I wanted to write this blog because from personal experience I know how important it is to be an ally, and in particular how valued it is by our black and diverse colleagues when people who are not of the same ethnicity/race make a stand alongside them against prejudice.
I am now proud to count myself as an ally, but my experience of being any sort of ally began almost 3 years ago when I became an LGBTQ+ ally, as a result of witnessing the prejudice experienced by a relative. I realised then that in some small way my support made a difference.
It has been very evident in the last three weeks how supported the black community have felt because people from every ethnicity and background, prompted by the murder of George Floyd, have expressed outrage that prejudice continues to persist in our own society as well as in the USA. But what can we do to help? My answer, having talked to colleagues here at KN, is that by taking time to ask, you have already done something, but there is more you can do. What follows is based partly on my experience, but mainly from what I have learned from members of our own diverse community at KN, to whom I am really grateful for their wisdom and insights.
Let’s start with the basics, what is an ally?
An ally is someone who actively promotes the culture of inclusion. An ally, regardless of their own ethnicity, recognises that they can and want to make a concerted effort to understand the obstacles marginalised groups face.
What can an ally do to help?
There are many times when comments are made about people from ethnic minorities whether in social or professional settings which are inappropriate or at worst offensive. When this happens, say something. Don’t let such behaviour go unchecked as it gives the impression that it is ‘okay’.
Your approach need not be confrontational; actually, it is far better if it isn’t. The best method is to politely tell the individual why their comment is inappropriate and furthermore that you find it inappropriate despite the fact that it is not directed at you.
The Black Lives Matter movement is important. It shines a light on the disparity of treatment of black people compared to other ethnicities. There are lots of tools available to assist to understand this movement and be fully informed including books, films, seminars and essays. To start you off, here are a few:
- How To Be An Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
- So You Want To Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
- About Race with Reni Eddo-Lodge
- The Diversity Gap podcast
- Explaining Privilege in 1 minute - Allison Holker
- When they see us (Netflix) (this is a tough watch, please persevere until the end)
- I Am Not Your Negro (James Baldwin documentary)
Do not shy away
One of the key concerns expressed is: ‘talking about race is uncomfortable’. That same discomfort is felt by black and diverse people every day, just from a different perspective. The Business in the Community Race at Work Survey conducted in 2015 found that the vast majority of respondents found topics like gender and sexuality easier to discuss. In 2020, they reported the following key facts:
- Race equality in the UK will potentially bring a £24 billion per year boost to the UK economy
- Organisations with more diverse teams have 33 per cent better financial returns.
- Only one in 16 people at senior levels in the private and public sector are from a BAME) background
- Only 33 per cent of employees stated that they have a senior-level champion for diversity and inclusion in their workplaces
If we do not talk about race, it stunts progress, openness and inclusion. Open conversations challenge misconceptions, create solutions and improves culture. This open culture is what we strive for at Kingsley Napley.
Make a change
If each one of us makes a pledge to change one thing in our respective organisations or communities for the betterment of ethnic minorities, the difference could be immense.
For example, if you work in Human Resources, review current recruitment and promotion practices to examine if any unconscious biases are preventing diverse candidates from gaining employment and then, when they do, staying within the organisation. This is something we are actively doing and we are working with external agencies to assist us with this.
If you are in the top management team and there are no ethnic minorities at ‘the table’ with you, question that.
Being an ally is not a full-time job, but it is something you should always be mindful of as situations may arise when you least expect it. Neither is it a badge you wear without any action, it is your way of recognising the difference you can make and then acting on it.
For my part, I am definitely still learning and when I make mistakes, which no doubt I will, I will be very sorry but I will keep trying. Because though it costs me little to be an ally I know that if we can all stand together with our colleagues and friends that is the best chance we all have of combatting prejudice.
Stephen Parkinson is Kingsley Napley's Senior Partner.