What kind of workplace ally are you?
A workplace ally is someone who is not a member of an under-represented group but who takes action to support one or many such groups.
- Men advocating for the advancement of women
- White colleagues standing up for the rights of people of colour
- Able-bodied individuals thinking extensively about the needs of those with disabilities
- Heterosexual employees creating a workplace free of homophobia and transphobia against LGBT colleagues
Being an ally is an active process – it’s not something you can bestow upon yourself simply because you’re not transphobic, homophobic, sexist or racist.
To be a true ally means taking on the struggle of an oppressed group as your own, carrying the weight felt by those in a marginalised group and never putting it down. Allyship means valuing people with different experiences from your own, learning about privileges and natural prejudices, and working to make the workplace more equitable in spite of them.
Why allies are essential
When individuals in positions of power and influence – not necessarily from a seniority perspective – stand up for the interests of others, everyone stands to benefit. Allies can provide a louder and sometimes more impactful voice for issues concerning under-represented groups, helping to increase awareness across a larger audience. Allies avoid the charge of ‘self-interest’, resulting in a more receptive audience and creating opportunities for everyone to dispel their unhelpful beliefs about particular groups and see the capability beyond particular identities.
Understand your privileges
Typically, allies come from groups that already enjoy many advantages that under-represented groups do not automatically receive. Parts, if not all, of their identity are reinforced and supported by the processes, norms and cultures that surround them – this is privilege. To be an effective ally means to understand the privileges you have and what those in oppressed groups do not. Understanding what that oppression is – and its impact – is vital in order to challenge it.
As an ally, you should reflect on all the unearned benefits your privilege has given you and understand how each has affected the various aspects of your lives. Doing this work will highlight what others have missing from their own lived experiences – and what they have to overcome to reach the same level. Active allies find ways to make their privilege work for others – wielding it to advance those individuals and champion their cause.
Women in fintech
One area ripe for allyship in fintech is gender. In its Women in FinTech Power List 2018, Innovate Finance noted that women represent just under a third of total staff in the UK fintech sector. And a Lendit FinTech survey in the US the same year found women made up 37% of the fintech workforce – with just 19% in the C-suite.
Given such vast imbalance, it’s clear that allies from the dominant group in fintech – men – need to do better when it comes to hiring women and helping to advance their careers.
The five kinds of ally
Being an ally doesn’t have to be hard. Action can be taken at all levels using straightforward, everyday efforts that can have huge impact. Below are a few ‘roles’ that allies can take to support colleagues from marginalised groups.
- The cheerleader
Cheerleaders are visible and vocal supporters of those in under-represented groups, shining the spotlight on individuals in public spaces and forums. Across meetings, conferences and online spaces, cheerleaders provide a voice that’s heard by large audiences. Cheerleaders…
- Defer to the subject matter expert when relevant questions are fielded, instead of answering themselves
- Have an inclusion rider for any conference, panel event or speaking opportunity that advocates for and advances the representation of non-dominant groups
- Sit out of a high-profile event in favour of an equally capable but often overlooked member of an under-represented group
- The amplifier
Amplifiers ensure that under-represented voices are heard, valued and respected. They highlight the contributions of others and use platforms to communicate the needs of others – in this instance, they really are the ones who shout the loudest. Amplifiers…
- Do not let a good idea go unnoticed – they repeat it, credit the source and share it to those in positions of influence or power. e.g. “I think Iman’s approach to entering into this new marketplace is excellent.”
- Set ground rules for various communication channels and platforms to ensure everyone’s voices are equally heard
- Think of members of an under-represented group to contribute to high-profile events and interactions – they get their voice into meetings, calls, newsletters, panels, soundbites and other points of visibility
- The researcher
Researchers are hungry for knowledge about the lived experience of those in a non-dominant group. Their interest is authentic and well-intentioned – they are looking to listen and learn about the challenges and setbacks faced by certain colleagues. Researchers…
- Do their own research! They read publications, listen to podcasts, scour social media and follow notable commentators from the under-represented group(s) in their industry. They don’t wait for members of that group to signpost content for them
- Talk to the horse’s mouth. They ask colleagues from ‘othered’ groups about their experiences of life in and out of the workplace
- Ask before inviting themselves along to specific groups – their presence may prompt some individuals to manage themselves
- The intervener
Interveners take action and dive straight in… appropriately. They call out offensive or problematic behaviour, taking opportunities to defend and educate whenever there is a need to do so. Interveners…
- Speak up whenever they witness degrading or oppressive speech or behaviour. They take time to explain their concern, ensuring there is understanding from the majority
- Challenge unnecessary comments or derailing actions that are intended to put off certain individuals
- Notice and follow up on any cases of bullying or overt discrimination in the workplace. They diffuse difficult situations and check in with the recipient of the behaviour, just in case
- The supporter
Supporters are trusted confidants for members of a non-dominant group to share their perspectives, fears, joys and concerns. They create a security blanket of trust and support where individuals feel heard, respected and safe. Supporters…
- Never question the lived experience of others and instead assume reality and truth in what they are told
- Show interest through open questions and stop themselves from self-disclosing – their experience may be valid but it’s not the same
- Simply listen, acknowledge and thank the other person for sharing
Whatever type of workplace ally you are, remember that to be an ally is to:
- Take on the struggle as your own
- Stand up, even when it feels uncomfortable to do so
- Use your privilege to advance those who lack it
- Acknowledge that whilst you also feel the struggle, the conversation is not about you