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  • Writer's picturePreeti Bonthron

Kate Williams: "Being an ally is more than saying ‘I am an Ally’ - but the actions that back it up"

Allyship is a term that has become much more well-known in the last few years.

We know how important allyship is to individuals and communities, but how does it play a role within work culture and the workplace?

According to Change Catalyst, 92% report that allies have been invaluable to their career and those who feel that they have a minimum of one ally in their workplace are twice as likely to feel a sense of belonging as well as satisfaction with their role and workplace culture.

Interestingly, this study also discovered that over 50% discovered allyship through someone else’s negative experience, whether that was a co-worker, a friend, family member or even a stranger on the internet.

When it comes to allyship within organisations, a research report by Gloria Cordes Larson Center for Women and Business (CWB) at Bentley University discovered that employees who feel that their organisation creates a culture of strong allyship and inclusion are 50% less likely to leave, 56% likely to progress through improved performance, 75% less likely to call in sick and up to 167% likely to recommend their organisation to others.

So what is Allyship and what does it look like in practical terms?

An Ally is someone who is not a member of a minority group, but wants to support and take action with that group. For example, you can be an Ally to the LGBTQIA+ community, but identify as heterosexual and cis-gender.

In our panels and discussions here at DIAL Global, we have often spoken about how being an ally is more than just saying ‘I am an Ally’. It’s about the actions that back that statement up that lead to making a difference, even if it is a small one.

Calling out individuals

Calling someone out may feel daunting, and it is not something that everyone is comfortable with. It doesn’t have to be confrontational, or aggressive, in fact it should be the opposite.

Calling someone out means you are standing up and saying “that is not ok” and being a support for the individual who is being discriminated against, victimised, marginalised or judged based on protected characteristics such as the colour of their skin, their age, or their sexual identity.

At times, people may not feel like they can call out problematic behaviour for many reasons including the fear of repercussion, sometimes just fatigued from facing the same issue repeatedly.

Appropriateness of banter

Recently there has been increased awareness about the use of banter within appropriate environments, and the impact of words on individuals.

The Social Self wrote about how banter can be used for humour, and building relationships but can also be harmful and damage relationships. Something that was said with the intention of being humorous, might not be received that way.

If humour is based on someone’s looks, beliefs, gender, sexuality or another characteristic, it could become a negative trigger. Even if you have known the person for a long time, and often share similar banter, that does not mean it will be well received every time.

90% of the time, I can take and receive banter with the intention it was given. But there is that 10% where I might be tired, feeling overwhelmed or under pressure or over sensitive. In those situations, a comment that I could usually laugh along with will actually cause a negative impact on my mental well-being. Many times it has been dismissed with “oh, must be time of the month!” , which just makes things worse.

Words have the ability to harm and to cause pain and discomfort.

There was a huge push across social media for individuals to ‘Be Kind’ after the unfortunate death of Caroline Flack, including looking at how words and actions can influence and affect others. Social media has many positives, but it can also be a negative platform for many.

ERGs as a safe space for support

At DIAL Global we work closely with Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) and their allies who belong to our member organisations. We aim to strengthen those relationships and give individuals a space where they can be their authentic self and feel valued within the workplace. We also actively advocate for allies to be recognised, and allyship encouraged.

When I started work 20 years ago, there were no employee support networks within health and social care and as a ‘closeted’ bi-sexual employee, I chose to not voice my sexual preferences due to that fear of rejection, discrimination or judgement.

My own family were not all supportive of my sexual preferences and this made me feel like it couldn’t be a part of me that I shared publicly. I’d like to think that if I had worked within organisations where there had been a Pride Network, I would have joined it, but as an ally.

Trust takes time, and personal experiences can be a hindrance in certain situations.

ERGs and Networks show support by creating a safe space where people can share their real lived experiences, and support each other through any challenges.

An individual may not be ready to ‘out’ themselves whether that is in terms of sexual orientation, disability, or mental health difficulties. They might not be ready to tell everyone or put themselves into that ‘label’. Joining the ERG as an ally allows them to build their trust within that safe space and decide if, and when, to share their own personal experiences within the group.

The how-to of Allyship

So, how can we break down the act of being an Ally?

  1. Listen: find out what the individuals actually want or need. Do not presume, and do not stereotype them.

  2. Learn: invest in learning about some of the challenges they are facing and the history behind those challenges. Educate yourself on what else is happening locally, nationally and globally that may also impact on them.

  3. Advocate: to be an ally, it is more than just showing up. There are various ways you can advocate:

Self reflect on your own behaviours and identify areas of bias

Use inclusive language

Share opportunities with others

Be vocal about your own experiences

Listen to feedback

To hear more about Kate's journey and her experiences with allyship join us on the 21st of June, 2023 at 1 PM for a Live Listen and Learn. Free to attend, register here.

Kate Williams is the Community Engagement Manager at DIAL Global. Her passion for diversity and inclusion stems from early in her career when she faced discrimination and judgement as a young bisexual individual. Kate is an advocate for being your true, authentic self and enjoys facilitating those uncomfortable conversations. Outside of work, Kate can usually be found at a football match cheering on her son, Riley, or watching a professional game at Chelsea or AFC Bournemouth.

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