Allyship defined and how to build ally partnerships

Updated: May 21

By Dr. Victoria Mattingly

So, what is an ally?

An ally is someone who uses their power and status to advocate and support for someone who is different from them in some meaningful way. Like male allies for women, white allies for People of Color, straight allies for the LGBTQ+ community, and so on.

Allyship in its truest form is an ongoing relationship between a partner and ally. However, allyship can take many different forms. One example could be on-the-spot allyship in a meeting where someone is getting interrupted, by stepping in to make sure their voice is hear. It could also be as simple as sharing a random act of kindness like smiling toward a stranger passing by who may otherwise be down and out.

Not only do I fully believe, but my research also supports, that ANYONE can learn the communication skills and emotional intelligence tools that enable successful ally partnerships. However, there are certain characteristics that you can leverage or develop that will especially help you be more successful in your ally and partner roles.

Let’s start with the characteristics of allies. The best allies are curious, humble, and courageous.

Allies are curious. They are open minded and are willing to challenge their own beliefs to better understand how the world REALLY works around them. They ask good questions and actively listen. This means they really try to understand the answers they hear. Curiosity is a key tool that allows anyone to connect across difference.

Next, allies are humble. They’re willing to admit their mistakes, owning their commitment to doing better in the future. They choose to learn, and grow, and not make that same mistake again. They understand that their perspective isn’t the ONLY perspective and they have the ability to center others rather than keep all the focus on themselves. They can put their ego aside for the greater good.

Finally, allies are courageous. They’re willing to take risks on behalf of others. They put themselves on the line for the sake of the greater good. They walk the walk. They are bravely authentic and stay true to their values. They also deal with the consequences of their actions.

Characteristics of an ally and a partner that makes a good ally partnership

For partners, there are certain personality characteristics that make for more effective ally partnerships. Partners are self-aware, trusting, and have a strong bias for action.

Not only are there a lot of personal and professional benefits partners will get from being more self-aware, trusting, and action-oriented, but these characteristics also have a compounded, or bonus effect by also reinforcing and encouraging complimentary characteristics of allies.

Take self-awareness for example. The best partners are self-aware. They know what they want from their career, where they want to be in life. They understand and can articulate the unique challenges they face in getting there especially