For years, HR Leaders and Chief Diversity Officers (CDOs) have recognized the importance of Allyship programs. For many organizations, this, along with creating a DEI Statement, is one of the first tangible acts leaders can do to kickstart their DEI program. But what exactly are Allyship programs, and what are some of the important principles of all successful programs? This article will address that question and delve even deeper into the dos and don’ts of most successful programs.
Allyship programs have four main goals:
1. Provide a support network for historically marginalized identities.
2. Create a supportive an inclusive environment where all individuals feel welcome, respected, and valued.
3. Engage individuals who have typically shied away or felt awkward with DEI programs in the past—i.e., people in power, who are part of a majority identity, and who may or may not be historically underrepresented.
4. Create a shift in the DEI culture towards more inclusion and belonging in the organization.
Allyship programs can be organically driven from middle managers, executive leaders, HR or by grass roots efforts by individual contributors. The way in which your organization starts a program depends a lot on the culture of your organization and the willpower to start one.
In its essential form, an Allyship program is a structured initiative, designed to foster meaningful relationships between individuals or groups who may not share the same background or experiences. An effective and sustainable Allyship program addresses—improving inclusion and belonging in the organization and creating a support network for marginalized identities.
An impactful Allyship program is comprised of a:
- Governance structure,
- Sustainability plan,
- Leadership matrix, and,
- Direction for the organization to take.
Allyship programs must fit into the company’s DEI initiative and match the culture in a way that makes them easy to implement and robust enough to keep pace with the changing nature of the organization.
Allyship is based on understanding how privilege impacts particular individuals and group members in an organization or workplace. Effective Allyship programs support those historically under-represented individuals who have repeatedly not risen up the corporate ranks or who have a greater propensity to leave the organization in disproportionate numbers. Allyship programs do not further a particular agenda and are not meant to be one-offs.
Allyship thrives in an organization when those identities who have historically held power and privilege commit to changing the company culture from exclusion to one in which all identities are given equitable opportunities for advancement within the organization.
Now the fun part—how do you create an extraordinary Allyship program in your organization?
Create an Allyship program plan—determine the program’s goals, structure, membership, tenets, etc. before announcing it to potential allies, management, or upper leadership. Gather feedback from HR and employee engagement surveys or other data that was collected in the past.
Evidence suggests people in leadership roles may have an overly rosy view of their role as an ally. A study from Lean In found that more than 80% of white employees see themselves as allies to people of color at work — but only 10% of Black women and 19% of Latinas say their strongest allies are white. (Thomson Reuters: Creating an Allyship Program to Build an Inclusive Corporate Legal Team, February 24, 2021)
1. Leadership is key. Recruit an executive sponsor and get buy-in from top leadership. This will ensure the needed funding. Establish a means to report on progress or challenges to the program. The Executive Sponsor is generally responsible for helping quickly resolve issues or securing needed funding.
2. Advertise and message the Allyship program launch. Begin by creating a buzz about the program. For the program to be a success, everyone in the organization should understand the purpose and outcomes of the Allyship program.
3. Recruit Allies—In conjunction with the launch, the next step is to ensure that Allies feel comfortable coming forward. Many don’t want to be the first to jump in, so create easy ways for allies to get involved and contribute. As the programs grow within the organization and employees see the value, you will be able to gain further commitment and interest.
4. Provide training and knowledge transfer. The education should focus on building awareness, empathy, and a deep understanding of the experiences of marginalized groups, as well as developing concrete strategies for creating a more inclusive and welcoming environment.
Whichever path you take to creating your Allyship program, there are lots of resources available to help. Create genuine interest among employees. Make sure you implement an Allyship program that is right for your organization’s culture, and lastly, that the organization is mature enough to take on programs like this.
Overall, Allyship programs are an effective tool for:
- Bringing together individuals with diverse identities and world views
- Promoting meaningful relationships
- Breaking down historical barriers
- Fostering a more inclusive and equitable culture
Chris Morin, MBA (He/Him/His) is the Senior Director of Operations and a Lead Consultant in the DEI Audits division at Ascension Worldwide (www.ascensionworldwide.com). For more information, contact him at email@example.com or 202-744-5233.
Rosalyn Taylor O’Neale, MSSW (She/Her/Hers) is Owner & Principal of the R. T. O’Neale Group (www.rosalyntayloroneale.com). For more information, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or (443) 862-2220.