There is a lot of high-level planning and policy-making around diversity today, and while it’s crucial to have top-line support in the form of strong DEI policies, it’s also important to follow through with that support at a more practical, day-to-day level. One of the ways to do that is to be an active ally to marginalized and minority groups.
What does it mean to be an ally?
Acknowledge your privilege
Being an ally comes from a place of honesty, and that means acknowledging if you are not a member of the group(s) you’re engaging with. Recognize that while you want to listen and learn from these individuals, you can’t presume to fully understand their challenges. You simply don’t see the world through their lens and with their experience in mind.
Listen more than you talk
Avoid deep thinking, opinions and ideologies; your goal is not to save anyone — it’s to listen, acknowledge, and learn. It’s more important that you ensure the right support and resources are in place so that people can come up with solutions on their own
Stand up to racism
“Listening” does not mean tolerating racism and bigotry. This is especially important if you’re in a senior position: Your policies as well as your everyday actions — and interactions — must make it clear that you do not tolerate racism in any way, either on paper or in practice.
Don’t fully rely on others to shed light on issues and bring you up to speed on their challenges. Show them the courtesy of taking the initiative to learn about those issues on your own, so that you come to the conversation somewhat informed.
Know that allyship is a process
If you have spent a lifetime in a position of privilege, you are not going to “unlearn” your innate biases (and be honest with the fact that you have them) by reading up on issues and creating a diversity committee. As admirable as those actions may be, genuine allyship is a long-term commitment built on a continual willingness to learn and improve.
Be prepared for criticism
As an ally, you must be willing to have difficult conversations and be ready to accept criticism where it’s due. If that happens, don’t be defensive; instead listen, acknowledge, and be accountable. Consider, too, that it may have taken courage for someone to speak out and express their concern or frustration. Their input means more knowledge and insight that make you better able to help.
Don’t expect special recognition
While efforts to promote diversity and allyship are positive and commendable, at the end of the day, these efforts are about basic human qualities of equity, fairness, respect. We don’t call out and applaud these qualities; we expect them. The very act of rewarding diversity suggests a narrow, one-sided view of it.