By Leena Sharma Seth & Willow J. Anderson
It’s been seven months since the world witnessed the murder of George Floyd in late May and the continued rise of Black Lives Matter movements around the world. Business leaders have been wondering how they might support anti-racism efforts. Some “got it right”; others moved quickly and faced public criticism for being inauthentic and performative. So where does that leave your company? If you have a genuine interest in practising allyship, what do you need to know? How should you proceed?
Allyship is the active and intentional practice of supporting individuals or groups (those with lived experiences that are not our own) in seeking equity. It is a commitment to the work of educating yourself and learning how to work with, not for, equity-seeking groups. The Anti-Oppression Network cites PeerNetBC’s explanation that allyship is “an active, consistent, and challenging practice of unlearning and re-evaluating, in which a person of privilege seeks to work in solidarity with a marginalized group.” Authentic allyship is a lifelong process.
Start practising authentic allyship today
Although practising allyship is a lifelong process, you can get started today. Here are five ways your organization could start its efforts.
Decide for yourself why allyship is important to you. Grounding yourself in your “why” will sustain you through the difficult conversations and work you will be doing. Being honest about why you are on this journey is essential in your quest to be authentic and effective, not performative.
Decide how you will invest. In order to educate yourself on the struggles of the community you are hoping to work in allyship with, you need to invest time, resources, and deep self-reflective practices. If you aren’t sure how to go about this, seek the assistance of an equity, diversity, and inclusion professional.
Build authentic connections with equity-seeking communities. Spend time in these communities and be intentional in these interactions, ensuring you are listening more and speaking less. Remember that these communities know the solutions that best address their needs, so although you can offer to contribute, combat all urges to “save” those you are working with.
Consider how your leadership platform, brand, and connections can advance these conversations. Taking guidance and direction from equity-seeking communities, harness your privilege to highlight the legitimacy, urgency, and importance of their work. Lead by example, ensuring you are engaged in supplier diversity.
Hold yourself accountable by articulating a plan of action, by executing the plan, and by evaluating your intended impact. This will help ensure that you are doing the work with integrity and in ways that maximize positive effects and minimize harm.
Practising authentic allyship is not easy, nor should it be. The very groups you seek to work with may question your intentions. After all, although these issues may feel new to you, they have been seeking equity for a very long time; among other things, they may need to see that anti-racism statements aren’t trendy shows of support, but instead that they are linked to tangible action.
To be honest, many activists don’t like the term ally. Some, like Canadian author and journalist Desmond Cole, request that we “stop focusing on titles and do what you know to be right in this struggle.” Regardless of what we call it, active and authentic allyship can remain a goal that organizations can strive toward. We can’t each do everything, but we can each do something, pushing past our discomfort and our fear to work together toward truly equitable community and business spaces.
Mind the Gap Consulting™ assists organizations and individuals in navigating and optimizing diversity so that they might build their capacity to work more effectively within their organizations and externally with their clients and communities. Mind the Gap’s professional and customizable training, consulting, facilitation, and research help build diverse, effective, and collaborative workplaces where difference is a strength.
Leena Sharma Seth
Leena Sharma Seth is Associate at Mind the Gap Consulting™. She is a coach, consultant, strategist, and trainer who works in partnership with organizational leadership to gain the cultural competencies required to build an authentically inclusive organization, from the inside out. With over twenty years of experience in leadership roles in the non-profit, consulting, post-secondary education, and philanthropic sectors, Leena has a unique ability to create spaces that are safe, respectful, reflective, and ripe for change. She believes that meeting people where they are is integral to advancing diversity and inclusion initiatives.
Willow J. Anderson
Willow J. Anderson is Principal Consultant and Founder at Mind the Gap Consulting™. She is a consultant, trainer, and researcher who combines her profound belief in the importance of diversity with her need for meaningful inquiry and for quality processes and outcomes for her clients. As a client recently shared “the ability to understand, articulate, and deliver pragmatic solutions as we become a more diverse community is one that Willow Anderson has been successfully navigating. Willow brings a calm, thorough understanding of this complexity in her work with clients. She doesn’t shy away from tough discussions but involves her clients in finding effective solutions.