Allyship: How to Keep the Momentum Going Beyond the Headlines
When any movement that touches diversity and inclusion is in the news, there’s no shortage of people keen to write blogs, wear a badge or attend training courses. But for both the people involved, and the businesses enabling this, the hard work starts when the movement fades from the public eye. As human beings, we seek to take the easiest option – which is why responding to a movement or a celebratory date is so popular when it comes to workplace diversity and inclusion. But there is no short-term, quick-fix solution when it comes to practising allyship at work – you have to work at it every day.
It’s a constant balance between acknowledging our racism, sexism and homophobia – and balancing it with taking action for people of colour, for women and for the LGBTQ+ community. Here are four ways business leaders can keep the momentum going beyond the headlines.
Take advantage of the momentum to implement longer term solutions
Although events, panels and lanyards bring much-needed awareness to non-dominant groups, you can use the media attention and pressure to engage in longer term, less glamourous changes. Invest the current interest in racial justice, for example, in making changes to your recruitment or talent processes. Use it to gain more traction for improved data and reporting in your business. Keep your eye on the long-term goals and seize the opportunity for change.
“We know that outrage or anger is not always sustainable – it can lead people who don’t regularly experience it to feel overwhelmed and burnt out.”
Make allyship part of your culture
Look at ways to make allyship – and, more importantly, practising allyship – part of your psychological contract with your staff. Creating the expectation that all colleagues should be actively practising allyship to one non-dominant group as part of their commitment to your organisation can build more sustainable change. They will have already identified their privilege, and the skills they have to offer, as part of their support for a particular movement. So imagine the results in the workplace if they then use their own unique strengths and skills to reduce harm and uplift a minority group. Work on making real time for practising allyship and move away from this being an ‘add on’. Emphasise that practising allyship is integral to your organisational culture.
Allow time for regular education and reflection
We know that outrage or anger is not always sustainable – it can lead people who don’t regularly experience it to feel overwhelmed and burnt out. Practising sustained allyship is harder than it looks. It’s not just about changing a logo or retweeting a great quote. It’s about examining how we are each complicit in perpetuating stereotypes, biases and discrimination, just by existing in the workplace. These challenges are about introspection, reflecting on our own role in systems and education – and translating that into action. Try to work anti-racism into your daily routine and enable others to do the same. Spend 10 minutes reading that book and writing a few notes and reflections on how you feel. This practice is both sustainable and reflective – the perfect combination for effective allyship.
Focus on psychological safety
An important part of allyship is the practice of calling someone out when they do something problematic – the act of letting someone know when they have said or done something that could be seen as racist, sexist, homophobic or just offensive. This is easier said than done, especially in a culture where the practice is not the norm or where colleagues feel they may be punished for doing this. Begin to open up a space to receive feedback from colleagues and reflect on how you respond to that feedback.
Being called out can feel like an attack but it’s important to role model a calm and measured response. Begin by acknowledging the person and their feelings (calling someone out can be scary too) and ask how you can reduce any harm caused. Reflect on their feedback (taking a pause if you need to) and take on board areas you could adapt or change, show how you are taking action in that area to reduce harm caused and learn from your mistake. Over time, colleagues will feel safer to call each other out if it is part of practising allyship – reducing harm for all colleagues, not just those from non-dominant groups.
The measures outlined above should go a long way towards ensuring allyship becomes part of business as usual in your organisation. But it’s also worth considering making allyship part of your employment contract. In other words, every employee is an ally to a group that is not theirs. It will bring about learning, sponsorship and eventually more representation. Ask the question at performance review time: “What have you done to drive allyship in the past year?” Sometimes mandatory is the only way to make it happen.