Allyship is a Verb that Crosses Boundaries

Published: 22 Sep 2020

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This is not the first time allyship has been covered at Dive In, but unlike previous years, this event recognised that the concept of allyship can be applied more broadly. Previously the term ally was used by the LGBT+ community for those who but stood beside them and defended them. This year we have seen the term applied to different areas of diversity, most notably the concept of white allies standing beside their black peers to confront injustices. This was the context given by the LMA’s Clare Lebeq before inviting the panellists to say what allyship means to them and how we can all be better allies.

The panel included Emma Cusdin, Director at Global Butterflies and an openly trans woman; Dominic Mignon, UK CFO at Aon; Alina Jipa, Head of Analytics, Insight and Reporting at Commercial Lines at RSA and member of the Gender Inclusion Network; and Teniola Tjani, underwriter at Travelers, member of ACIN and founder of Ladies who Lunch.

Emma defined allyship as “standing beside us when we need support, standing behind us when we need back up, and stepping in front when we need projection”. Teniola added to this that allyship also involves having a voice for someone when they are not represented, adding “If you have a seat at the table that I’m not at, make sure my voice is heard. But equally, help me get a seat at the table.” The issue may not affect you directly, Aline pointed out, but that isn’t a reason not to do something about it.

When discussing how to be a better ally, Dominic urged allies not to get overwhelmed by the scale of the issue but to take the first step- however small. He also urged allies to listen and learn. Asking what you can do to help can be supportive, but it can also add an additional burden to the affected party. Attend events, read books, and put yourself in other people’s shoes to understand how they might feel and how you can best help. Taniola pointed out “the journey of an ally is hard but remember how much harder it is for someone who is living those experiences”.

The panel discussed that standing up for something that is right doesn’t have to be confrontational. If you aren’t comfortable saying something in heat of the moment, there is still value in saying or doing something afterwards. Have a quiet word with the victim to tell them you are with them and want to help, or better still a quiet word with the perpetrator to challenge them on their behaviours.

The final discussion urged allies to look within themselves and check their privilege. Remembering that by nobody’s choosing, you might be two steps ahead of someone else and they two steps behind. Teniola added “The best book you can read is yourself. Look at your own advantages and ask how you can open the door to someone behind you.”