Allyship is defined as “an active, consistent, and arduous practice of unlearning and re-evaluating, in which a person in a position of privilege and power seeks to operate in solidarity with a marginalized group.” So, how can you be an ally?
Marginalized groups are everywhere. If you’re not a straight, white, cis-gender male, you’re part of at least one marginalized group. Cis-gender means you identify with the gender you were born into. Intersectionality, the condition of identifying with more than one marginalized group, is an important thing to be sensitive to. For example, black women experience the world very differently than white women.
Regardless of privilege, you can be a better ally to both large and small communities in many ways. This article will focus on ways you can improve diversity and inclusion by becoming a better ally with people of color, people in the LGBTQ+ community, and people who are differently-abled.
Be a better ally to people of color by:
- Assume that racism is everywhere because it is. Don’t equate racism with the Klan; racism exists in hundreds of microaggressions every day. Microaggressions are tiny words and behaviors. For example, saying “No, where are you really from?” to someone you assume wasn’t born here.
- Notice who has the center of attention, influence, and power in your organization. Work to actively seek out the opinions and thoughts of people of color on projects. Amplify their voices during meetings. Then, call attention to their accomplishments.
- Practice humility: don’t assume yours is the most important voice in the room. Be curious. Learn about the history of whiteness and racism. There are a lot of great books out there on the topic. How to Be An Antiracist by Ibram X Kendi is one such book.
- Actively promote people of color into leadership positions. Support them once they’re there. Set up a mentorship program to ensure they’re being actively considered for leadership roles.
Be a better ally to people who identify as LGBTQ+ (this includes non-binary, gender fluid and genderqueer individuals as well as lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer):
- Use your pronouns in your email signature and when introducing yourself. “Hi, I’m Johanna and my pronouns are she/her.” When in doubt use “them/their”.
- Set up an employee support group for LGBTQ+ and Friends. You may well have employees who aren’t out but would love the support. Identify an ally to hold space for the group when it meets.
- Have gender-neutral bathrooms available. In California, the law now states that all single-sex bathrooms must be gender-neutral. That’s not true in all states, unfortunately. This includes when planning an off-site meeting; pay attention to whether they have gender-neutral bathrooms.
- When an employee needs to travel, ask them what they need to feel safe while traveling. For example, many trans individuals experience harassment when taking public transportation. Arrange for a Lyft or rental car instead.
Improve diversity and inclusion by being a better ally for people who are differently-abled (whether it’s a physical, mental, or processing difference) by:
- Ensure your space is ADA compliant. Also, check that any offsite you may do are also ADA compliant. Take it a step further: are they not only compliant but convenient? It’s no fun for a person with mobility issues to have to go around to the side of a building for access.
- Don’t assume someone is able-bodied, just because you can’t see their disability. In fact, 93% of disabilities are invisible. They include things like food sensitivities, sensory/motor processing differences, and mental health issues like anxiety and depression. When onboarding a new employee, ask them if they need any special considerations.
- Never have lower expectations for people with disabilities. They/we have already overcome more obstacles than people without different abilities can imagine. They/we are profoundly resilient and adaptable.
- Don’t use people with disabilities as inspiration to rise above your own challenges. Disability rights activist, Stella Young, coined the term “inspiration porn“. This refers to posts like the local high school couple with Down Syndrome who were named prom king and queen.
Whether you’re managing people or not, you’ll be a better leader when you can be a better ally. Actively work to improve diversity and inclusion in your organization.
Johanna Lyman is the Founder and CEO of NextGen Orgs. She is a Leadership Consultant and Executive Coach with over fifteen years of experience in implementing organization wide change strategies for both Fortune 500 companies and Small Businesses.
At NextGen Orgs, they use a combination of unique delivery methods and processes that crack the code on establishing lasting organizational behavior changes in a relatively short period of time. Their proprietary and the evolutionary system can eliminate months of frustration often associated with developing strong leadership and building a cohesive, collaborative team.
Johanna is a professional speaker, available to speak on a variety of topics related to culture, communication, innovation, and leadership skills. She is the Board President for the Bay Area Chapter of Conscious Capitalism and is deeply versed in how to help businesses be a force for good in the world. To learn more, contact Johanna, at firstname.lastname@example.org