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How you can be an intersectional ally (Part 1)

I’m weary of carrying the burden of speaking up and stepping up only to be pushed down. White and cis allies are also tired of being told they’re doing it wrong or that it isn’t even their place to show up at all. This fatigue is impacting all of us, but we shouldn’t be satisfied with the status quo. Social justice requires an accomplice. That’s where allyship comes in:

An ally is someone who is not a member of a community but engages in action to support said community. Allyship is really seeing the person next to us, and the person missing who should be next to us. Note: watch out for tokenism of people from underrepresented groups. 

A passive ally may support Diversity, Equity and Inclusivity (DEI) initiatives, agree that it is important work and acknowledge the positive impact that DEI initiatives are having on the organisational culture – but they make no positive difference to the experience of underrepresented people in the workplace.

An active ally is someone who witnesses injustices, unconscious bias or microaggressions and responds to them.

The LEAP framework as a practical approach to active allyship was created by Professor Stephanie J. Creary, an identity and diversity scholar and a field researcher: she breaks it down beautifully here.

The bigger picture

As a DEI and work culture advocate, I’ve learned that to be an effective ally, we have to be intersectional – which means we can’t just fight for the rights of one underrepresented group. The fight for equality includes everyone, regardless of their race, ethnicity, class, gender identity, disability or sexual preference. We need to recognise that individuals have more than one identity and our lives do not revolve around a single issue. 

In this two part series, we look at examples of intersectional allyship for five (of various) underrepresented groups: 

Persons living with disabilities

Did you know: According to statistics shared by The Valuable 500;

Source: The Valuable 500

Here’s three ways you can be an active ally:

  • Believe when someone tells you they’re disabled, don’t doubt them, ask for ‘proof’ or otherwise belittle their experience.
  • Watch out for ableism which has been deeply embedded in our world today. It’s often unintentional but societal expectations can negatively affect people living with disabilities. An example is saying someone is ‘inspirational’ after finding out about someone whose disability is usually invisible. Often the bar is set so low for people with disabilities, that just getting up in the morning is celebrated as inspirational.
  • Respect the disability community when they say ‘we choose our terminology’. Be careful not to remove them from the narrative focused around them. For example, if they say:
    • ‘don’t call me special needs’; then don’t
    • ‘I prefer being called person with disability’; then call them that
    • ‘I prefer being called disabled’; then call them that

Immigrants & Black, Indigenous, people of colour (BIPOC)

Did you know: Australia Bureau of Statistics reported that in 2020, there were 7.6 million migrants living in Australia and that nearly every single country from around the world was represented in Australia's population in 2020.

A report by Reconciliation Australia detailed 15% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people continue to feel they cannot be true to their cultures at work; 14% in interactions with educational institutions; and 12% in interactions with government departments.

Here’s three ways you can be an active ally:
  • Identify assumptions you may unknowingly be making towards people whose first language isn’t English. Following that, apply and practice controlled processing to counteract any unconscious bias. As an example, do not judge people by their accents. Accents are merely a distinctive mode of pronunciation of a language. English is a language, not a measure of intelligence. Remember instead, that if someone is speaking to you in a foreign accent, they are smart enough to know 2 languages and brave enough to do their job in their second.
  • Listen when immigrants and BIPOC are sharing their experiences and amplify their messages so their thoughts and ideas are heard in their own voice.
  • ​Learn how to pronounce BIPOC names. Refrain from shortening their names for your convenience. Know the language they use to describe their ethnicity. This really matters, so if you’re not sure, ask.
Racism Interrupters
Image by @privtoprog

​ In the second part of this article, we explore more ways of becoming an intersectional ally.

Disclaimer: The statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Thoughtworks.

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