Marie Cuffaro is the Director of Investigo Consulting Solutions. An enthusiastic and passionate advocate for diversity and inclusion, Marie is a member of Investigo’s D&I committee as well as leading the company’s LGBT+ network, Investigo Pride, and part of our women’s network, Women In.
Why are allies important for an inclusive workplace? What is an ally? An ally is someone who actively supports, champions and advocates for others, and in doing so promotes and upholds an inclusive workplace culture – that is, a place where everyone can be the best version of who they are.
Allyship and privilege
An ally recognises and understands that they possess a degree of privilege. Privilege is an attribute of self that puts you at an advantage. It is borne out of a belief system that certain categories of self – gender, race, sexuality, physical ability, place of birth – are deemed in society as superior to others and therefore they carry certain advantages. These include, for example, greater (or given) access to education, employment and leadership opportunities, financial security etc. Everyone has the ability to be an ally, because everyone has the ability to “check their privilege”. For example, white women can be allies to women of colour, gay men can be allies for gay women, men can be allies for women, heterosexual people can be allies to the LGBT+ community... Allyship does not discriminate.
The most important thing to understand is that with privilege comes power. This can be an uncomfortable realisation, especially when your privilege is something you have not earned – it is an advantage granted to you based on society’s perception of who you are. However, allies use this power for good. In acknowledging privilege, you are able to confront your own belief systems and understand how certain attitudes, biases and actions are a product of your conditioning and the advantages gained through the social categories in which you belong. With this insight and introspection, allies are able to challenge inequality and why it exists.
Allyship and activism
People with privilege also have the privilege of visibility. Allies can therefore use this power to challenge, to expose, to raise awareness and to bring about change. Indeed, allies are active, not passive in their support and advocacy for diversity and inclusion. They affirm their words with actions in raising awareness of inequality, shining a light on unconscious bias, promoting the benefits of diversity and supporting those who do not benefit from the same advantage. As well as being champions for equality, allies are champions for empathy. They are observant of people and situations around them, and act when they witness something that is not right – a concept otherwise known as bystander intervention. This could comprise observing a change in a colleague’s behaviour and asking after their wellbeing, or approaching someone who you believe may have been a victim of bullying or discrimination, and giving them the support and confidence to speak out.
Allyship and inclusivity
Allies may be privileged but they are not mind readers; rather they identify and acknowledge the gaps in their own experience and understanding. Allies are motivated by a desire to learn and as such ask questions and engage in difficult or uncomfortable conversations with people from underrepresented groups. This, in turn, leads to a more collaborative and inclusive working environment. One where diverse voices, faces, skills and experience work collaboratively and have a collective responsibility for the success of the organisation. Indeed, this commitment to skill-sharing, knowledge-sharing and shared decision-making also leads to greater creativity and innovation for the business. Collaborative working and collective responsibility in an inclusive workplace also involve celebrating the success of others. Allies play a pivotal role in ensuring colleagues belonging to marginalised groups receive the recognition and reward they deserve through highlighting contributions and achievements – rather than crowing about one’s own success or piggy-backing on someone else’s success.
Allyship in action
Allies are fundamental to fulfilling your diversity and inclusion strategy, and in sustaining the culture your people want. Being an ally is also hugely rewarding, so how do we encourage and create opportunities for allyship in an organisation?
Seek and identify diversity allies from across the organisation – from multiple departments and at varying levels of seniority.
Involve diversity allies in actively making your workplace more inclusive – task them with carrying out employee research to determine the diversity landscape of the business and attitudes towards the current company culture, then involve them in developing inclusion strategies or objectives.
Encourage allies to establish or be actively involved in committee groups, social events, training days, focus groups, discussion groups and open forums to promote an inclusive culture and a shared social (as well as working) experience for all employees.
Provide an opportunity for allies to act as mentors or sponsors for colleagues from underrepresented groups, or indeed for those outside the organisation just entering the profession, such as students and graduates.
Empower allies to educate others on the use of inclusive language throughout an employee’s lifecycle with an organisation – from HR’s involvement in advertising for vacancies, to the writing of job descriptions and person specifications, to setting policies and procedures, to managers’ conducting of development reviews.