Allyship: the role we each can play to propel society forward
How allyship can help make progress toward a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive future
Content submitted by BluePearl Specialty and Emergency Pet Hospital, a dvm360® Strategic Alliance Partner
Our individuality is our power. Yet sadly, many of us are fearful or even ashamed to be our true selves. What many people do not realize is that by hiding our true selves, over time, we begin to erase parts of ourselves—the parts that make us unique and the parts that bring richness to our society and world.
The legacy of LGBTQ+ Pride Month is one that advocates for the opposite. It honors our uniqueness and the boldness of our truths. It is a time for unapologetic self-celebration and proclamation to ourselves and to the world. While I may not be a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I am and have always been an ally. In honor of Pride Month, I am sharing my story—of immigration, understanding, and allyship—and why we must each take on the role of “ally” to propel our society forward.
I came to this country in 1984 as a first-generation Chinese immigrant. Despite not knowing English and appearing different than most people in the small Maine town my parents landed us in, we were warmly welcomed by the community. I began first grade that September under the direction of Ms. Susan Grover. Ms. Grover and my classmates were immediately accommodating. However, there were many instances in which I felt out of place. For example, when standing for the pledge of allegiance. “Why is everyone standing in such a way, and what did the words they were saying mean?” I questioned. Yohei, a fellow pupil and immigrant from Japan, surely felt the same as I did those first few days.
While I did not realize it at the time, Ms. Grover and my classmates were my first allies. Ms. Grover was committed to helping me succeed and during the first week of school sent me home with a notepad that my mother and father could address concerns and questions through. Ms. Grover not only made an intentional effort to encourage communication and collaboration between parent and teacher but conveyed her dedication to helping me assimilate and thrive as a student. This was also my first experience in a truly inclusive environment. The faculty encouraged my mother to volunteer as well as offered opportunities to teach about the Chinese culture at the school, while Ms. Grover made teaching me English a priority. In fact, Ms. Grover made teaching me English a priority for all my fellow classmates as well.
I have always felt fortunate having this experience so early on in my journey in America, but it was not until adulthood that I realized the true impact these allies and their actions had on who I am today.
Allyship, by definition, is “an active, consistent, and arduous practice of unlearning and re-evaluation, in which a person in a position of privilege and power seeks to operate in solidarity with a marginalized group.” Allyship is not limited to the LGBTQ+ community, but as mentioned earlier, also includes other marginalized groups of people such as immigrants, women, people with disabilities, and Black, indigenous, and other people of color. Everyone can be an ally, especially when your identity puts you in a position of privilege respective to a particular group. Like my allies once stood beside me as a first-generation immigrant, I now stand as an ally for those people in LGBTQ+ communities.
As the world becomes increasingly diverse, bringing together people of all religions, cultures, and backgrounds, and our human rights are points of debate on both state and federal levels, it is important that begin to understand and appreciate each of our differences. Because of my experiences, I have an acute appreciation for differences and actively seek out conversations where I can learn and grow, both as an individual and as a leader. While these conversations can be intimidating, and at times difficult, they are critically important as they break down barriers, breed alliances, and allow for the improvement of conditions and resolution of problems. Allyship and the communication that arises from this relationship builds stronger, more collaborative communities and businesses. In addition to these benefits, allyship:
- brings large numbers of people together to foster powerful changes. Intersectional collaboration can be more effective in reaching goals than if each group operates alone.
- brings an opportunity for community development. Each group has unique strengths, perspectives, ideas, and wisdom that can enrich the larger community. Sometimes a fresh perspective from one community can solve an old problem for another.
- helps us understand each other to better overcome and prevent divisions. Misunderstandings or misconceptions result in a loss of opportunities (personally and professionally), inequality, violence, and more. The better we understand one another, the better we can resolve key issues.
One powerful initiative that aims to cultivate allyship globally is The Human Library Organization. The Human Library is, in the true sense of the word, a library of people. The organization hosts events where “readers” can “borrow” human beings who serve as open books and have conversations they would not normally have access to. Every human book represents a group in society that is often subjected to prejudice, stigmatization or discrimination because of their lifestyle, diagnosis, belief, disability, social status, ethnic origin, etc. The initiative is designed to challenge stigma and stereotypes and bring about understanding between groups.1
Like The Human Library, each day we have opportunities to better understand the people and world around us. I implore you to take them. This quote on the power of choice and seeking understanding by American writer and 1962 Nobel Prize in Literature winner, John Steinbeck, really resonates with me: “Try to understand men. If you understand each other, you will be kind to each other. Knowing a man well never leads to hate and almost always leads to love.”
Allyship in the workplace
Allyship in the workplace can come to be in many ways. Bringing more seats to a decision-making table or offering safe places, virtual or in-person, to discuss the realities facing a particular group breeds these connections amongst employees. Let us first look at why diverse opinions are needed at every table.
It is a basic democratic principle: The persons affected by a decision must be involved in formulating the solution. For programs or policies to be effective, people of diverse backgrounds and roles must be included in the decision-making process. This means allowing continual opportunities for input during the development process as well as feedback after implementation. With support from those people and groups affected, follow-through and broader acceptance will be more likely to occur. This also leads to a more equitable and productive workplace overall. For example, research shows that when management or leadership understands and appreciates their employee’s cultures, employees feel valued (or a part of a community) and thus are more productive.
Allyship in the workplace also occurs through employee resource groups (ERGs), also known as affinity groups or diversity groups. ERGs are designed to build community, provide support, and foster a diverse, inclusive workplace aligned with the organization’s values. ERGs are usually led by employees who share a particular characteristic, such as gender, ethnicity, or religious affiliation, but alliesalso have the opportunity to join. Through organized meetings, both allies and those members of a specific group fight for equality and create broader forums for all people to share ideas that aim to bring about better work and societal conditions.
There are many allies within my organization’s diversity resource groups. In our Pride group, there are Black people, and within our Women’s History Group, there are people of Hispanic Heritage. I, as an Asian, am a part of the Pa’lante LatinX Group. Understanding one another's experiences, and the influences that these groups have had on our mainstream history and culture, are vital to having an accurate view of our society and our communities and determining powerful paths forward.
The world we envision
What is the community or world you hope for? Is it equitable, diverse, and inclusive? As those within the LGBTQ+ community celebrate this month, remember to use your power as an ally to empower those whose voices are not heard as loudly and create the just world you wish for. There are many reputable sources online to help guide you in your journey to being a better ally, and there are many ways you can begin your journey today. Here are a few ways to start:
- Confront your own bias, prejudice, and privilege
- Research to better understand experiences different from your own
- Recognize inequalities and microaggressions in daily life, and explore their impacts
- Listen and try to understand the experiences of marginalized communities
- Advocate for systemic changes at work and in the community
Allies are needed now, perhaps more than they have ever been before. Together, let us make use of our privileges, challenge oppression of all types, and ensure that people of all genders and orientations are free to be themselves, within and outside of organizations.