Allies bumble and stumble

So you want to be an ally, but you made a mistake?

A lot of well-intentioned allies (especially early on in the learning journey) bumble and stumble. Mistakes are part of the learning process. And it’s important that we give space for mistakes and practice grace when mistakes are made.

In my work with leaders facilitating allyship programs, I often find that people are really excited at the beginning of the journey. They’re anxious to share what they’re learning. They want to be allies for everyone in the organization. They might want to sing from the rooftops about allyship and what they are learning.

Great intentions, negative impact.

Of course, it’s with positive intentions that people want to share their learnings and they’re excited to join the conversation. The impact of this behavior can be perceived as negative though.  For the party that’s already under-represented, they might feel like, “finally you realize this is a problem” or “I don’t need you.” 

If it doesn’t feel genuine, this behavior can cause more harm than good. And oftentimes, it feels like too little too late. For those that are under-represented, they might want to retreat from the conversation just when it is beginning for others.

Don’t want to make this mistake?  Watch out for some common mistakes for allies in training:

  • Making it about you. Allies drop the ego. They make the conversation about the other person and the under-represented group, not about themselves and their own privileged lens. 
  • Saying “I am an ally.” Allyship is in the eye of the beholder. You can’t say you’re an ally. You can say you’re striving to be or committing to be an ally.
  • Talking too much. Allyship is about listening first with positive intention. We have two ears and one mouth. Allyship follows that same recipe. Listen twice as much as you speak. When we listen, we learn. When we speak, we only reinforce what we already know. We learn more from people different than us. 
  • Not speaking up. As an ally, it is important that when you see something that could be better, you say something. If you choose not to say something, you’re very much saying it’s acceptable behavior. Complicitness is not allyship. Allies challenge the status quo.
  • Offering up advice and help without it being asked for, or needed. Another ally pitfall. Assume you don’t know the answers. Listen first before saving the day. Allyship does not require a rescue cape. No one wants a savior. 

Got your ally radar up for these well-intentioned but perhaps harmful behaviors? Here are five things you can do as an ally to avoid these mistakes:

  • Listen to learn.  Taking inventory of how much you speak versus listen in conversations. We always want the balance to be more on the listening side as allies. 
  • Take the spotlight off of yourself. Shine the light on others who are under-represented. Share their ideas and stories with others that will listen to you.  Leverage your privilege for good.
  • Be intentional. Always have a clear purpose. Allies know how to be helpful and who needs that help. 
  • Be consistent. Allies keep showing up. There’s no room for performative allyship and standing on the sidelines.
  • Be more interested in getting it right than being right. Have hard conversations. Allies ask questions they don’t know the answers to with the intent to learn.

We are all allies in training. If we’re waiting for perfect allies, we will wait forever. That means progress over perfection. Embracing that people fall into these pitfalls and they make mistakes. It’s okay to make mistakes – as long as you learn from them. 

If you liked this article, share it with a friend, check out our Diversity Pivot Podcast for entertaining stories about inclusive leadership, or schedule time with Julie if you are interested in bringing this content to your organization.  We also have a brand new virtual self-paced Lead Like an Ally course to check out!

Get the Latest from Julie

Sign up to be the first to see new information on blogs, upcoming webinars, and workshops.

Get the Latest from Julie

You have Successfully Subscribed!