You’ve got a friend in me

If you care about making your workplace truly inclusive, then encouraging allyship is one of the most powerful steps you can take.

An ally is someone who takes action to support others – particularly those from under-represented or marginalised groups. Active allies use their privilege to help open doors to those with less access and take responsibility for making changes that help others to succeed.

While you may have become more aware of the term in recent months, in part due to the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, allyship is not a new phenomenon. There have been many inspirational examples of allyship throughout the years. Here are just a few:

Marilyn Monroe and Ella Fitzgerald

The iconic Hollywood actress Marilyn Monroe used her star status to support the career of black jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald. While touring in the US in the 1950s, during the time of segregation, many black artists were prohibited from playing the same large hotels and clubs as white entertainers, or were forced to enter through the back door regardless of how popular they were.

Ella had been banned from playing one of the most popular clubs in Hollywood, called the Mocambo, because she was black. But a phone call from a celebrity fan changed all that. Marilyn personally called the club’s owners and told him she wanted Ella booked immediately, and in return she would take a front table every night in full view of the press. Ella was hired and Marilyn kept her word. From that day, Ella never had to play small jazz clubs again.

Taylor Swift and the LGBT+ community

Pop star Taylor Swift has been gradually building her support of the LGBT+ community over many years. In 2019, she posted a letter to her Instagram account (followed by 142 million people) asking her senator to support the Equality Act – a bill that would prohibit discrimination against LGBT+ people. She also encouraged her fans to pen letters to their own representatives, as well as referenced the Act in music videos and awards speeches.

Taylor has also donated substantial sums to causes, such as the Tennessee Equality Project, that rallies against laws that discriminate LGBT+ people and has supported fellow artists from the community who have felt they’ve been treated unfairly. For example, when singer Hayley Kiyoko spoke out about music executives questioning her singing about women but not straight women singing about men (singling out Taylor in her criticism), Taylor defended Hayley to her fans and invited her to perform at one of her concerts.

Prince Harry and veterans

While championing the sacrifice of veterans usually comes hand in hand with Royal duties, Prince Harry has arguably done more to raise the profile of the support needed for men and women returning from war than others before him. In 2014, he launched the first international Invictus Games in London, providing an opportunity for those injured while on active duty to compete in a series of Olympic-style sporting events. The Games, which have since been repeated in venues around the world, have not just highlighted the power of sport to inspire the recovery of injured servicemen, but have also raised awareness and funds to help veterans return to their homes, receive the access they need to physical and psychological care, and enter employment.

Can I become an ally too?

While the vast majority of us do not wield the same power as Royal princes and international film stars, this doesn’t mean we can’t be allies. Here are some top tips on where to start:

Listen – You don’t have to fully understand what it feels like to be marginalised, but you need to be willing to take on the struggle as your own. Find out what the under-represented need from you in order to help them succeed. Do not assume you know this yourself.

Educate yourself – Do some research into the struggle you’re taking on. Learning some context will help you appreciate the viewpoints and be more empathetic towards the group you want to support.

Identify your biases – Like it or not, we’re all a product of the world around us and inherently carry biases, no matter how implicit. While this may be uncomfortable, take a close internal look at your own biases and see where you fit in the oppressive machine. You can only help to make things right if you know the role you’ve played.

Use your privilege – Similarly, discover what privileges you may have been bestowed and then ask yourself how you can use them to amplify the voices of others, rather than speak for them.

Accept criticism – Being an ally takes hard work and you won’t always get it right. Examples of how you haven’t been a good ally in the past may also come to light. Be prepared to graciously listen to and accept criticism, then use that to do better.

Work at it every day – Correcting an oppressive system won’t happen overnight. Just be prepared to work at what you can do every day to help those around you to succeed. Progress, while it may take some time, will follow.

 

To learn more about what it means to become an ally in the workplace, contact Tell Jane to discover how our skilled HR practitioners can support you and your people. Email hello@telljane.co.uk to get started.

Want to read more? Have a read over these:

What does inclusive leadership look like?

Back to basics: Understanding microaggressions

 

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