Allyship Among Women: From Sabotage to Support
Allyship and the Path to Solidarity
When we begin to define how we can show support for someone, the first word that may come to mind is allyship. Allyship focuses on the ways we use our voice, our power, and our influence to stand in solidarity with women who are marginalized or silenced in our spaces. But what’s important to know — and this may be a little hard to swallow — is that ally is a title that is given, not claimed. Someone needs to name you as an ally before you name yourself as one.
We want to make sure we don’t just assert ourselves as allies. That’s not for us to determine on our own. Think about it this way: If a man says, “I’m your ally,” but his actions might prove otherwise, then do you want him to continue telling everyone he is your ally? It’s not enough to label yourself an ally. To truly be an ally involves giving evidence of your work in defense for, in support of, and for the uplifting of the group for which you are claiming allyship.
Being an ally is work. At times it can be ugly and/or hurtful, and it can be exhausting. But it’s key to truly supporting women in the workplace. Here are three key steps for embodying allyship:
Start with Self-Awareness.
Moving to a place of support begins with our own self-awareness. Let’s look at microaggressions in the workplace, where they tend to be common. If given the opportunity to
correct your behavior, how might you recast a microaggression that either happened to you or that you perpetuated? How can you be more mindful of the impact your words can have on others?
Self-Correct your Behavior.
Joy experienced a colleague’s behavior that speaks volumes about the need to self-correct. While they were in the elevator, the colleague remarked on how “huge” Joy used to be, placing her arms out in front of her in a “this big” gesture. Joy didn’t know the woman that well and they had never discussed weight. While it was clear to Joy that her colleague was beginning to realize she was speaking out of bounds, the woman never said anything about it to Joy again. Never did she approach Joy to say anything that acknowledged the inappropriateness of her words, such as, “I realized I might have insulted you with my comments about your weight. I’m so sorry about that.” Without that gesture, they could never be allies.
Take These Self-Reflective Actions
Here are a few additional tips for self-correcting behavior:
- Reflect on your language and behavior.
- If you think you may be sending a negative or biased message, pause, and take a breath.
- Reflect on why you think a certain thing about someone — what’s the history behind that thought?
- Internally reflect and change your words and actions.
- Check in with the other person to get their interpretation.
- Apologize and continue to check in with how you can change the thoughts and actions behind the behavior.
- Ask the person how you might move forward in solidarity with them.
This may seem overwhelming or “too much” for you. But the truth is that these behaviors are what constructs allies. Are you willing to take these self-reflective actions to correct behaviors in your workplace? Are you willing to help others do the same? This type of support in the workplace can allow the space for women to be more authentic, and show up in their fullness without fear of judgment or retaliation.
This guest post was authored by Joy Wiggins and Kami Anderson
Joy L. Wiggins, PhD, is the founder and executive director of Joy Wiggins, PhD, LLC, a consulting company that focuses on equity, inclusion, and racial and gender justice. She received her doctorate from the Ohio State University in multicultural education. She teaches Culture, Equity and Advocacy in Woodring College of Education at Western Washington University.
Kami J. Anderson, PhD, is the founder and executive director of Bilingual Brown Babies, a company that focuses on fostering bilingualism in black families. She received her doctorate from Howard University in intercultural communication and culture. She is the author of Language, Identity, and Choice.
Their book, “From Sabotage to Support: A New Vision for Feminist Solidarity in the Workplace” published by Berrett Koehler is available now at Amazon and your local book sellers.