I'm an anti-bias expert. Here's how to stop performative allyship at work - and 4 things to do instead.
- Lydia Elle is a business consultant based in southern California who leads anti-bias workshops.
- She says
allyshipstarts with recognizing and calling out discrimination and being consistent to build trust.
- Here's what she says to do to be a better ally at work, as told to freelance writer Melissa Petro.
This as-told-to essay is based on a transcribed conversation with Lydia Elle, a consultant and anti-bias workshop leader. It has been edited for length and clarity.
Last summer while I was working a full-time job and doing my best to stay safe and healthy amid the pandemic, my 11-year-old daughter came to me with her IPad and a look of confusion on her face. She'd just accidentally viewed a few moments of the George Floyd murder. Her face had a look that said "what happened mom?"
Like many parents, I'd been trying to protect her from all that's bad and wrong in the world. I realized in this moment part of protecting her needed to be letting her learn what was wrong in the world, instead of just trying to shield her from it.
Shortly after this talk, I made a decision to devote myself to fighting injustice. Today, I lead anti-bias workshops and create resources that support companies and individuals interested in becoming better allies.
Here's four ways fellow professionals can step to be better allies at work.
1. Start by facing the problem
The first and most vital step towards fixing these issues is being aware and acknowledging them. We cannot move to a place of healing and growth without speaking first about what is sick.
Last year during the Black Lives Matter protests, some people accused protestors of being 'rioters' and 'looters,' but as others have pointed out most looting happens to Black people in the boardrooms and executive offices. Many Black workers still face a promotion and wage gap. Black women have to work 7 months extra per year to earn the same pay as their white male counterparts. In workplaces that suffer from a lack of
Allyship is more important than ever, especially in environments where it's not expected. Step in, speak up, and call out mistreatment. Have tough conversations with your colleagues about why certain phrases or words are harmful. It's not always comfortable or convenient, but it's necessary and worth it to create a safer world for everyone.
2. Employers must recognize that diversity and inclusion adds value
To foster an inclusive work environment, everyone should feel seen and heard and know that their contributions matter. There's an open door policy where everyone is encouraged to speak up.
The impetus to create these kinds of workplaces must come from the top down. Employees need to see consistent and full buy-in from leadership at all levels. The narrative here shouldn't be that this is to help 'them' (minorities) but that these changes are for everyone.
There's a lot of data surrounding the bottom line benefits of making diversity a priority in the workplace. Studies that show diversity attracts top performing candidates, encourages innovation, and increases revenue. On the other hand, if a workplace is unwelcoming and discriminatory, employees aren't likely to last long or perform their best.
3. Be consistent
When it comes to equality and racial justice, you've got to be committed to the long haul. Allyship is more than one training; it's doing something every day. This was the motivation behind my allyship calendar, which offers daily prompts to start difficult conversations.
This time last year, many people - some of whom may have previously just been silent or 'on the fence' about their views - felt compelled to speak out against racial injustice. In response to the Black Lives Matter protests that swept across America, companies quickly crafted statements of support and even made financial pledges. However when the wave died down- even though the injustice and inequity are still present- the support waned, too. This kind of performative allyship can leave those needing help worse off than before.
It may sting to be accused of virtue signaling, but it's understandable why communities who've been harmed are wary. Be consistent. It takes time to build trust.
4. Bring on help
If your company is truly committed to improving itself in terms of equity, equality and diversity among its staff, and creating a safer and more inclusive environment, I recommend hiring an expert. Outside counsel won't take sides, which will help make sure that no one in the organization feels isolated. Coworkers should be able to speak freely and without fear of retaliation. In certain environments, you won't get honesty before effectual and sustained change has been created. Hiring outside counsel also ensures the person or persons harmed aren't tasked with fixing things.
I don't want to teach my daughter how to survive racism. I want to create a space, a world, where she doesn't have to. It's up to all of us to make our present and our children's future better.
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