Diversity and Inclusion programs have become quite a topic over the past decade. There are plenty of E/BRG programs (Employee / Business Resource Group), and managers along with stakeholders are listening more than ever to all the topics in this matter. Yet, it would be a lonely call if all the hard work would be up to the members of such groups. This path would not be the same without the brave and important part of the community, allies. They are the ones who fight along, raise topics, defend, explain and protect the equity of those who are not being understood. They help thrive others and support the common aim in D&I flow. Without them playing their role in this project of equity, the road would be full of rocks and branches we may stumble over. Being an LGBT+ person fighting for LGBT+ rights, or a woman speaking about women empowerment is strong and on point, yet having that ally is like a steady and firm basement we can build a house on top. Being the one who is not afraid to speak up, being the one who helps and supports is not easy. And, there is still the question of HOW to help. Here are 4 elemental and crucial tips on how to become a powerful ally.
Step out of the closet
This term is well known among the LGBT+ community. It means to let go of the past, and of a mask we might be wearing, pretending to be someone we are not. It would be quite hypocritical to discuss LGBT+ acceptance, awareness and inclusivity, yet remain hidden from the spotlights. This process of overcoming our own ego needs a lot of courage and persuading over our own inner saboteur. Constant questions of what if…."they would stop being friends with me", "they would think I am weak", "I might lose a friend or a job", or "I am wrong". Once the first step is taken, the journey may begin. An ally must step out of the comfort zone first. Admit and encourage yourselves, decide WHY you want to support your group, what is your GOAL. Then, when you hear something going against your will or the common aim of your group, speak up. Let the world know that you do understand, accept, embrace and support whatever stands for your chosen interest in D&I. The main goal for an ally should be a truce. A truce between two camps. Two islands, that are constantly arguing about who is right. An ally is the one who seeks the benefit behind establishing equity, equality and inclusion in all discussions. They feel the frustration and needs of everyone on one hand, and as well understands the confusion and worry on the other one. So if there is a misunderstanding or bewilderment, stand up, point it out and prove you are an ally. Be there who needs your support on both sides. Being an ally is not being a saboteur, it is a bridge between two shores.
Neutral zones keepers
If there is a topic explained or an action performed by a D&I member, the ally should support them and highlight the topic, speak about it as best as they believe they can. But it does not mean to fully cope with all those ideas. It does not mean losing your voice. It is quite the opposite. It is more than ok to give feedback as well. Actually, allies should know the best from each world and aim for connecting them. That cannot be done without proper feedback. If they think one side is overreacting or overdoing it, tell them so. Politely, assertively, yet still passionately give them your word about it. The benefit of an ally is supporting both sides to understand one another and helping them to not cross the lines too much. For example, we tend to make fun of things we do not understand to make them easier to accept. If you are in a group of people and they might have jokes about blonds, ladies, gay people, or any kind of body shaming, etc. Whenever there are jokes about other people, allies should step in and say out loud that this is not ok to judge others on their looks, behaviours, failures, beliefs or misunderstandings. Keep the discussion of both worlds in a neutral zone.
Prove your word
Being an ally should not be just a badge. A badge can be put off. But being an ally is more than that. To help both sides to understand one another, to accept the needs of their worlds, you need to educate yourselves, ask them how you can support, and live that way. It is easy to preach, harder to practice. If you preach to others to stop arguing, start with yourselves first, listen more, and actively interact. Words are powerful but are limited if there is no action. With no actions, there is no inspiration. With no inspiration, there is no motivation to change. Prove your words by actions taken towards a better world of equity, equality, awareness and inclusion.
Actions do not have to be big all the time. Of course, we all want to make an impact and change the world. But if we fill a glass with big boulders, there is still plenty of space for sand to fill the jar completely. Some actions might not be big at first but may leave the trail to help other people to find a light at the end of their dark tunnel. I was once scared and closeted at work as an LGBT+ person. I did not want to step out of the closet, I was afraid of my team as they were way older than me. It was my first job experience, long story short, I did not want to fail. One day I was walking down the hallway and saw a poster. That poster was celebrating the National Coming Out Day on October 11th. It was the very first time I felt safe at work knowing there is someone behind that poster being an ally, being bold to make the move. Starting that day I reached out to several contacts within the company, came out to my peers and boss. Year after, I became the light. I made the move and spoke in front of the local board, admitting my fears and anxiety, and planning to not let others feel the same way. They fully supported me and I came out with my very first event. I asked everyone to wear something green if they are allies or members of the LGBT + community. I saw lots of people in green or wearing a green accessory. No one knew if they are part of the LGBT+ community or being an ally, or if they just wear something green because they like this colour. Ever since then, I helped other D&I, ERG, BRG groups to thrive, I worked on LGBT + activities on the EU and global levels as an advocate for rights. It helped me to become the man I am today, yet, it all started with a simple poster. A simple crumb, left in a hallway by someone I have never found out who the person was.
If you feel like to be an ally, reach out to your ERG/BRG within your companies, and ask them how you can give a hand, or a support. If there is no such group and you feel like you have a word to say, an act to play, or a direction to take - stand up, step in and begin your journey. Becoming an ally is a bold move, yet so rewarding in helping others being their true selves. Living up to our values is the greatest accomplishment one can achieve.