Article by Nisha Chandran and Manasa Sai Sekhar
Research studies have uncovered the extent of barriers faced by underrepresented or marginalised talent pool at the workplace across the world. Often, these barriers faced by women, people from LGBT community, people with disability and other underrepresented talent groups include reduced employment opportunities, being overlooked for career advancement opportunities, being at the receiving end of discrimination, harassment or abuse and many other biases. As businesses and workplaces are becoming more complex and globally connected, it is critical that the representation of marginalised groups improve significantly and people from all backgrounds, perspectives, and abilities have equal access to opportunities. One of the most important factors to bring in this change in our workplaces, is the support, help and advocacy of the majority. The majority must stand-up, help, support and advocate for the minority. Essentially, this is the concept of allyship.
Why is Allyship important to advance Inclusion
The concept of allyship is all about using one’s own position of privilege and power to support one’s colleagues. Allies bring attention to the experiences of marginalized groups when their voices are not being heard. Being an Ally is a verb and the actions and behaviours of allies need to be conscious efforts that benefit people. Everyone can be an actionable ally as privilege comes in multiple forms – Men can be allies to women, cisgender people can be allies to people from the LGBT community, economically advantaged people can be allies to the economically disadvantaged and non-disabled people can be allies to people with disabilities.
Research on allyship outlines the positive outcomes of inclusion. The United Nations’ HeForShe campaign which was launched in September 2014, has had more than 2.1 million people across the globe sign the pledge for gender equality. Creation of more active allies at the workplace is also crucial for reducing the negative impacts of unconscious bias in the workplace. Research from the Center for Talent Innovation, “Disrupt Bias, Drive Value (2019)” finds that 33% of employees who perceive bias, whether it impacts them directly or not, feel alienated at work.
Becoming an actionable ally involves both small and big impactful actions – listening actively with intent, raising the concerns of others and amplifying their voices, calling out biased or inappropriate behavior by others, consciously using inclusive language, sharing opportunities, recognizing one’s own biases and systemic inequalities, understanding others’ experiences and empathizing, being an active sponsor and being open to reverse mentoring. Allyship creates a huge opportunity for every individual to learn more about themselves, grow and transform, while also enhancing the confidence of others.
How can organizations advance Inclusion through Allyship?
The concept of Allyship is critical to advance all aspects of diversity and inclusion within an organisation. The core principles of allyship can be applied to enhance the inclusion of any underrepresented group. Organizations can promote Allyship and enhance inclusion and belongingness through intentional efforts and structured programs that are mentioned below:
- Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) or Business Resource Groups (BRGs) can also be leveraged to sensitize employees about Allyship. Periodic training sessions on Allyship can inspire employees to become actionable allies.
- Unconscious bias training is another tool that can equip people with skills for managing the impact of biased behaviours such as micro aggressions and micro inequities in their everyday decisions, behaviours and interactions
- Bystander training can help employees to learn more about which tools and tactics to use when they witness unfair, discriminatory, or biased behavior at work. According to Deloitte’s 2019 State of Inclusion Survey, while 92% of people already see themselves as allies in the workplace, only 29% actually speak up when they perceive bias, and 34% simply ignore it. Hence it is important to encourage people to speak up when they witness any kind of biased or unfair behavior towards another individual
- Facilitating Sponsorship programs are a great way in advancing the inclusion of people from the underrepresented groups. As sponsorship programs involve a two-way relationship based on advocacy between the sponsor – typically a senior leader in position of power and privilege, and the protégé – individual from underrepresented group. Sponsorship programs enhance the visibility of protégés and helps in their career progression
- Expanding the Supplier base to include businesses run by people from underrepresented groups is another important way to foster actionable allyship
- Encouraging the usage of Inclusive language at the workplace is another critical aspect of fostering workplace Inclusion. Organizations should sensitize all employees about the usage of gender-neutral language (for eg, using the term ‘partner’ instead of husband or wife) and gender pronouns in order to be more inclusive of people from the LGBT+ community. Similarly, while speaking about PwDs, one has to be very mindful of the language being used. Employees can be sensitized on these aspects using creative internal communication methods such as posters, circulars and intranet
While workplace diversity is often seen, Inclusion is always felt. To ensure that employees across the board feel that sense of Inclusion and Belongingness, behaviors and programs need to be evident and engaging to the employees. It is the everyday behaviours and people-focused interactions that drive a sense of Inclusion and makes employees feel confident to participate wholeheartedly in the organizational processes. In the process of becoming an ally, every individual gets an opportunity to be human and rediscover themselves, and organizations get to play an important part in making the community more civilized and humane.