The webinar was lively and full of great questions from participants and insights from our Aperian experts. Here are some of the questions and answers covered during the webinar.
Q. What does effective allyship look like in your culture(s)?
Freeda: Asia tends to be more status oriented, compared to the more egalitarian cultures in the United States, Australia, and some Scandinavian countries. So when individuals look at their roles, they think about them in a limited scope, and believe that they are to play a part in the context of a larger structure and system. So the concept of allyship, which actually requires you to go beyond your role, can be quite daunting and make some feel uncomfortable. Thus effective allyship can start with really good leadership role modeling. When leaders themselves display allying behaviors, it signals to team members that being an ally is a good thing, and you are welcome to ally with others. Having that sense of direction from a leader helps team members feel psychologically safe allying with others in more status-oriented cultures.
Additionally, effective allyship in these cultures can look very subtle. People might not stand up and verbally say that they support one another, but it can show through very informal exchanges of sharing a connection, introducing someone to a person of influence, or giving others a platform to share their ideas.
Q. How can I ensure I’m effectively allying with colleagues of different cultural backgrounds?
Anthony: Before we talk about what effective allyship looks like in a specific culture, we really need to know the context and norms of that culture. Resources like the GlobeSmart Guides are the perfect place to learn more about different cultures around the world, including topics like communication styles, resolving conflict, common business practices, and how you can drive change. With a greater cultural context, you can leverage that knowledge to carefully plan your approach. You want to make sure that your actions are helpful, and that you’re not going to potentially make the situation more harmful for another person.
As an outsider of that culture, you should also consider what kind of influence or power you might have that members of the culture may not. Are there situations or spaces in which you might be able to voice something that others wouldn’t be able to, or challenge people that they can’t? You don’t want to overdo this—it’s from a line that you have to walk really carefully—but there might be certain situations that are really important to the people that you’re allying for and with, and knowing when you can use your power and influence to drive change and influence is really important.
Freeda: People can get nervous when they’re told to speak up. In an Asian context, that can be pretty much the scariest thing you can ask someone to do! It can be helpful to reframe the concept of ‘speaking up’ as well as create additional spaces that allow individuals to feel safe sharing authentically.
Allyship is a pretty new concept in Asia. Similar to “diversity” and “equity,” people are still trying to get familiar with these terms. They’re being transported from the West, so to speak, so organizations are trying to get comfortable with what these terms mean and how they apply in the workplace. Then, translating that into application and action takes a while as well. So it is helpful to level-set as an organization around what allyship means, then establish the expectation.
Q. What can we start doing today to ally with others?
Anja: I often think about a quote from the American poet and civil right activist, Maya Angelou: “Do the best you can until you know better. Then, when you know better, do better.” Here are a few ways to start practicing allyship:
- Choose a goal that feels comfortable to you. Starting with actions that feel natural to you gives you a better chance of keeping the efforts going and creating longer-term impact. Maybe you are great at managing airtime in virtual meetings, and can take on the role of inclusion manager to make sure everyone has a chance to speak. If you have colleagues that use pronouns that are different from yours, pause and consider if there’s something you could do to educate yourself before asking a colleague about their personal pronouns to have a more respectful and meaningful conversation. Practice listening without getting defensive to engage in an empathetic manner. When a comment doesn’t sit right with you, practice leading your response with a question rather than a statement.
- Leverage your strengths and personal power. If you are great at relationship building and have a strong network in your organization, connect with people to make sure they feel great about their work and perhaps engage in meaningful conversations around allyship. If you’re not as comfortable with relationship building at work, you could start your allyship journey by making note of instances of microaggression within your organization.
- Embrace vulnerability and team up with others. It can help to form trusted networks where you can safely check your own biases, share successes and challenges, and get feedback and encouragement.
Anthony: When we want to ally with others, it’s really critical to take on a listening posture, be in learning mode, and center the experiences and feelings of others. It’s important to understand what they’re feeling, what they’re thinking, and if and how they would appreciate an intervention. There is so much diversity within any given group, and one person may really appreciate allyship in a certain way, where it might make another person more uncomfortable. Consider different work styles and environments that you’re operating in and plan your approach accordingly, keeping the impact you want to make as your guide along the way.
Q. How can you practice allyship when working in countries where it is illegal to be LGBTQIA+?
Freeda: Navigating legalities and compliance is always tricky. But I think when you’re connecting with individuals, it’s important to lean into their full identity, whether they identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community or not. It means a lot to just be there for someone and help them feel heard, seen, and understood. Of course the action part is something you may not be able to go all the way on. But it can go a long way for someone to feel they have someone listening to them.
Anthony: Of course, it’s ‘safety first’—for yourself and for the people you’re allying with. You don’t want to create an unsafe situation for them. However, within many cultures where it is highly illegal, there are still organizations out there who are doing great advocacy work. So there might be ways that you’re able to lend your voice or resources to those groups who can drive change. It might not be as direct as some of the allyship that you can practice in other areas. But there are still things that you can do. Raising that awareness is a great starting point.
Q. How do you respond to people who believe that allyship has gone too far and now feel marginalized as a result?
Anthony: We all win together, and it can be good to help people understand that this is not a ‘zero sum game’ (meaning whenever one person wins, the other loses). Someone receiving new opportunities they haven’t before doesn’t mean that someone else has less as a result. We like to think of it this way: we’re not redistributing the same pie, we’re making a bigger pie so that we can all share and enjoy it.
For even more insights from Freeda Fernandes, Anja Stentoft Jacobsen, and Anthony Greco, and Xin Yi Yap, watch the Allyship with a Global Lens on-demand webinar.
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