Allyship has often been discussed in the context of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) but it has often gotten a bad reputation, being linked to tokenism or coming off as inauthentic or “performative.” But, done right, allyship is an important and effective way to increase DEI across your organization, especially inclusion.
Inclusion can be thought of as being made up of three levels, with increasing difficulty. The first level is everyday inclusion. This can take the form of small efforts to make people feel seen, valued, and heard, or microaffirmations. The second level is inclusive leadership, which includes behaviors such as learning and meeting individual needs, holding others accountable for DEI, and building diverse teams. At the top level is allyship.
What is allyship?
True allyship is an ongoing relationship between an ally and their partner, working together toward a shared goal of fairness, equity, and social justice.
To truly be an ally, it is important to get to know people on an individual level. This opens the door for you to learn what they need from you as support, and for open candid conversations about how you can be a better ally. It’s important to remember that an ally is not who you are, but what you DO.
Allyship involves an ally using their power and status to support and advocate for someone who doesn’t share some aspect of their identity. Allyship can be ongoing or in the moment and it can be focused on an individual or an entire group.
Enlisting dominant groups to advocate on behalf of disadvantaged others is nothing new, as members of majority groups have played a crucial role in advancing social justice movements throughout U.S. history (Washington & Evans, 1991).
Consider the Whites who fought alongside African Americans throughout the Civil Rights Movement, or the heterosexuals who campaigned for the eventual legalization of same-sex marriage. In both cases, majority group members could have done nothing and continued to enjoy the benefits of their privileged status, yet they nonetheless chose to help disadvantaged others by serving as their allies.
These examples highlight the power of allies, or ‘dominant group members who work to end prejudice in their personal and professional lives, and relinquish social privileges conferred by their group status through their support of nondominant groups’ (Brown, 2015, p. 714).
Allies should approach the relationship with the values of curiosity, humility, and courage, whereas partners should exemplify self-awareness, trust, and bias for action. In the partnership, allies should be willing and excited to learn more while showing courage to stand up for others.
Partners, in response, should be self-aware in order to respond to the curiosity of their allies while trusting their allies to advocate for them. Partners' bias for action allows for confident execution of any of the opportunities an ally (and especially a sponsor) may bring the partner’s way.
How do you measure allyship?
What’s important to keep in mind for the measurement of allyship, is that it needs to come from the recipient of the allyship behavior, not the ally themselves. For example:
🚫 “I act like an ally by advocating for underrepresented groups” [Strongly disagree…Strongly agree]
✅ “[This person] has helped be overcome challenges related in the workplace related to my identity.” [Never…always]
When we think about allyship as a relationship, it can be difficult to conceptualize how that could then be measured. But that relationship is grounded in behaviors.
As stated above, allyship is not about who you are but rather what you do. These behaviors, enacted between allies and their partners, can (and should!) be measured.
You should not call yourself an ally. Others will call you an ally when you carry out the behaviors of allyship—that’s how you’ll know that you’re doing it right.
Why is allyship important?
Research shows that exposure, or interacting with people that are different than us, is more effective than unconscious bias training. To be an ally requires you to get to know individuals on a one-on-one level. That exposure helps broaden your perspective and expose you to scenarios you may be unfamiliar with.
Further, in most DEI efforts, majority group members often feel excluded; like it’s not their place; and that they don’t know what to do. But with allyship, everyone has a place in DEI efforts, whether as an ally or a partner (depending who is in the marginalized group).
Do you want to learn more about stepping up your allyship game? Contact Mattingly Solutions today to learn how we can partner to advance your DEI goals. Together.