Allyship: Stepping up for a more inclusive IT

IT leaders seeking to make a difference on diversity must become better allies of marginalized groups in IT, a process that requires reflection and courage in assuring issues are addressed and voices are uplifted.

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Leaders should not expect employees who represent marginalized groups to educate you and their colleagues on allyship or diversity, nor for the onus of DEI work to rest on these employees. While some employees may be interested in helping further diversity initiatives, you can’t expect your BIPOC or women employees to educate their coworkers or other leaders in the organization on these topics. Instead, as an ally, you can facilitate opportunities for employees who represent marginalized groups to share their journey on their own terms, either with you or with other employees, while also ensuring a more diverse group of individuals are involved in doing the DEI work your organizations needs to address.

It’s also important to note that allyship is a long-term commitment that requires attuning to the strengths and viewpoints all employees bring to the organization, starting with hiring and continuing throughout employees' careers.

“It’s not enough to bring underrepresented people into an organization, it’s also not enough just to give those people opportunities, it is really about making sure that those people have opportunities not because they’re part of a marginalized group, not because they’re not in a position of power, but because they actually have real deep-seated expertise, and a different perspective that’s going to be a value add to the ultimate goals of the organization,” says Glenn.

The courage of conviction

One of the biggest issues Carr, Glenn, Davis, and Littlejohn encounter when working with executives who want to do more for DEI, but aren’t sure where to start, is that they’re often afraid of “making mistakes.” They’re concerned they may do or say the wrong thing, making matters worse and drawing negative attention to their efforts. So instead they often choose to stay quiet and do nothing, undercutting their opportunity to be a better ally.

“Sometimes people are frozen with fear, fear of having the conversation,” Davis says. “But diversity, equity, and inclusion work is all about courageous conversations. You’ve got to be able to call it when you see it; you got to have the tough conversation in the moment. And you know that’s not for the faint of heart.”

Confronting your own bias and privilege can be very uncomfortable; so too can be having these kinds of challenging conversations in the workplace. But having the courage to do so — and to make mistakes in the process — is fundamental to being an ally.

“It’s important for people in power to be the ones carrying the flag, because if I’m sitting here and I’m the only one who is going to bring up the issue of diversity or inclusion or equity, that puts me in a very vulnerable position. And so that’s why it’s so important for allies to get the table,” Davis says.

It’s not about the mistakes you make on your path to allyship, it’s about how you learn from those mistakes and grow. There’s no perfect way to be an ally, but the most important thing you can do is keep an open mind and continue to listen, learn, and educate yourself on the topics so you’ll know when to speak up and when it’s time to give someone else the opportunity to speak up.

Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

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