Are you born an ally or can you learn to be an ally?
To answer this question, I turn to Carol Dweck’s framework – the growth mindset. Her work as a therapist and organizational psychologist finds that are very few “naturals.” Raw talent is not nearly as important as having an open set of beliefs to learning and embracing imperfection. This means that you can learn how to do nearly anything. There are far fewer limitations than your brain may think it believes. Good news – I believe everyone can learn to be an ally.
Being an ally is a journey, not a destination. Being an ally does require bravery and courage. And, you do not have to do it alone. It requires a growth mindset.
What is an ally?
An ally is someone that supports someone else that is different than them. This may be based on experiences, race, gender, sexuality, ability, or other dimensions of diversity. It is important to note that diversity is much broader than simple visible dimensions such as race and gender. True diversity goes way beyond the visible and touches upon many more identifiers as a human – personality type, religious beliefs, political views – for starters.
The diversity wheel
In my diversity training, I often share the diversity wheel with these markers and more. I ask people to self-identify their own markers of diversity. How do they feel different than those at work, at home, or in their culture? The more markers of diversity you experience, the less likely you are to feel, seen, heard, or belong in the workplace. This is important. When people do not feel seen, heard, or that they belong, they are highly unlikely to be their full selves and that means lower productivity, quality, and higher likelihood of turnover. This social theory dates back to 1942 with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. As Maslow found, as humans, we seek connection everywhere once our basic needs have been met. In short, we do not stay places we do not feel that we belong.
How to be a brave ally for others
Self-awareness is a critical first step on the journey to being an ally. I recommend starting with a strong why – why does this matter to you? What does it mean to be an ally to you? How do you want to show up as an ally?
Then, lean into the discomfort that being there for others that are different than you will bring. Go to a community event supporting an underrepresented group, go to a restaurant that is culturally diverse, or have a conversation with someone different than you about their experiences. Do not ask them to represent the full experience for everyone like them, yet listen with curiosity and park your assumptions.
Allies do not write checks they cannot cash
You cannot self-proclaim yourself to be an ally. It is in the eye of the beholder. True allies lean into the candid conversation about diversity. They are brave. They strive to be an ally even when it is hard. Because if it were easy, we would have already figured this out. We would not need diversity training.
Like this content? Learn how to be an inclusive leader and lead like an ally at Lead Like An Ally. There, I have complimentary workbooks, a podcast series, and a video series to lead more inclusively with your team.