From Performative Allyship to Actionable Allyship

July 28, 2022

We’ve all heard the stories. 

  • The brand that posts rainbow flags all through Pride month only for it’s LGBTQ employees to feel like they can’t openly be themselves in the workplace
  • The workplace that says ‘black lives matter’ while having an all-white team and no D&I goals in place
  • The organisation that goes big on International Women’s Day while underpaying their female employees 

This is performative allyship: when organisations offer surface-level support for the sake of their brand image, without taking any steps to affect real change. Performative allyship doesn’t go unmissed by employees. A survey by Catalyst found that only 1 in 4 employees viewed their organisation’s racial equity policies as genuine. However when the efforts were viewed as genuine, employees had a far better work experience, especially those who come from ethnic minority backgrounds. In the age of the Great Resignation, making strategic steps to improve diversity and foster inclusive workplaces is necessary for retaining today’s workforce. 

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Organisations can move past performative allyship by taking meaningful steps that show that they’re an ally all year round - not just during Pride or Black History Month. 

Firstly, what is an ally?

An ally is someone who is willing to stand with those from underrepresented groups, to speak out and take action against inequality and discrimination. Allyship in the workplace means acknowledging the privileges that majority groups have and acting to ensure that all workers have the same opportunities. It’s an ongoing practice that is best demonstrated through the Ally Continuum (detailed more here) which can be used to assess where you are on your allyship journey. 

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How can workplaces practice allyship?

  • Focusing on building inclusive workplaces. Before making any grandiose external statements about championing inclusivity, organisations should assess their workplace culture first. Employees view D&I statements as genuine when they actually align with company practices. Is there a diverse team who feel supported at work and comfortable being themselves? Is there a D&I strategy in place to make sure women and minorities are progressing into leadership positions? Company culture speaks volumes about how much businesses really care about inclusivity. Show that your efforts are more than just a marketing strategy by committing to creating an inclusive workplace where employees from all backgrounds thrive and succeed. 

  • Educating employees on bias and inequalities in the workplace. Help employees along their allyship journey by providing diversity training and education. White employees should learn about the history of systemic racism to understand how it plays out in today's working world and how they can combat it in their own workplace. Male workers should understand women’s experiences at work to become aware of the role that bias plays in preventing female progression. Understanding different experiences is the first step towards becoming an advocate who calls out bias and bad behaviour, and supports colleagues from underrepresented backgrounds. 

  • Sponsoring underrepresented employees. Employees act as allies when sponsoring colleagues from underrepresented groups by vocally advocating for their work and boosting their reputation as a result. Research has proven that sponsorship can be “critical to Black women’s access to significant training, development, and networking opportunities and advancement. ” Source.  Sponsorship could look like sharing an underlooked colleague’s abilities and achievements with senior leaders, nominating them for promotions or recommending them for learning opportunities. 

  • Mentoring minority employees. Mentorship can have a powerful impact on the professional development of minority employees who have historically been held back by lack of connections and biases working against them. Unfortunately, research from LeanIn found that senior-level men in the UK are 2x more hesitant to spend time with junior women than junior men. The same report also found that 62% of women of colour feel held back by the lack of an influential mentor. 

“If fewer men mentor women, fewer women will rise to leadership. As long as this imbalance of power remains, women and other marginalised groups are at greater risk of being overlooked, undermined, and harassed.” Source. 

Having a mentor to share knowledge and networks can radically boost career pathways. Studies from Cornell found that mentoring programmes boosted minorities at management level from 9% to 24% and dramatically increased promotion and retention rates for women and people from ethnic minority backgrounds from 15% to 35%. Source.  

  • Developing coaching skills. Coaching is a critical tool for inclusive organisations as it empowers managers and their direct reports with crucial communication skills that lead to open conversations and empathetic relationships. Developing good listening skills is important for allies who need to genuinely understand the experiences of others and take on feedback constructively. These trusted relationships help to build empathy throughout the organisation, which has proven to boost inclusion efforts. Catalysts’ report found that “when senior leaders demonstrated empathy, people of colour were more likely to perceive their organisation’s racial equity policies as genuine. In turn, genuine racial equity policies led to increased experiences of inclusion. Altogether the joint effect of leader empathy and genuine policies is substantial.”

Our ‘Be A Leader, Build A Leader’ programme provides professionals with coaching skills by showing them how to ask the right questions, listen actively, lead with empathy and empower their team members - all the skills that are needed to be more inclusive.

If you’d like to learn more about how coaching builds inclusive leaders, get in touch with the team or read more about the programme here