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Igniting Courage to Overcome the Challenges faced by Allies

Tuesday November 30, 2021, By Hima Elizabeth Mathew

Allyship is the new catchphrase for any organization embarking on its journey to inclusion. Allyship is the act of using one’s power, position, or privilege to uplift others. But what are the specific challenges that the allies face? How to overcome them? And what are the skill sets required to become an ally? The panel discussion – ‘Journey from an Ally to an Advocate’– at the recently-held Working Mother and Avtar Best Practices of the 100 Best Conference gave insightful answers to all these questions.

The panel, moderated by Sriram Pitchumani, Chief Strategist, DEI Transformation, Avtar, comprised Satya Jayaraman, Senior Director, Engineering, Qualcomm India, Dhanya Rajeswaran, Senior Director – HR, India & APAC, Lumen Technologies, Dr. Kris Sridhar, Head of R&D Operations, Asia, 3M, and Shylaja Krishnakurup, Director, Verizon Business Group.

Before delving into the challenges faced by the allies, it was imperative to look at the systemic challenges faced by anyone from a diverse or non-majority group. The reason is that when these challenges are understood, one can become an ally to help them overcome the same. Dhanya pointed out challenges faced by employees of any diverse groups as:

Access to opportunities: Often, when organizations are looking for candidates for succession, there is a tendency to find someone who looks/behaves like someone holding the role. And as a result, access to those opportunities gets restricted for those who might not be from those backgrounds.

Access to resources: So often people secure resources based on the relationships and networks one has. If the employees do not have the right network and connections, it becomes difficult for them to get doors opened.

Access to mentors: It is difficult for people from different diversity strands to attract mentors, as they do not have enough mentors like them.

However, Satya described that the challenges faced by the allies in the organization are far more varied and complex. The biggest challenge would be unconscious bias, which derails the entire diversity and inclusion process. The other challenge is diversity and inclusion efforts being viewed as partiality not just by the majority but also by the diverse groups the allies are trying to help.

Dr. Kris said that allyship can be a success by empowering and encouraging employee resource groups or ERGs, where the challenges different groups face are discussed. When the leaders or the organization sponsor an ERG, the employees feel that the management is involved in the diversity and inclusion journey.

Shylaja spoke about the steps to become an ally, which were:

-Become aware, educated, and prepared before you become an ally.

-Be neutral, unassuming, and supportive.

-Create a safe space for people to open up and speak up.

-Have faith in the merits of diversity and inclusion – walk the talk.

There was a unanimous agreement regarding the essential skill to become an ally – courage– the courage to take a stand and to speak up. And for the same reason, the theme of the conference ‘Include Fearlessly’ holds special meaning.

Author Profile

Hima Elizabeth Mathew
Hima Elizabeth Mathew
Hailing from diverse backgrounds of journalism, psychology and human resources, Dr. Hima holds a PhD in Organisational Behaviour from IIT Madras and is Senior Manager – Research and Solutions at Avtar.
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