Allyship and diversity in business
Defining allyship and diversity in business
In my experience allyship goes beyond simply supporting or advocating for marginalised groups; it involves actively working to dismantle barriers faced by underrepresented individuals. An ally actively seeks to understand and educate themselves about the experiences, challenges, and strengths of different communities. This brings to mind several instances where I was the only token black female in a team which was referred to as “diverse”. Creating diverse teams means going beyond token representation and truly valuing the unique perspectives and contributions of individuals from various backgrounds.
Tokenism vs active allyship
Tokenism occurs when organisations focus on surface-level diversity without truly valuing or including marginalised individuals in decision-making processes or fostering an inclusive environment. I observed that simply hiring individuals from diverse backgrounds without addressing systemic barriers or providing support perpetuates inequality rather than fostering inclusivity.
Active allyship, on the other hand, involves a genuine commitment to inclusivity. I noticed that active allies educate themselves about the experiences of marginalised communities, amplify their voices, and actively work to create more equitable opportunities. They challenge oppressive systems, advocate for change, and share power and resources. Active allies consistently question their own biases, engage in uncomfortable conversations, and commit to long-term effort in dismantling systemic barriers.
Overcoming barriers: recognition of privilege, accessibility, and intersectionality in business
While many organisations aim to be allies, there are unaddressed barriers which I have observed to hinder the full realisation of allyship. These barriers include lack of knowledge, fear of repercussions, unconscious bias, and the belief that inclusion initiatives are mere “check-the-box” exercises. One significant barrier which I have witnessed is the lack of knowledge about different experiences and challenges faced by marginalised communities and peers. While education programmes can promote empathy, it is integral that those who wish to be allies participate in self-reflection, and active listening when breaking down this barrier and acknowledge their own privilege.
Recognising one’s privilege refers to accepting the unearned advantages or benefits granted to us by society based on our identity. This means acknowledging the imbalances of power and the inherent biases that exist within society and the workplace. I have personally experienced the benefits of active allyship when a supervisor in a position of privilege used their influence to dismantle barriers and create several equitable opportunities and enable accessibility for myself and others. I felt that his active recognition of his privilege was integral to his ability to support and advocate for others in their professional journey.
It has also become apparent that other barriers such as fear of repercussions can cause individuals to avoid advocating for others due to concerns about being penalised, socially ostracised, or even losing their own job prospects. Unconscious biases also play a significant role in hindering allyship within business settings.
In my professional experience as an occupational therapist, accessibility extends beyond physical infrastructure and encompasses aspects such as communication and learning styles, language barriers, resources, technologies, and policies that accommodate individuals with diverse abilities. Accessibility should be considered at every level, from the physical workspace to digital platforms, ensuring that individuals with disabilities can equitably access and participate in all aspects of the workplace. I have had the pleasure of working with businesses who actively create inclusive spaces that celebrate and embrace intersectionality.
Intersectionality is the recognition that all individuals have unique identities and therefore each person’s experience of discrimination will also be unique. Therefore, to achieve genuine diversity and allyship within business, the concept of intersectionality must be understood and integrated into practices. This involves acknowledging the unique experiences and challenges faced by individuals at the intersections of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, socioeconomic status, disability, and other identity dimensions.
In my experience, organisations that have demonstrated active allyship have displayed the importance of allyship and inclusion as an ongoing commitment, rather than viewing it as a temporary obligation. Businesses that foster allyship and embrace diversity cultivate an environment which attracts and retains diverse talent, promoting innovation, creativity, and increased problem-solving capabilities. This brings to mind a time when I was offered the opportunity to work remotely, start work later and have admin support as a person who identifies as being neurodivergent. I felt valued and as a result, the businesses benefited from my loyalty, improved efficiency and commitment to the company’s success. They also used my insights and experience to support other team members. Subsequently, I noticed that creating a diverse and inclusive workplace enhanced employee morale, engagement, and productivity.
Allyship and diversity are vital components of a successful and inclusive business. Recognising one’s privilege and actively combating tokenism through active allyship significantly improves the workplace experience for marginalised individuals. By embracing diversity, businesses not only enhance innovation and decision-making but also foster an inclusive culture that attracts and retains top talent.
To foster genuine allyship and diversity within business spaces, it is crucial to address and overcome the barriers that impede progress. By addressing these challenges and focusing on accessibility and intersectionality, organisations can create inclusive environments that empower all employees and promote equitable opportunities.
The journey toward true allyship and diversity in business is ongoing, but by committing to inclusive practices and embracing accessibility and intersectionality, we can create workplaces that are truly representative, supportive, and inclusive for all. Moving forward, it is imperative that businesses understand and prioritise allyship, diversity, and inclusivity to create a more equitable and successful future for all.
This is a guest blog which contains the views of the author and does not necessarily represent the views of the IoD.