Creating an inclusive workplace through allyship

Allyship is a verb, not a noun

3 min read

As part of our commitment to learning and to creating a more equitable and inclusive workplace, the global Diversity and Inclusion team recently hosted a Firmwide virtual event, Practicing Allyship: How to Be an Effective Ally in the Workplace, with Dr. Evelyn Carter, Managing Director at Paradigm, a diversity and inclusion strategy firm.

Dr. Carter's session was an interactive look at practical ways to be an ally—a title she explained can only be bestowed by the groups we wish to support.

"Allyship has different meanings and connotations. Some worry that it frames achieving equity as a philanthropic or charitable endeavor versus a responsibility of all who perpetuate or benefit from an inequitable playing field," said Maja Hazell, Head of Diversity and Inclusion. "At White & Case, it's about intentionally and consciously fighting injustice in all forms by disrupting the status quo, and assisting those who have been marginalized."

At White & Case, we aspire to create a culture in which each one of us understands what it means to be an effective ally, and that we each have a role to play.

"Allyship is a verb, not a noun. You can't simply "be" an ally. You need to practice it. You need to use your identity and privilege to make change happen," Dr. Carter said. "It’s about taking action—not taking credit."

"Identity is complex," says Dr. Carter. "You can be privileged in one area but marginalized in another. That means that we all need to be allies to each other."

These were Dr. Carter's five allyship skills to practice:

  • Be personally committed to ensuring the inclusion of others and to being their ally
  • Embrace discomfort—don't get defensive or disengage from feedback and challenging conversations, but lean in and learn from others
  • Notice inequity—put yourself in others' shoes: Does the status quo disadvantage them?
  • Amplify the conversation—prioritize listening before taking action, and use your own networks and platforms to spread the word
  • Speak up and act by using your own social capital and privilege to step up for others

Being an ally starts with a personal commitment. This can mean embracing discomfort, perhaps by acknowledging who has been disadvantaged by the status quo in your workplace or within your personal sphere.

Often, there's a learning curve for allies that involves making time for reading and researching the issues. It also involves examining how our individual actions (or lack of action) may have unintentionally contributed to inequality—before joining in the wider conversation and learning what needs to be done to bring about real change.

Sharing and amplifying these challenging conversations is also key, followed by taking action to support others.

"If you speak up and challenge injustice, especially when the marginalized person or group is not "in the room,"that's when it really counts," explains Dr. Carter. "Ultimately, it's about feeling that others have "got your back" and being prepared to step up to offer them the same support in return."

Being alert to inequity and practicing allyship ultimately benefits everyone. It creates a more level playing field for those who are disadvantaged and creates a workplace culture (and personal mindset) that focuses on achieving equity for everyone.

At White & Case, we are committed to engaging in challenging, important and thought-provoking conversations. In January 2021, we are launching the first in a series of events focusing on disability, accessibility and assistive technology in the workplace; then, in February 2021, Nikole Hannah-Jones, a Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter and creator of the landmark 1619 Project on the central role of slavery in America's founding, will join us for Black History Month in the US. We know that true progress will not happen without honest, open and courageous conversations.