Be a courageous ally

Where I work we talk about changing people’s lives for the better and doing what other banks won’t do. We have 10 standards that guide and set the expectations for how we interact with each other and our customers. Recently, we announced an 11th standard (which is a big deal):

Courageously be yourself and a true ally for each other.

We also have a team member network called Ellevate whose goal is to influence the advancement of women in the workplace by bringing awareness of the reality women face every day, creating a supportive and engaging environment for women, and inviting men to be active allies. I’m part of the men’s allyship committee (which is about 60% men and 40% women in case you were wondering) and – in the spirit of being a courageous ally – want to share why allyship is important and the journey I’ve gone through to become a better ally.

I don’t just believe allyship is important, I know it is because I see the gaps that exist in terms of equal treatment, opportunity, pay, and expectations of women at work and in the world. Until those gaps are closed, it’s my responsibility as a man to stand up, say this isn’t okay, and work for change. I’m not here to be a hero (that’s chauvinistic). I’m here to be an empathetic team member, a champion, and a supporter.

I’ve challenged myself and others with two statements:

  1. Men are given pay, opportunity, and status purely because they’re a man. They just had to show up.
  2. Women have to work harder as they combat unconscious bias, sexism, pay inequity, workplace harassment, and unwarranted judgement. Purely because they are a woman.

When I truly reflect on those statements and let the reality sink in, there is something inside of me that screams THIS IS UNACCEPTABLE and moves me to act.

I’m an ally because I see the blatant inequity in the treatment of women and I want to do something about it for my co-workers today and the women who walk into our organizations tomorrow.

Knowing where and how to start has been the biggest struggle for me. I’m normally a “dive right in” type of person because I want to help. As an ally, I’ve wanted to make sure from the start I’m not “that guy” who’s bringing focus to me or telling instead of listening. So my approach has been slower and even hesitant at times. It’s how I felt – and still feel from time to time – in the discussions we have in the men’s allyship committee. What I’ve found is that showing up, listening, and being authentic has led to incredible conversations where all of us can share honestly and feel safe to be vulnerable (something I’d love to see all of us take into the discussions we have in our organizations). If we can eliminate a lot of the awkwardness of not knowing how to ask a question or express an idea, we can just talk because there’s trust, patience, and empathy.

When I think of those three words, it feels like that’s what really underpins allyship. Trusting one another gives way to open, honest, and vulnerable conversations. Being patient gives us the time to explore and fumble around a bit in order to find a way forward together. And when we put ourselves in each others’ shoes and understand different perspectives, our unconscious biases no longer hold sway; we are each others’ courageous allies and positive change can occur.

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