Dictionary.com’s 2021 word of the year is “allyship.” Some might be surprised to find that prior to last month, the word was not listed on the search site. While “ally” was included, the company recognized the word “allyship” has evolved over the years to have a more nuanced and specific meaning, John Kelly, the site’s associate director of Content and Education, told The Associated Press. It's something many leaders within some of the largest tech companies have realized as well.
What employees expect from their places of work has evolved. Employees want support, opportunities and, well … allyship. Y-Vonne Hutchinson, CEO and founder of DEI consulting firm ReadySet, said she’s observed this increased interest in allyship in the workplace firsthand through her work in the field.
So what does allyship mean in the context of the workplace today? It’s about action and putting some “skin in the game,” Hutchinson told Protocol.
- “It's actually a practice of continuously showing up, and showing up with humility to undo the systemic racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism, etc. that affects your colleagues who have less privilege than you every day. Moreover, when we think about being an active ally, it also means putting something on the line to help leverage that privilege. So it's not just about showing up in a way that feels comfortable, but showing up and doing something when it doesn't feel comfortable in a way that might also feel risky,” she said.
- Hutchinson said she also encourages clients to think of themselves as accomplices. “That's a conversation we're seeing happening more and more with allyship, is that idea of pushing the envelope.”
Hutchinson said there are examples leaders can follow for promoting a culture of active allyship as we head into 2022. In her forthcoming book, “How to Talk to Your Boss About Race,” she focuses on the idea of engaging in collective action.
- “[Think] about using your collective power to advocate for structural change, [or,] on an individual level, there's a concept of intervening when you see something go down or something that feels wrong. There's also the idea of being a sponsor — making sure you're advocating for people who aren't in the room. I think those are some of the things that you can do individually and collectively,” she said.
Protocol spent much of 2021 tracking how tech leaders have promoted environments of allyship and inclusion.
- In Protocol’s Inclusive Workplace manual, Uber’s former head of Diversity, Bernard Coleman, explained how tech companies can avoid performative allyship.
- Diversity and inclusion experts spoke about why tolerance and representation efforts alone don’t make for an inclusive work environment.
- Experts in Protocol’s Braintrust shared in what situations a company should consider bringing in external DEI partners, and when it’s most effective.
So what comes next for leaders to continue being active allies for their employees?
- “I think we're kind of at the point where we've exhausted the comfortable mechanisms. We've had two years of conversations, we've kind of had two years to do what’s comfortable, and I think we have to come to terms with the fact that there's going to be a lot of uncomfortable work that has to happen to get our organizations to where they need to go to be not just inclusive and diverse, but resilient and relevant,” said Hutchinson.