June 6, 2022
What does it mean to be an Ally?
It is nearly impossible to have a complete discussion about Diversity Equity Inclusion & Belonging (DEIB) without an understanding of allyship.
As you hear the word ally, what comes to mind for you? You may already have an idea of what it means. Unfortunately, what the word ally covers is likely far more or maybe far less than what you believe it to be.
Let’s start with something most of us are already familiar with. On the world stage when countries are identified as allies, the meaning appears simple. Countries that have agreed to combine or unite resources with each other for their mutual benefit.
Right away you can see that allyship does not always mean friendship or complete alignment. However, even without complete alignment, an alliance can still be form.
Yet, when it comes to individuals, the word ally is often used to describe someone that does not suffer discrimination but who provides support to those who are the target of discrimination. Different than the two-way mutual ally relationship with countries, allyship among individuals appears more one-way.
This is because in many cases the discrimination stems from a power imbalance. The ally is usually associated with the group or individual that holds the higher level of power.
With that differentiation it is easy to see the numerous ways allyship can be formed between people and certain groups
I am sure you can think of many more allyship opportunities or potential ally relationships.
So, what is an ally expected to do?
Among other expectations, some adverbs that come to mind may include:
Mentor / Assist / Support / Sponsor / Guide / Defend / Promote
Going forward let’s call this behavior, MASS-GDP.
For this discussion let’s begin to see the ally’s responsibility as someone who consistently behaves in the MASS-GDP manner.
One way to sum up the expectation of an ally is with a phrase that became popular immediately after the September 11th event, where 19 terrorists hijacked four airplanes and killed 2,996 people including themselves.
When threats may exist, a common phrase that we hear today at airports, and other public places is, “If you see something – say something.”
I believe this also clearly sums up an expectation for the ally.
Whether it’s a good situation or a bad one, the phrase still applies.
Hiring manager: “We’re looking for a talented candidate for this critical position.”
Ally: “I know the perfect candidate for the position you are trying to fill.”
Employee: “Those people are always late or don’t seem to care about the team.”
Ally: “Hold on a moment, the culture here does not tolerate that kind of stereotyping. Saying ‘those people’, is not the language or attitude that is acceptable here.”
The point to these over simplified examples is only meant to illustrate the ally’s role in providing the support for those who may be the target of discrimination. (See something – Say something)
Three characteristics that are common among allies include:
1 – Recognition
Recognition has two components. The first is privilege. The number one item listed in a HuffPost article, by Zeilinger, J. (2013) listing 101 ways men can be an ally to women is, to first recognize their privilege.
While the ally’s position results from an imbalance of power, it must also be understood that the imbalance results in privilege.
The exhaustive list of privilege that males have, include:
These are just a few minor examples of male privilege. Are there are others that come to mind for you?
Whereas, it can be argued that many of these types of privileges are diminishing, I will let the women reading this to be the true judge of how much male privilege has waned in recent years.
Another form of recognition, is for an ally to identify, spot or ‘recognize’ opportunities to actively MASS-GDP, those in need of allyship.
Effective allies have a keen awareness and sharp eye for spotting these opportunities.
2 – Empathy:
The second characteristic that is common among allies is empathy.
Among the five major components of Emotional Intelligence identified by Harvard graduate and author Daniel Goldman, a critical one is, empathy (1996).
Most allies have an emotional underpinning that drives them to feel, understand, and aspire to make a difference for those who are being discriminated against.
This is much more than being sympathetic. Whereas, sympathy for someone’s plight is understandable and may create concern, it is not enough to drive consistent MASS-GDP behavior. Which brings us to our third characteristic.
3 – Activism:
This is the place where a difference is made. This is where something gets done and is where allyship really begins to take hold, become visible, and have the desired impact.
Activism is straight forward. It all goes back to MASS-GDP and the See Something – Say Something mindset. The bottom line to activism is ‘doing something.’ You may also view the activism as the strongest form of advocacy.
Effective allies are Karen like
One way of thinking about the activism characteristic of an ally, is to think about a ‘Karen.’ Slang Dictionary describes a Karen as a pejorative slang term for an obnoxious, angry, entitled, and often racist middle-aged white woman who uses her privilege to get her way or police other people’s behaviors (https://www.dictionary.com/e/slang/karen/, July 2020).
Of course an ally should be none of these things. Yet the key characteristic that Karens display is an active commitment to calling something out when they see it. They are not shy about making sure everyone knows where they stand.
The most effective ally is willing to take that kind of stand in defense or support of the underprivileged. Certainly not in the obnoxious, angry entitled way that Karens are described. Yet with a clear intention to correct what is seen as a wrong. (see something – say something!)
These expectations and characteristics, produce very meaningful results.
It’s not that complicated or daunting. However, the most effective ally makes a commitment. A commitment to recognize, empathize and act.
While providing moral support regarding the issues of privilege and discrimination is a great place to start, the most effective allyship occurs when activism is added to the mix.
Clarence Caldwell Ed.D – Career doctor for Black leaders
(The points of view shared here are the opinion of Dr. Caldwell, supported by other writings and personal research.)
To learn more on this topic from other leaders, join me and co-panelist Wendy Howell along with moderator Danny Cohen, June 8, 2022, presented by The WICT Network: Greater Texas – Austin Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Panel with Industry Leaders