Black History Month honors the achievements, rich culture, and history of Black Americans and recognizes the important contributions of Black individuals in society. While there is much to celebrate, it’s important to acknowledge the different experiences many individuals still face today. Creating a world that breaks down barriers is a responsibility that falls on each of us. This is where allyship plays a critical role in establishing change.
But what is an ally? Here is a simplified definition for something that is a serious commitment: An ally is someone who uses their privilege to advocate for and support those who do not have the same level of privilege.
Allyship involves actively working to dismantle systemic inequalities, address power imbalances, and create opportunities to partner in solidarity with communities that face discrimination. As a result, allyship helps create a more equitable society where everyone has the opportunity to thrive, feel valued, and reach their full potential. But it’s important to remember that intention does not equal impact.
Whether you already consider yourself an ally or are interested in learning more about how you can become an ally, here are some action-oriented steps to help growth and support:
Reflect and acknowledge: We must understand where we are in our allyship journey to continue with the right intention. Take a moment to think about:
- Your connections, your friends, and where you spend your personal time: Do they reflect those who look, think, and act differently than you?
- Your workplace: Does it foster and invite a culture of inclusion, belonging, and diversity?
- Your mindset: Where might you have tendencies to carry implicit or unconscious bias?
Being willing to confront these issues or blind spots in yourself and identifying where there is room for growth is just as important as creating space dedicated to growing.
Understand privilege: Privilege refers to advantages and opportunities that individuals may have based on their race, gender, socioeconomic status, or other factors. While most of us have some level of privilege, it’s important to recognize that not everyone has access to the same privileges—and that some groups may face struggles, systemic barriers, and discrimination as a result. We can use our individual privileges to help address inequalities and lift up others.
Educate yourself: Take the initiative to learn about the Black experience:
- Read books or watch documentaries about Black perspectives, issues, movements and individuals who have helped shape our history.
- Attend workshops, events, or educational programs on DEIB (diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging). Many are offered through your public library or local universities.
- Seek out diverse perspectives by joining ERGs (Employee Resource Groups) in your organization.
- Actively listen to the experiences and opinions of people you know to understand their points of view. Ask questions and show empathy, respect, and support for their lived experiences.
Take action: Find a cause that is important to you in areas where you see disparities happening. Ideas for taking concrete action as an ally include:
- Volunteer in your community.
- Support Black-owned businesses. We recently asked our Blanchard colleagues about their favorite Black-owned businesses and why they love them. See what they had to share.
- Donate to organizations that impact change. Growing up as a dancer, I saw the lack of racial diversity in the dance world—from lack of skin tone options in dancewear to denying leading roles to people of color. That is why I support and donate to Brown Girls Do Ballet®, an organization committed to promoting diversity in the arts.
- Watch movies that support Black actors and read books that support Black authors.
- Take part in advocacy efforts: Address systemic barriers and social injustice in your community.
Speak up: Think about how you can use your privilege and voice to challenge discriminatory attitudes and behaviors and to advocate for others, not only in your community but also at work:
- Amplify the voices of marginalized colleagues by elevating their ideas and contributions.
- Refer colleagues from marginalized populations or underrepresented demographics for promotional opportunities and leadership roles.
- Speak up in conversations and meetings.
- Push for more diverse and inclusive policies and practices within your organization.
Most importantly, if you see racism or discrimination happening in your community or workplace, say something.
Practice humility: Allyship is not a label that should be claimed; it is an indicator of progress you receive from the populations you advocate for and ally with. It is also a journey of learning and growth. Be willing to listen, learn, make mistakes along the way, and acknowledge that you may not have all the answers. Allyship is about practice, not perfection. The Guide to Allyship has great resources on understanding oppression, identifying microaggressions, and the importance of taking ownership when an apology is needed.
Allyship isn’t a moment; it’s a movement, a commitment, and a lifelong journey. As we take time for acknowledgment, self-reflection, learning, listening, and action, remember that our individual experiences and differences, along with our history (the good and the bad), collectively create the world we live in. Every day we have the opportunity to show up as allies by understanding the struggles of others and celebrating our uniqueness to support communities and workplaces where everyone can thrive.
With each small step, we can create a significant impact.
Want to learn more? Courageous Inclusion™, based on diversity and inclusion expert Jennifer Brown’s proven developmental continuum, uses a four-stage model to help leaders and individuals understand where they are on their DEIB journey and to take the next step toward development.
About the AuthorMore Content by Kayla Ratz