How to be an Ally: A Guide for Individuals and Organizations

We are living in unprecedented times and we are seeing history being made all around us. I have studied, researched, and published in the field of DEI for more than 25 years and I have never seen this level of energy and intensity of the will to create change. I genuinely believe that we can leverage this energy and the will to change the dynamics of our country so that it really becomes a country for ALL its citizens.

Not only is our country at a crossroad, we as individuals and organizations are also faced with decisions about our actions and the future we want to create. We all have an opportunity to create lasting and much needed change. This momentum has to result in effective change, or we will exponentially damage the soul of our country.

All around me, individuals and CEOs are asking: what can we do?

Here are some ways to engage as an effective ally on an individual and an organizational level:

  • Step 1: Listen
  • Step 2: “Recognize, Respond, Report”
  • Step 3: Be strategic to make real change
  • Step 4: Be an ally: There is no middle ground

As individuals and as organizations, we must act now to create change. Failure to do this is not an option we can afford.

How to be an Ally, Step 1: The Importance of Listening

One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.” Unknown

Individuals & organizations are reacting in a way I have never seen in more than 25 years of working in the DEI (Diversity, Equality, Inclusion) space. It is as if collective eyes, minds, & hearts have suddenly opened. And they are finally seeing, hearing, and understanding the pain that has been there for far too long. And now they are asking, “what can we do”? 2

For individuals: listen to your friends & colleagues. Understand that the words are not (hopefully) being directed at you personally. Listen to what they have held in for so long. Do not be defensive, judge, justify or explain. Just listen with an open mind & open heart. If the words are directed at your actions, follow the same steps and then, sincerely, examine your behavior & apologize. Ask what you can do to correct your behavior.

For organizations: facilitated, confidential listening groups will create a safe space for employees of color to express themselves. Employees, both POC and non-POC employees, are feeling so many emotions right now: anger; frustration; disgust; rage; helplessness; overwhelmed to name a few. They all need a safe & confidential space to process these emotions. Employers talk about how their employees are their greatest assets. They are hurting right now, & they need you to support them. Create that space & constructively & actively show your support.

Create change. It cannot be business as usual.

How to Be an Ally, Step 2: “Recognize, Respond, & Report”

Our Scoutmaster shared an important example with the kids in our troop.

One of his Black co-workers was wearing a mask. Another co-worker, White, asked him, “Are you wearing that to protect yourself or are you planning to rob Target”. The scoutmaster positioned his response within scout values. He talked to the kids about being kind and thoughtful towards each other and about the need to “recognize, respond, and report”.

I reached out to him & we discussed respect, bias, & discrimination. About how words matter & how they create environments of exclusion. We talked about hate speech & environments that enable it. This co-worker clearly felt he could say this with impunity. Until now, he could.

As Individuals: It is vital to speak up when you hear hate speech. We ALL have to be allies for each other. Wherever you fall on the spectrum of color, SPEAK UP & do not let hate to be normalized. And while you are being aware of what others are saying and doing, think about what you are saying and doing as well. Are you perpetuating stereotypes? Are you aware of your various privileges? We have to be self-aware so that we are not part of the problem.

Start today and see how powerful one person can be. Gandhi was one person. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was one person. They each took a first step. What is your first step going to be?

As Organizations: Create an environment with clear guidelines & zero-tolerance for hate speech.

We ALL can work together to make a difference in our working environments. 3

How to be an Ally, Step 3: Be Strategic to Make Real Change

CEOs are asking: “What can we do? I want to address this & do better.”

I’m getting call after call from people of color (POC) saying, “I’ve been handed responsibility for DEI just because I’m a POC. Can you help?”

We are at a crossroads in our country. I’ve never seen this level of momentum for DEI. This is an opportunity for real change. Address this strategically. Do it right.

The CEOs I work with are good people. They want to run a responsible company & they want to create a respectful & inclusive working environment for all of their employees. They understand they need to do better. They just don’t know how. And it is not their job to know how. They have experienced people running their departments & the best CEOs listen to them so they can make informed decisions. Creating an effective DEI department & strategy is no different.

For organizations:

COMMIT to real change. This is not the time to rely on mission statements. You have to be willing to CHANGE the way you do business.

THINK STRATEGICALLY: Creating an effective DEI strategy is the same as any other business strategy. Bring in an expert. Do not put this on your employees of color. It is not their job.

MAKE THE RIGHT INVESTMENT: Invest in DEI and FULLY commit to what needs to be done.

For Individuals: Unless you have the expertise, do not agree to take on DEI unless you negotiate for an expert. There is the opportunity to create systemic change & you want to have all the tools you need at your disposal. Otherwise, it’s a failed opportunity.

How to be an Ally, Step 4: There is no middle ground in being an ally

It is time for everyone to stand up for what you believe. We are seeing history being made and I, for one, have been waiting decades for this kind of a movement. Here’s what you can do.

For individuals: Educate yourself. Learn the history of racism in our country. Do not expect your friends/colleagues of color to educate you. Understand terminology like white privilege, microaggressions, & unconscious bias. Learn why you should not say that you are “color blind”. Understand why Amy Cooper weaponizing her white privilege was so dangerous.

For organizations: Create an effective DEI strategy: 4

Understand your starting point: Don’t guess. Use actual qualitative & quantitative data on your current DEI state as the foundation for an effective strategy that will drive change. Without substantive data, you are guessing. DEI has to be addressed the same way as any other part of your business strategy

Leverage the data: Create an overall DEI strategy & implementation plan from the data. Include timelines & benchmarks. Embed benchmarks in your performance review process for leadership. Mandate DEI training for all levels.

Fund it: DEI is the last to be funded and the first to be cut. You must see DEI as part of your overall business strategy. It is not a cost center. It must be an integral part of your business plan.

There is much that individuals and organizations need to do to address issues of DEI. And we all have a responsibility to do so. If you are going to be an ally, do the work and be an effective ally. As Yoda said, “Do or do not. There is no try.” You either are an ally or you are not. There is no middle ground.

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