I spent a lot of time reading up on this topic…it’s been in my queue for a couple of months already. I think I’ve avoided the writing because 1) I don’t think I’m a good enough ally yet, 2) I have so much to still learn, and 3) I want to write this carefully…to make sure I help those who want to become allies while respecting and making space for the impacted folks. I guess I want to be perfect and perfectionism leads to stagnation. I have decided, however, that the message is more important than my perfectionism, though, so here we are.
I have a comfortable home, three wonderful children (plus their significant others and kids), a great job at a great company; I’m not living hand-to-mouth anymore, have a car, a dog, a college degree, and food on my table.
I have also had my share of difficulties. For example, I had to work many times harder to build technical respect than the men in my field (sexism). I didn’t have access to the proper mastermind groups because I didn’t have enough cash available for the membership fees (classism). When I decided to move from business ownership to working for someone else, it took me 3 years to get a job interview (ageism is very real and very invisible).
Still, I have privilege. I had a better start than many. Recovering from systemic oppressions such as sexism, ageism, and classism was easier for me because I had many resources at my disposal than far too many others don’t have.
Privilege: a set of unearned benefits given to people who fit into a specific social group.
Long gone are the times when you could say anything you wanted to anyone you wanted. “To heck with their feelings,” “it’s just business,” “it’s just words” are no longer acceptable forms of communication. And I, for one, am thrilled when I see people working to be kinder, more inclusive, more accepting. And you should be too – you never know when you’ll be in a situation where you’re the recipient of some “ism”.
When you are the one who has the privilege, when you are the one outside of the marginalized community, you have an opportunity (some may say an obligation) to help. Using your privilege to help others is called allyship.
Allyship: The action of working to end oppression through support of, and as an advocate with and for, a group other than one’s own.
Being an ally is not just a label you get to use. It’s an action word. An ally is someone who uses their privilege, their power, to push for justice and earn the respect of a marginalized person or group. Basically, humble up folks, you don’t get to decide you’re an ally, you prove you’re an ally.
At work this might mean that, as a team member, you talk about the expertise of your teammates. As a manager, you ensure that wages and promotions are equitable across your team. As a Director you check in to see who isn’t getting an opportunity to lead and offer them a seat at the head of the table.
Equality or Equity
They sound so very similar but they are so very different.
Equality means that everyone involved receives exactly the same tool or benefit.
Equity means that everyone involved receives exactly what they need to bring them up to equality.
When the IRS says that if you’re over 50 you can put a “catch up” amount into your 401k, that’s a sort of equity. When you watch a track and field competition and the starting blocks on the track are staggered, that’s a form of equity.
Still confused? This graphic demonstrates it beautifully.
Leverage Your Privilege
First, get educated on DE&I (Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion) issues and why your allyship is needed. An ally is not a savior, nor are they a hero. An ally is educated on different cultures and different diversity issues. I thought I was pretty knowledgeable in this area and then I landed on this page and found out how much I really didn’t know.
Then, be open and supportive and help create an office environment that is safe, inclusive, and supportive. Lift up others.
Be proactive at offering opportunities, speak up when you see inequities. When you hear microaggressions, when you see (conscious or unconscious) bias, when you hear language like ‘paying dues’ or ‘looks like management material’, when you notice a chasm between what the company says and what the company does – that is when you leverage your influence, your power, and your privilege.
Challenge the norms. Question traditions. Be courageous. Support those less privileged than you. Advocate for your colleagues who don’t have the power that you have. Be the force you wish others could or would be. Be uncomfortable and take a risk by standing up and speaking out. Be open and be supportive. And then yield the floor to the impacted.
Share your experiences and your knowledge with others who wish to become allies.
Patience and Practice
If this isn’t coming naturally or easily to you, don’t despair. Just keep your mind open and keep learning. Listen to others – really hear what they’re telling you instead of listening to respond. You don’t have to have the same life experiences to feel empathy with others. Open your heart to their frustration. Ask what you can do to help them.
Be kind to yourself as you move along this continuum. Don’t use your struggle to understand as a reason to stop learning. Change is hard and when you’ve done things or said things for the bulk of your life, you can’t expect to change overnight. But with an open mind, you will come to understand.
At JumpCloud, we value diversity in ideas and backgrounds, and welcome all people to work with us.
Join us in the JumpCloud Community > Careers section to talk about Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and ways you’ve found to be an ally at work.