Allyship; small changes leading to big differences

In our recent post for International Women’s Day a number of the leaders who shared their thoughts referenced the importance of allyship in challenging underrepresentation in the workplace (and society in general).

This got us thinking and talking about what allyship looks like in reality, why we all have an obligation to become better allies and some of the small changes we can make that could lead to big differences.

‘When I think of IWD I think of it as day for us as women and how I can be a better ally and support to fellow women in everything they want to do. As a mentor, an advocate, charity supporter, leader and colleague.

Plus, there are so many things going on globally –  #BLM, violent incidents against Asian women – sadly the list goes on making me think not only  about allyship but how we can bring men on the journey too.’

Jamie Freed, Global VP Private Client Farfetch

‘International women’s day gives us the chance to reflect on the inequality and everyday sexism women encounter.

Inequality and discrimination based on gender is still unfortunately commonplace, and as a male ally, I believe the most powerful way I can tackle it is to call out sexism where I see it, changing the culture in that moment’.

Greg Hackett, Director/Founder Spindle

‘IWD is a moment for reflection on challenging myself to be a better role model for women, and a better ally for all women in the LGBQT+ community and for women of colour, particularly after this last year. Forever learning!’

Natalie Brett, Head of London College of Communications

Own your privilege

Think of understanding how to be a better ally as starting with an acknowledgement of our own positions of privilege, because it’s this that gives us the ‘power’ to actively address imbalance. Instead of being contrite (or even ignorant) about the privilege we wield, we could, and should, be utilising it. There is no place for guilt here either, (a pretty useless emotion we’d suggest) – this is about bravery, personal responsibility  and action

Ways to use privilege

Let’s not be fooled into thinking privilege only comes in one shape and size – namely wealthy, white and male. Privilege is both nuanced and intersectional – white women can be allies to people of colour, cis men can be allies to those in the LBGTQ+ community, able bodied colleagues can be allies to those with a disability – the opportunities are many meaning we can all find a way to be an ally on some level. BUT, it’s also important to remind ourselves that allyship is not self-defined—our work and our efforts must be recognised by the people we seek to ally ourselves with.

  • Echo and attribute ideas or suggestions – ensure credit is given and given to the right people
  • Be a sponsor or advocate for others – introduce them to people they may not know or don’t have obvious access to
  • Talk about others when you get the chance; raise their profile
  • Stand up for those you see being discriminated against – whatever the circumstances

Acting with intent

Ally is a verb (as well as a noun) meaning it’s defined by actions and good allyship is as much about what you do as it is about what you say. At Maier we talk with leaders all the time about the importance of ‘visible leadership’ and what that looks like and the same rules apply when it comes to allyship. As do the rules about consistency and authenticity.

Ways to act with intent

  • Learn and unlearn; ask questions to understand more about how others see the organisation. Know the pronouns they prefer to use, what’s easy and less easy for them in terms of how they interact with others in the business etc. And in learning more be prepared to ‘unlearn’ some of what you thought was ‘OK’.
  • Call it out; if it’s not right say so and follow it up. But be mindful of speaking up versus speaking for. Allies aren’t saviours!
  • Choose to co-create; if there’s a chance to invite someone in, someone who will undoubtedly bring a new perspective/thinking into the mix – do it.

It takes time and effort to learn how to be a good ally, but it’s not a part-time role so be clear about why you’re promoting allyship – find your reason. Almost certainly there will be an altruistic element to it but there are also plenty of other reasons and all valid. You may be focusing on diversity as a way to improve performance in the business. You may be socially driven, you may know (to some degree) what it feels like to be marginalised yourself. It could be a mix of many things – as long as it keeps you motivated, active and authentic.

Whose perspective are we missing?

Diversity in any team means you’ll be working alongside people who will have been shaped by a different set of experiences and cultures and will by default have a different way of approaching the issue. And that’s when the really good stuff happens! But it can only happen if the right people are sitting around the table so we’re encouraging leaders and teams to keep asking the question, ‘Whose perspective are we missing?’ ‘Who should we be talking to?’

Sandy Sohal, a one time client and friend of Maier now working at Inclusive Employers spoke to us this week about the importance of recruiting for ‘culture add’ and not just ‘culture fit’. We like this subtle twist

If you want to hear/read more this is a nice link to some clear, sharp definitions and thinking around allyship as well as some podcasts.