The Importance of Allyship
Recently on the Being Brown at Work Live , I got to interview Tricia Ruby, the president and chief executive officer of Ruby and Associates, a structural engineering firm. She's a powerful performer in her professional life, but I was most excited to speak to her for her community outreach to girls and young women interested in STEM careers. We had a great conversation about allyship, and these are some of the key takeaways I wanted to share from the conversation. Enjoy!
In the American corporate landscape, the decision makers are still primarily white men. It's an unfortunate reality, and one I'm sure I don't have to tell you is hurtful to the advancement of women. For Black and Brown women especially, our underrepresentation in corporate boardrooms makes it harder for us to advance in our careers, because so often we’re not the ones in the rooms where decisions are getting made.
However, this is exactly why allyship is so important. Allies— in this case I mean white men, white women, and other people in positions of authority— can use their privilege to reach back and help close that massive gap between the decision makers and the rest of the world. As we fight for racial and gender equity, allies have an important part to play.
Speaking to Tricia Ruby, we went over some key information about how allies can make the biggest impact, and why it matters.
Allyship needs to start with kids
In our work with the Girl Scouts of America, Tricia and I both saw the importance of reaching kids at a young age in order to stop the cycle of underrepresentation. Taking engineering as an example, it's critical that young kids in middle school get enrolled in good math programs in order for them to keep up at the collegiate level. If kids fall behind in STEM, it’s far harder for them to catch up later, which makes it less likely they’ll pursue engineering degrees.
This is true of every area of disparity, not just engineering: we need to make things better for the kids in this country to effect longer term change. Allies who donate time, money, and effort to school-age kids can make a huge difference in the big picture.
Allyship can reduce self-selecting
Another big problem is that often, underrepresented groups won't see themselves in their area of interest, and will self-select out. "I can't do that, because I can't see myself doing that." The disparity compounds, because there's no representation for up-and-coming talent to show them proof that it's possible. Being the first to do something is daunting, and it holds back promising talent. When allies use their privilege to highlight Black and Brown talent and celebrate their accomplishments, it reduces the "that could never be me" effect and makes it more likely that emerging talent will stick with it.
Allyship is necessary to get decisions made
An unfortunate reality is that the decision-makers are still mostly white men. We've made progress as a society to bring more diversity to the top-levels of culture, but we have a long way to go. Though underrepresented groups face different challenges and backgrounds, if we link arms, we can effect real change as we lift each other up in our climb. White women have more privilege than black women, but we both face systemic gender oppression. This takes work, and too often the people doing the hardest work are the ones most affected by systemic inequity, but we can get there. Allies bring a united strength that helps move the needle faster.
To hear the rest of my conversation with Tricia Ruby, check out the Being Brown at Work podcast. If you’re interested in one-on-one coaching, you can click here to get a consultation with me on your calendar.