Approaches to Allyship
So where do people start as an ally? What should they do?
OK, so where do people start as an ally? What should they do? This is a constant question I get when talking to people about allyship.
Let’s stop talking about allyship for a moment, and let’s talk about the work you do every day instead. I’ll use computer infrastructure engineering as an example since that's my day job.
When you encounter an engineering problem, what do you do then? How do you solve it? Do you just give up and walk away from it?
Here’s what I tend to do:
- I get curious
- I do research
- I experiment
- I make mistakes
- I ask for help
Hopefully this doesn’t look that much different to your own work that you do.
So, tell me – how is allyship any different? Why would your approach to allyship be any different?
Approaching allyship in this way also helps reinforce that this isn’t a one-and-done subject, but instead a continuous process of improvement and growth just like any other area of experience.
Here’s an example of how I apply that same process to allyship:
While I wouldn’t ask someone to educate me about their experience, I’d try to be as curious as possible. Self reflection, figuring out what questions to ask, and figuring out a direction for my own learning are a great place to start.
Starting with that direction for my own learning, I’d hit up Google, read articles and books, and seek out more information. Not all information is equal, so I’d do my best to ensure the research I did aligned with better understanding and supporting the folks I am trying to be an ally to.
With additional information from my research, I’d start taking action and experimenting with that additional knowledge. Maybe I won’t have it figured out or maybe the experiment won’t work, but that’s OK. You won’t know till you try. This is the “action” part of allyship and can look different depending on context.
- Speaking up when something harmful happens
- Advocating for others to take action and leading by example
- Sharing educational resources & continuing to educate yourself and others
- And many, many other ways to take action… (you can actually Google, “how to be an ally to …” for more ideas)
My experiments are not always going to go well. I might misunderstand something, I might say something that hurts or harms someone unintentionally, I might not notice when I should be doing something. That’s part of being human. The important thing is to acknowledge the mistake and then do better, going back to getting curious, doing research, and continuing to experiment. What you don’t want to do when you make a mistake is double down, get defensive, or be afraid to try again – the mistake isn’t a comment on you as a person, it’s a part of the process.
Ask for help
Finally, and most importantly, none of us are in this alone. Asking for help when we’re uncertain or stuck or make a mistake is a great way to access community support, to model asking for and receiving help from others for other folks, and to share experiences and information with others. This isn’t the same as asking an individual to explain their lived experience or educate you, so as long as you’re thoughtful about that, this is a great way to continue learning to be an ally.