anyone, regardless of job title, seniority or company budget constraints, can choose to be an ally. As you consider allyship, here are three things to know right now.
1. Allyship is a journey
Many people are aware of social injustice. Those who decide to do something about it begin a journey of learning and action. The concept of allyship has its roots in the gay rights movement of the 1970s. It gained momentum in 2020 when George Floyd was murdered by a police officer. In 2021, “allyship” was the word of the year, according to Dictionary.com. Allyship may be in vogue one year and out the next. True allies believe they have a duty to stand for justice in their workplace and their community, whether or not it is fashionable.
2. Allyship is a way of life
If you’re like me, your decision to learn how to be an ally will change the way you view the world. When I decided to “seek first to understand” the lived experiences of others, I saw how my careless comments and unintentional slights deeply hurt people and, unfortunately, betrayed my own ignorance. By taking responsibility for educating myself rather than expecting underrepresented groups to do it for me, I learned mindfulness and, I hope to some degree, humility.
3. Allyship is not heroism
I’ve seen intended acts of allyship backfire when the supposed ally makes a show of defending an individual from a marginalized group against a perceived insult. Allies are not heroes, swooping in to save others from the perils of living in an unjust world. Instead, we are imperfect humans learning from others what we can do to uplift them. Perhaps the most sensitive part of allyship is learning what actions are meaningful to the people you want to support. Allies make mistakes and learn from them.
I believe that the more allies we have in the workplace, the more our DEI initiatives will thrive. Data collected by global management consulting firms and other employment authorities clearly show that companies with diverse workforces, inclusive business practices and equitable policies outperform those that do not prioritize DEI and embed its principles into their culture.
Companies that make DEI a business imperative are off to a great start. Companies that encourage their leaders and employees to become allies are ahead of the curve.
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