If you’re paying attention to the diversity and inclusion space, you’re likely hearing a lot about ‘allies’. For example, ANU has an LGBTQIA+ Ally Network, which works to increase visibility, support, and community for LGBTQIA+ staff and students.
Given allyship is a crucial part of building a diverse and inclusive environment, it’s worth taking some time to unpack what precisely an ally is and what allies do.
I’ve referenced Karen Catlin’s excellent book Better Allies: everyday actions to create inclusive, engaging workplaces previous posts. It’s a great, quick, practical guide that attends to the nuances of professional environments, such as ours. There are a few copies floating around the College - reach out (to firstname.lastname@example.org) if you want to have a read!
Catlin’s book is great because it breaks down ‘allyship’ into different types of allies who might display particular sets of behaviour. I think this is an excellent approach because we will all naturally identify more closely with some elements of allyship than others, although realistically we will be a combination of.
This post is a quick summary of Catlin’s categories. Hopefully you will see yourself somewhere in there, and get some ideas for other forms of allyship.
Allyship by sponsoring involves amplifying the knowledge, skillsets, and contributions made by marginalised or junior staff. Sponsors will vouch for expertise they see in others, particularly during conversations around performance, promotion, and recommendations for stretch projects and learning opportunities. Sponsors are vocal about the work that underrepresented people do in the workplace, especially in conversations with key influencers in the organisation.
This might be the most familiar type of allyship. The Champion actively recognises their own privilege, and the power that comes when they support underrepresented colleagues. Champions will advocate for underrepresented people for career-building opportunities such as keynote or panel speakers, rather than themselves. The Champion will privately and publicly direct specific technical or subject-matter questions to colleagues, rather than answering themselves, even when they are capable of doing so. The Champion, in other words, actively reduces their own voice to give space to others.
Advocates use their own influence to ensure colleagues from underrepresented groups are involved in high-level and decision-making circles to elevate that colleague’s influence. For example, the Advocate will look closely at the invite list for networking and engagement events, and recommend colleagues from underrepresented groups be invited and elevated at these events.
Rather than relying on marginalised people to do the heavy lifting and educating, the Scholar will take it upon themselves to do their own research and seek out relevant information on challenges, barriers, or difficulties faced by people in underrepresented groups. The Scholar also actively seeks to understand the experience of marginalised people in their organisation, and does not interject or insert their own opinion into that view. They simply listen, and try to understand.
Not everyone has the confidence or security (in their employment) to be an Upstander, and that’s ok. The Upstander is very vocal about behaviours or actions that are offensive or inappropriate, even if no one within earshot is the subject or victim. They will insert themselves into situations in which they think someone is being bullied or harassed, and check that person is ok.
The Confidant is simply someone who believes their colleagues who share with them stories of harassment, marginalisation, or bullying. The Confidant creates a safe space to listen to, and validate, the experiences of underrepresented people in an organisation or field. Although this form of allyship isn’t often public, it’s incredibly important in supervision and mentoring relationships to create a trusting environment in which mentees feel they can share their experiences without judgement or retribution.
Catlin’s types of allies show many different ways that we as individuals can demonstrate allyship in a multitude of ways. I think it’s worth also acknowledging the power of allies working as a community or cohort of people who prioritise allyship in their workplace and professional selves, working together to perform these various ally roles, learning from each other, and building a network based on shared values.
In exciting news, Karen Catlin will be in conversation with a stellar panel - including our College Dean Professor Elanor Huntington - for a Women in STEMM Australia webinar on 1 September 2020. I strongly encourage my colleagues, regardless of gender, to register and listen if you can!
Karen will be joined by:
- Professor Elanor Huntington (Dean of the College of Engineering & Computer Science at The Australian National University)
- Florence Drummond (Founder of Indigenous Women in Mining & Resources Australia)
- Belle Lim (PhD student at Monash University & Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre)
- Dr Marguerite Evans-Galea AM (IMNIS Executive Director at the Australian Academy of Technology & Engineering and co-founder, WiSAust).