Allyship and Solidarity: What it is an what it requires of you as a leader in the workplace

Thriven Partners

cultivating breakthrough thinking and action

Allyship and solidarity: what it is and requires of you as a leader in the workplace

     While they may seem like terms meant for a protest and other forms of activism, allyship and solidarity have a place in the workplace. The reality is that the workplace is no different from the places we might find activism happening; while the workplace has its own protocol and culture, it doesn’t exist in a vacuum and many of the disenfranchising dynamics that occur outside the workplace also occur within it. By engaging in allyship and showing solidarity in the workplace towards those who need it, we take steps forward towards making a more equitable workplace and even a more equitable world. 

   Being a person from an underrepresented group in the workplace can feel uncomfortable, to say the least. It’s difficult to get your voice heard when it’s the only voice stemming from your position. It can feel like your needs and place in the workplace often gets steamrolled by the majority. Not only is this detrimental to the workplace itself in the way it ends up discounting valuable perspectives and feedback, but it’s always an uncomfortable position to place others in and can result in an unnecessarily negative experience for them.

    Situations like these are where the concept of solidarity and allyship take center stage. While they may seem like terms meant for a protest and other forms of activism, allyship and solidarity have a vital role right at home in the workplace. The reality is that the workplace is no different from the places we might find activism happening; while the workplace has its own protocol and culture, it doesn’t exist in a vacuum and many of the disenfranchising dynamics that occur outside the workplace also occur within it. By engaging in allyship and showing solidarity in the workplace towards those who need it, we take steps forward towards making a more equitable workplace and even a more equitable world. 

What is allyship and solidarity?

     Yet, how exactly do you express that allyship and solidarity? First thing’s first, let’s define these concepts. Being an ally is more than just agreeing that other people should be treated with respect and there should be equity. Allyship is all about action; an ally is someone who uses their power, wherever that power may come from, to make space or highlight the needs of those who lack that same power themselves. Solidarity can be thought of as showing support in a conscious and active way, that means taking action when necessary to support the needs of those who might not be able to meet those needs on their own. Solidarity is a way to divert some of your own personal power to another who lacks that power. 

    Now with the understanding of what solidarity and allyship are, how can you go about making the real and tangible moves to live as an ally and show workplace solidarity to those in need? Let’s start with the biggest step of all that encompasses both the foundation of allyship and solidarity—active support.

Active Support

      What most notably sets an ally apart from those who simply offer lip service is action. Both allyship and solidarity are about externalizing one’s values of progressivism and quality by making sure to speak up when we see that those values are being transgressed and by working actively to teach ourselves to think beyond our own biases. These are just two of the important actions that allyship and solidarity require to exist. To become a better ally, train yourself to look for actionable things that can be done in your workplace or areas where solidarity with those marginalized in your workplace is lacking. There is always some improvement to be made to show more solidarity in the workplace and seeking out ways to be proactive in this regard are ultimately what sets someone apart from a passive role into the active role of an ally. 

Confronting one's biases

     In considering allyship, another effort that is required to make one a true ally is the confrontation of one’s biases. This is no easy feat, as our biases are often a blind spot, hence their status as biases. However, biases can be identified and a counterbalance can be set up to keep them in check. Examining our biases can be as simple as expanding our knowledge of different cultures through study and conscious observation. Our own culture is often what creates our biases, as we take it for granted as “the way things are” instead of merely being one out of an immense number of different cultural values that are equally valid. This is where observation is key; by observing your own reactions to things you feel should be obvious or are offensive or confusing, you gain a chance to uncover a possible bias. Identifying your own biases is a great way to be a better ally and show workplace solidarity, as it means you will become more open to the viewpoints of others and thus more likely to hear them out as opposed to becoming defensive.  

Accept having made mistakes

    One of the most important requirements for providing allyship and solidarity in the workplace is a willingness to accept when you’ve made a mistake. While it may seem obvious, being an ally doesn’t mean you won’t still get it wrong sometimes. When the inevitable happens and you overstep a boundary or participate, even if accidentally, in the marginalization of someone within the workplace, you’ll be presented with one of the most important aspects of showing solidarity and providing allyship—owning your mistakes. Being willing to accept when you’ve transgressed is the foundation from which true allyship and solidarity spring. Without a willingness to know that despite your best intentions you can still perpetuate harmful dynamics in the workplace, you’ll be unable to tackle any of the more serious issues, as you’ll be unable to see entrenched inequity and if it incriminates you. That self-protection is inherently at odds with what allyship and solidarity truly require. 

    A workplace that wants to grow and see each and every member thriving is a workplace that needs to be sure that it provides equity for its employees. A workplace leader can be a facilitator for creating a more equitable workplace by working to achieve the requirements for being in solidarity with others and by prioritizing their allyship. At Thriven Partners we believe every member of the workplace can be a valuable asset—by helping you on your journey towards becoming a workplace leader that exhibits allyship and solidarity, we seek to uplift and supercharge your workforce as a whole. 

Melissa Álvarez Mangual, Ed.D

Dr. Álvarez Mangual is the founder and executive coach of Thriven Partners, LLC. She has over 20 years of workforce and talent development experience that has intentionally centered inclusion, equity, and justice.

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How to do your own work on DEI as a white leader/ally

Thriven Partners

cultivating breakthrough thinking and action

How to do your own work on diversity, equity, and inclusion as a white leader/ally

Three recommendations for ways you can activate yourself to affect positive change

     The importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion are at the forefront of our conversations today. An attempt to shift the old exclusionary frameworks of the past is underway. Yet, even amid all the enthusiasm and educational resources, it can be confusing to truly understand what your role as a white leader and ally should be. One study found that 70% of white male respondents and 60% of minority and female leaders felt unsure as to the role that white men should hold in diversity initiatives.

     You want to make an effort that will move the needle on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), but you don’t want to make the wrong move or take on a role that isn’t appropriate for you as a white leader and ally. By committing to put your energy to use for a more diverse, equitable and inclusive organization, and doing so thoughtfully, you’re positioned well to make significant changes in yourself and the organization you lead.

Here are a few recommendations you can take to maximize your role as a white leader and ally to affect positive, inclusive and equitable change. 

Critical analysis of your learning

You’ve done some of the recommended readings on antiracism, diversity and inclusion in the workplace, racial equity and justice. You’ve watched educational films and videos on racial inequities, racial justice, and DEI. The learning you’ve engaged in is important for you to get grounded in the reality of the systemic nature of racism, racial injustice, power imbalances, and privilege. It helps you to become more aware, be in a better position to grapple with the complexities of it all and how you have benefited from it. This learning is a starting point and something you’ll need to continue to do. If you haven’t already done so, return to your reading and watch lists, and ask yourself these questions:

  • Of the books I have read so far, how many were authored by White people, Black, Indigenous, or People of Color (BIPOC)?
  • How did I respond to what the different authors presented?
  • How might my response to the different ways in which experiences, perspectives, and recommendations were shared, be rooted in my White privilege and/or experience with supremacy?
  • How have my mindset, decision-making practice, and/or behaviors changed as a result of what I learned?
  • What can I commit to doing differently going forward?

     Reading and viewing films without a critical analysis of how you process what you’ve seen and heard limits the learning you gain from it. So, taking some time to work through your own answers to the above questions will be important for you to uncover any biases you might have that are serving as a block for you, to identify opportunities for your further development and growth, and ways for you to show up and be more inclusive and equitable as a leader.

Surface Your Bisases

     An important first step you can take after analyzing your learning from the reading and watching you’ve done, is to do your own internal work. It’s common knowledge that people harbor unconscious biases, those biases can influence our decision-making and the way we interact with others, without our conscious awareness. You’ll need to tackle this major obstacle to creating a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive environment — your own biases. 

     As a white leader and ally, one of the most important things you can do for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is to ensure that you transform yourself into a tool for its proliferation. Create a mental practice of actively monitoring your thoughts and feelings for any biases that might occur. Do you tend to gravitate towards people that look like you when at an event? Did you assume someone’s role in a company based upon their appearance? These are small but significant ways our unconscious biases can influence us and create obstacles to promoting a more diverse, inclusive, and equitable culture.

     When working to enact any change, one of the most crucial steps toward success is straightforward but easily missed. It’s difficult to attain a successful outcome without first identifying what obstacles you’ll come up against. As a white leader and ally, don’t make the mistake of jumping into action without considering what barriers you’ll encounter. Spend a bit of time simply considering what obstacles may be in place that block diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts, whether within your own personal life or your workplace. 

  • How is a homogenous culture in your workplace cultivated and/or safeguarded? For example, company events planned around certain interests (sports, catering service, and/or restaurants of particular cuisines, and so on).
  • Would a sudden effort at diversifying your own social circle make someone from a different background feel out of place, as if they were only a token of diversity?
  • Do you tend to take on a singular decision-making role rather than seeking input from a variety of others, including those of diverse backgrounds?

     By spending time giving thought to and mapping out the obstacles you’re likely to come across in your efforts to promote DEI, you’ll be better prepared and positioned for a successful outcome. You’ll also become more knowledgeable about the difficulties that BIPOC often face when trying to break into exclusionary spaces and be better equipped to use your power and influence to remove those barriers.

Be willing to follow and support BIPOC leaders (not limited to official titles)

     When maximizing your role as a white ally and leader, it’s important to be versatile and not to get stuck on one interpretation of what you feel an ally should be. What constitutes ally-ship and DEI-minded leadership can change depending on the circumstances. In some situations, speaking out and taking a strong leadership role is necessary, yet in other situations, this role can be counterproductive. There are situations when being an ally and leader means taking a backseat and allowing someone else to take the lead. It’s important to be open to the various types of ally-ship and leadership that may be required of you in any given situation. 

     A good rule of thumb when considering what you can use your own platform and role to accomplish in championing diversity, equity, and inclusion is to let your role be determined by those you’re attempting to assist. Rather than offer predetermined assistance, be open to hearing from BIPOC leaders (whether in title or role) how you can best be of service in that situation. By allowing yourself to be open and take instruction from those you’re attempting to support, you’ll be ensuring that your efforts are closely aligned with their needs rather than with your idea of what those needs might be. 

     Practicing inclusive and equitable leadership requires you to engage reflectively and intentionally with BIPOC colleagues and leaders. You’ll need to have brave and candid conversations about what their experiences have been at the organization and what opportunities they have their eyes on. Learn more about what barriers exists for them and if they’d like your help with gaining access. If your support is welcomed, use your position, decision-making power, and influence to open doors and opportunities for those diverse leaders.  You can facilitate connections between key decision makers and diverse leaders that may not yet exist or help to strengthen ones that do exist. You can serve as a bridge for those diverse colleagues and leaders who are usually on the periphery of social networks and working groups that most often serve as spaces where future organizational leaders are groomed. 

     This leader and ally work can seem complex, but if you think about the way you’ve learned new business skills and mastered them, you’ll recognize that effort pays off.  You will see and experience change in your organization only after having done the work on yourself to better understand how systems are set up to be exclusionary, surfaced your own biases, done the work to shut those biases down, stepped aside to enable BIPOC leaders to lead, follow their lead, learn about their goals, and facilitate connections. At Thriven Partners, we provide specialized coaching to help you uncover the blind spots in your life and unlock the power you have to be an outstanding ally and leader.

Melissa Álvarez Mangual, Ed.D

Dr. Álvarez Mangual is the founder and executive coach of Thriven Partners, LLC. She has over 20 years of workforce and talent development experience that has intentionally centered inclusion, equity, and justice.

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Thriven Partners LLC © 2021. All Rights Reserved.