In their effort to uplift their marginalised colleagues using their personal privilege, allies sometimes disrespect boundaries by:
Silencing their colleagues’ voices; assuming what their colleagues need; deciding for their colleagues; making their colleagues dependent on them.
Why do allies overstep boundaries?
Misunderstanding of the concept: What allies often misunderstand about allyship is that by becoming the voice of the underrepresented, there is actually very little benefit to the intended audience
Eagerness to help: Allies are sometimes too keen to provide support and this could translate into an overbearing and high-handed approach, not allowing the disadvantaged to actually improve their circumstances.
To create short-term impact: Allyship involves working for systemic change, which takes time. But some actions seem more effective in the short term and who can resist speedy gains?
For personal benefit: Some allies look to further their own interests and undertake activities that bring them more visibility.
Allyship is a huge commitment that involves sustained self-education, active listening to your colleagues, giving your all to understand biases, and striving for change when no one else seems keen. Allyship is also slightly complex. So, it is understandable that allies sometimes take the wrong steps or unknowingly disrespect boundaries.
But do not abandon allyship because of its complexity or tendency of being put to wrong use. The ‘Best Companies for Women in India Index’ an in-depth study conducted by Avtar in collaboration with Seramount, has found that 61 per cent of the Best companies foster a culture of male allyship. There is no doubt that allyship done right has multiple benefits. So, embrace allyship, but be open to learning and feedback.
Here are some guidelines for the ally.
(i) Speak out in public on various issues that the disadvantaged sections face, after holding conversations with them and educating yourself about their needs. Don’t assume what your marginalised colleagues need.
(ii) Champion for your colleagues’ rights without killing their voices. Your responsibility is to amplify their voices, not to speak on their behalf.
(iii) When a woman faces harassment or discrimination, call out the sexist behaviour, but do not try to crack the issue for your colleague by chastising the offender. Instead, guide her to speak up about the incident, while you advocate for company-wide change to tackle the biased work culture.
(iv) When a woman is overlooked for promotion, request details about the factors that resulted in the decision – this will make the manager take a step back and reflect. Do not actively advocate for her promotion, but mentor her on the areas she needs to focus on for favourable results in future appraisals.
(v) Do not make decisions for your colleagues. Discuss openly the pros and cons of all options but leave the final judgement to them.
(vi) When women or other disadvantaged colleagues are ignored or interrupted in meetings redirect the conversation back to them.
(vii) Mentor women and LGBTQ colleagues and provide resources that will help your colleagues progress in their work, but do not do the work for them.
(viii) Do not micro-manage while guiding colleagues in their work projects. Ensure that they have limitless creative freedom to explore and learn.
So, it is clear that an ally supports his less privileged colleagues but does not mollycoddle them.
Every ally should strive to ‘develop’ their disadvantaged colleagues so that they can learn to thrive under their own steam.
The writer is Founder and President, Avtar Group
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