How to be an effective ally: A skills checklist
If you’ve read my two previous blogs, you’ll know that one of the most important ways you can help make your organisation more diverse, fair and inclusive is through allyship.
Allies use their privilege to call out inequity and advocate for those whose voices often go unheard. This is needed more than ever as those from marginalised groups are more likely to be disproportionately affected by the economic downturn as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
However, being an ally is more than just being a kind person, it involves doing a lot of internal and external work that takes you outside of your comfort zone. Ask yourself, have you ever had a conversation about race, gender equality, disability or sexuality that didn’t go as well as you hoped? It’s because these conversations are difficult, especially if you have not been affected directly by the issues at hand.
Helping yourself and your colleagues take on these conversations, and therefore developing your allyship skills, is going to be key in these particularly challenging times as we aim to strengthen relationships within our organisations and foster robust teams that can navigate the new norms of this coming year.
Here’s a checklist of the key personal skills you need to become an effective ally:
Eagerness to learn
Effective allies are aware of the systematic issues that keep others marginalised. An understanding of the history of social injustices and the ways in which they are still being perpetuated today is not just crucial in developing empathy, but also helping you recognise your own biases and privileges, and revealing how systems, such as education and healthcare, have served you well while they may not have done the same for others.
It’s equally important to take the responsibility of discovering this information for yourself – you shouldn’t expect a person from a marginalised group to educate you. If you have colleagues who are willing to discuss their experiences, that’s great – but the discussions should always be on their terms and never forced, and just because they engaged in one conversation doesn’t mean they want to do so time and again. It’s also vital to acknowledge that the perspective of one person from within a community doesn’t necessarily represent the experiences and views of that whole community.
Thanks to the magic of the internet, there is a wealth of free resources available at a click of a button so, instead of relying others, why not Google unfamiliar social justice terms yourself? Read articles from a wide range of commentators or watch YouTube videos from diverse speakers. There’s really no excuse, when so much information is at your fingertips.
To be a good ally, you need to have an insight into how your experiences impact your attitudes and behaviours. Examine your different identities – gender, ethnic background, sexual orientation etc – and reflect on which ones have bestowed you privilege that others may not have been given. While this can be an uncomfortable process, rather than dwelling on your privilege in a negative or guilty way, use that self-awareness as a gift to instigate meaningful action.
It’s also important to bear in mind intersectionality. We all have very unique identities and it’s possible to be part of a majority group in one aspect of your identity and part of a minority group in another. For example, you could be male and white, but also a member of the LGBT+ community. And just because you’re a member of one marginalised group, doesn’t mean you’re exempt from checking your privileges. For example, you may be disabled but that doesn’t mean you’re incapable of holding certain biases, using microaggressions or making racist comments.
Learning about other people’s experiences involves relearning the way you see the world, and allies need to have the humility to admit what they do and do not know. And if you discover things you don’t know, be prepared to actively listen. If someone decides to tell you about their experiences of discrimination, this is the most important thing you can do, coupled with believing them. There can be a tendency among those with privilege not to wholly believe some of what you hear because it seems so far from your own reality. However, whether we share a lived experience or not, we can all relate to the emotions of anger and hurt that discrimination fosters. Use that to improve your radical empathy and discover the best ways you can be an ally to that particular marginalised group in question.
You need to be able to hear critical feedback without defensiveness. No matter how good your intentions are, there will be times when you’ll say or do something that doesn’t come across the way you intended. If someone calls you out, try to put yourself in their shoes. It probably took a lot of courage for them to speak up and recognise that they’re actually helping you by highlighting an area where you need to work on your allyship skills. Don’t let this prevent you from continuing to try though; simply recognise what happened, apologise, learn from your mistake and treat it as a development opportunity.
Anyone wishing to build their ally skills has to get used to the fact that they will sometimes be called out. But they also have to be prepared to call out others too. Maybe you’ve noticed a lack of representation in your organisation’s board of directors, or a colleague is struggling to secure time away from work to celebrate a religious holiday, such as Eid al-Fitr or Eid al-Adha of the Islamic calendar. You can use your voice and your privilege to raise awareness of those imbalances and injustices. This may be uncomfortable, but a consistent drive towards accepting accountability for your own actions and ensuring those around you remain accountable too, is a vital mindset for driving forward more inclusive workplaces.
News flash: the work of becoming an effective ally never really stops. This means one training session will not suffice to declare everyone a good ally. You must be willing to stay connected with what’s happening in the world around you, keep learning and take responsibility for your actions. As outlined in my previous blog, real allyship is not performative, it involves hard work every day – a value that needs to be embedded within your company’s culture to effect actual change.
Our skilled HR consultants can help you develop training plans to foster strong allyship skills within your organisation, at all levels. Email me directly via firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more.
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