For many people the world can be a rewarding but equally challenging place, and with the pace of inbound stimulation, information, and data flow, sometimes confusing and bewildering. But worst of all it can be isolating and lonely. Humans are social creatures, and we are programmed to need friends and to have allies. And we all need to be our authentic selves if we are to be comfortable and confident in our professional and personal lives. Being authentic can be an antidote to some of the challenges that come from modern living, but being yourself should not result in compromise of personal opportunity.
In a well-balanced society everyone has good representation, a respect of their personal qualities and uniqueness, and the ability to achieve their own full potential in whatever they choose to do. But it’s still the case that to get someone there takes an effort from all of the members of sometimes-flawed society, not just the individual – and often one part of delivering this is the support of allies.
So, what is an ‘ally’? It’s really quite simple. Its an individual, often in a position of influence in some way, who champions those that are currently underrepresented, whilst not themselves actually being a member of that group. Typically, an ally will be in a place of ‘privilege’ and will recognise this and will use it to benefit others. I, for example, am an ally to the members of ‘Women in Bus and Coach’ because I act exactly as I have described above – in fact that is what I’m doing right now by using my professional connections to encourage invitations through which I can add my voice to the conversation about the role of an ally.
But being an ally to Women in Bus and Coach is not exclusively for male managers championing women in the field of transport, despite the common notion that workplace gender diversity is a ‘women’s issue’. Look back at the definition I gave and its clear – anyone can choose to be an ally to someone! And that’s one of the things that makes allyship so great – it can grow into a network for everyone to embrace and to use their skills, knowledge, and connections to make that difference to individuals within groups in which they do not sit, but who still need and would benefit from their contribution.
So as great as this is, what holds us back and why aren’t we all already doing this? Often, it’s a lack of confidence that we are empowered to involve ourselves in an underrepresented group and make that difference and that we do not know enough of the issues, but you absolutely do not need to fully understand all of the details of all of the topics – you just need to start with wanting to dismantle inequality and to find out how to do it. Once you embrace this you are taking your first steps towards adding your voice to the bigger conversation.
And fear must never be a barrier to trying to make a difference. In fact, you must never be afraid to ‘get it wrong’ sometimes – actually, I can guarantee as an ally that you will make mistakes, but you will learn from these as you move forward, and you will then be able to empathise with those following you on the allyship journey and contribute to their development too.
From this beginning you start to listen, you consider what you hear, you learn from your experiences and from this you can advocate. And as your confidence grows, you will become more situationally aware and crucially prepared to challenge where you see inequality. And this is a two-way street – so you will be equally prepared to be challenged in return, but that’s entirely fine because you know discussion and healthy debate propagates clear thinking and progressively changes opinion for the better. And when this happens your allyship is making an impact – and we are progressively limiting any silence where there was or is injustice.
But remember this is not all about adrenaline fuelled arguing, agitating, and shouting the loudest. In fact, being an ally is not at all about grand gestures and putting on a show. Far more its about being consistent and measured in your approach and messaging – rational argument and common sense invariably win the day. And why wouldn’t you be calm and measured? Ensuring everyone has every opportunity is, after all, simply good leadership in action.
Hopefully I’m now inspiring you to become an ally to someone or another group? But you need to be only that – because being an ally is NEVER about you. Good allies are humble and know they are there to champion the underrepresented – and it is they that must always be in the spotlight. The emotional reward you receive comes from seeing others benefit from your contribution. And how good will it feel when you lift others up where you have shared opportunities for their growth? Where you have let people speak for themselves – but have amplified their voice? Where you gave up your own opportunities to make way for others or have created safe environments for people to express their views and then see gradually their potential is achieved? Allyship cab take many other forms in addition to those I have described here. You could also be a Champion, an Advocate, a Scholar, an Upstander or even be an Ally as a Confidante – all these as described by Karen Catlin’s in her book ‘Better Allies’ are equally valuable and necessary.
And there you have it. There is so much more I can say about the importance of Allyship, but I would like to think you have already worked out that its something you need to go and find out more about for yourselves. If you do you will discover that in almost every instance of social change, allies have played a vital role.
I hope now is the time for you to look in the mirror, see your privileges and decide to go out there and make even a small a difference. Society will be a better place if you do.
Paul Sainthouse, FCILT – Managing Director Dawson Group, Director Women in Bus and Coach