The topics of allyship, advocacy and anti-racism have been on the minds of many of us recently as the global health and social crises continue to shine a light on the obstacles, discrimination, barriers and biases that too many populations experience today — as many have for some time.
As the global health crisis continues to have an effect on all our lives, for some communities, its impact has been harder felt. For instance, nationally, COVID‑19 cases among Black, Latinx and Native American communities exceed their share of the population. Additionally, there has been a dramatic rise of violence against Asian-Americans. And more than 2.3 million women have left the labor force since the start of the pandemic, as well as being the overwhelming net recipient of job losses.
These factors, and more, are driving many of us to think about what we can do to better support our colleagues, friends and family. And like so many, I continue to lean into my role as an ally and advocate, as well as furthering my own actions as an anti-racist and as a long-term champion for equity. It remains clear that, while some progress has been made, there’s still more work to be done in order to create a world that is fairer, safer and more equitable.
Across workplaces, many of us are holding open, honest and authentic conversations to better understand and “see,” but studies also support the extra baggage that some are having to carry to work. According to Coqual, nearly two-thirds of Black professionals say they have to work harder than their colleagues to advance their careers. What’s more, Catalyst revealed that women of color have an additional “emotional tax” at work because of the intersection of race- and gender-based discrimination.
As leaders and team members, perhaps we can ask ourselves on an ongoing basis how we can use our professional power, our access points and our influence to do more to advance equity and to remove the barriers women and racially and ethnically diverse colleagues may face. Some are big sweeping items, and some are small. For the latter, I like to think about how to lighten a colleague’s “load” or metaphorically help remove weight from someone’s backpack.
Regardless of where we are on our journey, we can continue to lean on the principles of inclusive leadership to help foster change and create an environment where everyone can feel like they belong and where they can bring their unique selves to work without conformity. Here are a few strategies I have seen role-modeled to help elevate the voices of women and racially and ethnically diverse colleagues:
- Amplify accomplishments in open forums and behind closed doors. People in all roles and ranks can share wins and elevate positive feedback to a colleague’s supervisors. This is one way to advocate for team members from underrepresented groups behind the scenes and in more public-facing forums. It can help increase their opportunity for stretch assignments and even position them for advancement or other career opportunities in the future.
- Open and protect space for all team members’ voices in meetings. When leading and participating in meetings, pay attention to how you can create space and opportunities for all colleagues, especially for women and those from underrepresented groups, to speak up and share their points of view. If others may be speaking over or interrupting, make it a point to circle back and work to ensure that all colleagues are able to contribute. If colleagues have made a point that was glossed over and then reiterated by someone else, you can work to ensure that their points and ideas are credited and attributed to them. In these actions, you can help create psychological safety in meetings and on teams, where people can feel comfortable sharing their perspectives.
- Create opportunities for visibility and growth. If there is someone you would like to see have more visibility with stakeholders, customers, leaders or peers, be intentional in creating opportunities for that to happen. By asking someone to present at a meeting with influential colleagues or share an idea, you can make room for that person’s skills and knowledge to shine. This boost in exposure can position someone for recognition, skill building, new projects and even high-visibility assignments in the future.
Being an active ally is an ongoing journey. It certainly is for me. We may not always get it right, but we can continue to learn, listen, practice and take action. Thoughtfulness, intentionality and empathy too can better enable us to do our part toward a world that is more fair, equitable and just for all.