Let’s be Super Allies: Three Paths to Allyship
When asked if we are an ally for underrepresented groups, most of us would confidently answer, “Yes!” When asked what we’re doing to be an ally to underrepresented groups, however, some of us might falter. And such a reaction is understandable! Discourse surrounding allyship can be complex, especially because most of us are part of more than one community — a cis Black woman, for example, may want to stand up for her trans sisters in the workplace, but isn’t sure where to start, because she knows the misogynoir she experiences isn’t exactly the same as transmisogynoir. The good news is that there are certain roles of allyship that any of us can participate in, and by doing so we begin an ally’s work of making our world a better and more inclusive place. Let’s dig into the three key types of allies, inspired by Karen Catlin’s breakdown:
1. The Sponsor
The Sponsor is an ally who recognizes the skills of individuals from marginalized communities and provides specific credit to them for those skills, ideas, and contributions. Being a Sponsor includes celebrating an individual’s major achievements, such as awards, but it must also involve recognition on the everyday level. When a Black coworker provides insight on a matter, the Sponsor articulates credit for that insight: “Joana showed me [x], [y], and [z].” In doing so, they provide recognition to the individual and moreover help them build their credibility before the audience at hand. In essence, we must give credit where credit is due!
The role of the Sponsor doesn’t end there, however. Recognizing the skills of people from underrepresented groups also means handing the mic over, both literally and figuratively. If we recognize that we aren’t the right person to speak on a subject, we must ensure that someone who is the right person to do so gets to speak. Karen Catlin gives this example:
“In May 2015, Andrew Grill was a Global Managing Partner at IBM and a speaker at the Online Influence Conference. He was on a panel along with five other men when a female member of the audience posed the obvious question to the all-male lineup: ‘Where are the women?’
“The moderator then asked the panelists to address the topic of gender diversity, and Andrew, after sharing some of his thoughts, quickly realized he wasn’t the best person to respond. In fact, none of the panelists were. He instead asked the woman who asked the question, Miranda Bishop, to take his place on the panel.”
Being a sponsor means redirecting questions, passing the mic over, and being intentional in crediting the voices and ideas of individuals from underrepresented groups.
2. The Amplifier
The Amplifier is similar to the Sponsor in that we must emphasize giving credit to the contributions of marginalized communities, but there are some key differences, too. In essence, the Amplifier pushes for “representation within communication,” where we choose to pursue roles of advocacy. Codes of conduct for meetings are a classic example, where they ensure all participants have a chance to be heard. But the Amplifier goes further. For example, if we are attending an event and we notice that individuals from underrepresented groups are absent from the invitees, the Amplifier works to gain them access, including — or even especially — for public roles (e.g. speaking or presenting). The Amplifier also ensures that networks are available to individuals from marginalized communities, such as by offering to set up introductions. In essence, we must open doors and thus amplify voices!
That said, there is another half to the Amplifier’s role. While it is critical to uplift individuals from marginalized communities, Amplifiers must also call attention to the problems and challenges they notice these individuals face. For example, if Michaelyn uses they/them pronouns, but their coworker keeps referring to them with she/her, the Amplifier steps in and corrects the coworker. It is important to note that amplifying issues does not mean generating conflict, as it is likely the person from the marginalized community will suffer from the blowback. Rather, the Amplifier “pushes back on offensive comments or jokes, even if no one within earshot might be offended or hurt,” which can be as simple as shutting down a conversation before it escalates.
3. The Learner
This final type of ally commits to the journey of self-education and self-reflection. In some ways, this task is straightforward: the Learner reads books about anti-racism, attends events and workshops run by marginalized individuals, asks questions (where appropriate) to further their understanding of injustice, and takes the initiative to spread existing resources developed by underrepresented groups within their own communities. But another component of this ally’s role is to then put that knowledge into action. Intentional action includes tasks like donating to bail relief funds, but it can also be as simple as supporting businesses owned by underrepresented individuals: shopping from Black grocers, supporting Hispanic-owned restaurants, buying from queer clothing brands, and so on. The Learner doesn’t interject their own experiences. Instead, they seek to understand the experiences of others.
But as with the previous categories, the role of the Learner doesn’t stop there. While it is critical that we educate ourselves on the systemic injustices that marginalized communities face, we must also act as confidants to individuals from these communities. Why? Because “listening to their stories and trusting that they’re being truthful creates a protective layer of support.” Empathy and understanding goes beyond overarching issues; the Learner shows they care about and will fight for the rights of the specific individual at hand, too. Educating ourselves cannot stop at the “overall.” We must recognize how discrimination and injustice are presented in our immediate surroundings, too.
True allies are intentional in their efforts to support underrepresented groups, and as this list of key types of allies demonstrates, there are numerous ways we can illustrate this support. Want to know the best part?
Each and every one of us can be all three: the Sponsor, the Amplifier, the Learner.
Dima Ghawi is the founder of a global talent development company with a primary mission for advancing individuals in leadership. Through keynote speeches, training programs and executive coaching, Dima has empowered thousands of professionals across the globe to expand their leadership potential. In addition, she provides guidance to business executives to develop diversity, equity, and inclusion strategies and to implement a multi-year plan for advancing quality leaders from within the organization.