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March 9, 2022

Changing lives through Allyship

Madalyn Altschuler

Allyship is more than a buzzword. Allies everywhere are improving people’s livelihood and taking intentional steps to create an environment where everyone has opportunities to thrive. Allyship is about serving the greater good and uniting people in a common purpose.

Why is having or being an ally so important? What types of behaviors do allies display? Together, we’ll dive into these critical questions and discuss how this topic is relevant both in our professional and personal lives.

Defining an Ally

Like many terms, ‘ally’ stems from the Latin word alligare, which means “to bind to.” Think of countries who are allies in war and how they bind to another country for mutual protection. While one person’s definition of ally may vary slightly from another, an ally is someone on your side that aligns with and supports a cause of another individual or group.

There’s not a one size fits all approach to defining who should be an ally to others. We might instinctually think that a male should be an ally for a female, or a straight person should be an ally for the LGBTQ+ community, or even a more tenured colleague should be an ally for younger colleagues. The reality is that an ally can come from any walk of life, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity or age, so long as they are in support of another person or group.

The role of allies in DE&I programs

One of the most vital aspects of a successful workplace diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) program is to have ally engagement and support. Without allies, the ability to truly create organizational change becomes much more challenging. Allies demonstrate empathy and are often the ones bringing attention to underrepresented groups when their voice is not being heard or if they don’t have a seat at the proverbial table.

According to research conducted by Change Catalyst, 65% of people are more likely to feel like they belong in their workplace when they have an ally. Additionally, 64% are more likely to be satisfied with their workplace culture and 77% more likely to be satisfied with their job. These numbers increase across the board when there are multiple allies. This is a win-win; employees are more productive and engaged, helping to improve a company’s bottom line, and allies are fulfilled by giving back their time and energy to others.  And of course, when people are happy at work, this generally will carry over into their personal lives too.

Qualities and traits of effective allies

When we asked our colleagues to define the character traits they look for in an ally, the list was exhaustive. Allyship means something a little different to each person and the traits we desire in an ally may vary slightly as well. The general spirit of the responses included individuals who were:

  • Approachable
  • Brave
  • Empathetic
  • Compassionate
  • Open minded
  • Self-aware
  • Trustworthy

One colleague also described allies as being “selfless, meaning they forego opportunities in order to provide them to others.” Allies are willing to learn and change. They can recognize the challenges another group or person is facing, and will be fearless in helping to build up that person or group.

So, how do you become an ally?

Don’t wait for an invitation. Now is the time to make a difference. No one is expecting perfection out of their allies. We’re all human, simply trying to better the world around us.

Let’s all challenge ourselves to become more aware of our surroundings and to look for ways to help others who may not be just like us. This might feel uncomfortable at first and maybe even a little foreign. But without discomfort, there is no growth. We’re counting on allies to help us grow and drive inclusive change for all.