When any diversity and inclusion movement is in the news, it acts like a magnet – attracting the support of people from all walks of life and across the business spectrum. They are only too keen to join in and wear a badge, attend a march or write a blog. But what happens when the headlines start to fade and it’s back to ‘business as usual’? That’s when the hard work starts for business leaders who are serious about having a diverse and inclusive workplace.
Allyship is a key component for any business. A workplace ally is an individual who is not a member of an under-represented group but who takes action to support one or many such groups. It involves acknowledging our racism, sexism and homophobia – and balancing it with taking action for people of color, for women, and for the LGBTQ+ community.
Responding to a movement or celebratory date is an easy option for business leaders keen to demonstrate that they are at the helm of an equitable organization. But allyship is not a short-term, quick-fix solution – you have to work at it constantly. Here are 4 ways business leaders can keep the momentum going beyond the headlines:
Build on the momentum to implement longer-term solutions
Marches and badges bring much-needed awareness to non-dominant groups, but it’s also important to 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.
Make allyship part of your culture
Look at ways to make allyship – and practising allyship – part of your psychological contract with your staff. Build sustainable change by creating the expectation that all colleagues should be actively practising allyship to one non-dominant group as part of their commitment to your organization. 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 organizational culture.
Allow time for regular education and reflection
Practicing sustained allyship is harder than it looks. It’s not just about retweeting a great quote – it’s about examining how we are each complicit in perpetuating stereotypes, biases and discrimination 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 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 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 practicing allyship – reducing harm for all colleagues, not just those from non-dominant groups.
And if all else fails…
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.