The role of allies in Diversity & Inclusion

I recently took part in an interview withJulia Streets and Andy Woodfield for Divercity Podcast, a series of podcasts focused on helping organisations and individuals drive change in the field of diversity and inclusion in financial services. The topic of conversation focused on the role of allies in diversity and inclusion.  As Co-chair of Mercer’s LGBTQ + allies network in the UK, I’m very fortunate to be able to see the direct impact of our allies.  If you’d like to listen to our 30 minute conversation, click here.  In this post, I’d love to get readers pondering on what it means to be an ally in financial services.  Perhaps the best place to start is understanding what we mean by ally.

What is an ally? Simply put, an ally is someone who is supportive of and sympathetic towards a different group of people.  You might be a man who is supportive of women’s rights, a straight person who supports LGBTQ+ colleagues or an able bodied person who supports those who are differently-abled.  Whether you are actively involved – supporting and attending events, driving particular goals and agendas and publicly active, or whether you are a passive supporter – someone who is willing to speak up in favour of Diversity & Inclusion, it doesn’t really matter.  The point is, you care enough to align yourself with a group that may require support to achieve equality and inclusion.

Why are people allies? For many people, becoming an ally is all about doing the right thing.  Women shouldn’t earn less money than men, BAME (Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups) should not have less opportunity in the workplace than their white colleagues.  By showing support as an ally, we help to drive business, societal and cultural change.  But sometimes people become allies because they are personally affected.  My mother is a proud rainbow flag waving supporter of LGBTQ+ rights, primarily because she has two gay sons.  Whether it’s family, friends, colleagues or personal experience, the motivations for becoming an ally is less important than the positive impact they have.

Why do businesses need allies?  For some aspects of Diversity & Inclusion, the need is simply to address gaps between two groups that should be equal (e.g.  men versus women pay gap.)  For many other groups, being in a minority makes it harder for the voice and perspective of a particular group to be heard.  Allies, by the sheer volume help to amplify the message, breaking down barriers and getting the right message across.   Inclusion means that we all have earned the right to be treated fairly, as equals.  Allies act as the loudspeaker for core messages, and are thus an essential aspect of Diversity & Inclusion.

Top down or bottom up?  So should you be driving revolution from the bottom up?  Or is it more important for those at the top to walk the walk as well as talk the talk? In fact both really matter, and both need too happen to gain enough traction to drive change.  So you might be feeling inspired, having listened to the podcast and read my post, but where to start?  It doesn’t have to be a big bang, but a few people talking and sharing, chatting with other more established D&I groups to get the ball rolling.  There are many areas where inclusion is not where it should be, mental health being one particular area of focus.  Don’t shy away, seek out a senior sponsor who is also passionate on this topic.  You can and will make a different – diversity is wonderful and inclusion really matters!

If you are looking for further information and inspiration, I’d encourage you to subscribe to the Divercity Podcast series – lots of great speakers, interesting topics and inspirational learnings.

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