Communication Leadership Management / Strategy

Before ‘allyship’: First things first

Who knew we would end up thinking of the pre-COVID environment as the “good-old days?”

Remember your very first day of work? Excitement and anxiety intersected with hours of preparation — and barely sleeping the night before. There were lots of dos and don’ts, along with the one tongue-in-cheek piece of advice: Do not eat anyone else’s lunch in the office refrigerator.

And while we may think this is just common sense — many of us can share hearty laughs over the “Chronicles of the Office Refrigerator” — experiences like these serve as a reminder of what is at the core of teamwork. It's “allyship.”

“Allyship,” you ask?

A Google search for “allyship” results in more than 1.2 million entries, but after an initial review, I didn’t find a definition that appealed to me. The Wikipedia definition is tied to social justice and inclusion. While we definitely need it in that way, I want to return to the foundation of allyship — being a great person who, according to “KETpedia” (that’s the Kimberly Ellison-Taylor version of Wikipedia), is a person who is compassionate and actively seeks ways to advance, encourage, and empower others.

“Others,” period.

It’s a concept that’s not based on where "others" went to school, or their socio-economic status, gender, race, age, orientation, ethnicity, religion, physical ability, or whether English is their first language. It’s a definition that has elements of the Golden Rule — to “do unto others as you would have others do unto you” — and, I would add, unto your loved ones. I am convinced that before you can be a true ally, you must be a good person who actively seeks to understand the challenges that others face. This mindset is not based on any specific diverse characteristic, but rather on the fact that you have chosen a side — the human side.

In these unpredictable times, allyship is needed more than ever.

It’s easy to drown in pessimism, but I urge us to focus on the good deeds we can do each day, and to recommit ourselves to being good people and good team members. We can’t change the world, but we can change our world.

As allies, what if we demonstrated compassion by checking on and looking out for one another … just because? We can start by thinking about the “day in the life” of someone else’s life. For example: What if you woke up tomorrow and had swapped places with anyone else. Would that be okay? Better yet, if you are a leader, would you want to report to you?

Ready for another entry from “KETpedia?”

I believe great leaders have footnotes that connect them to the amazing leaders they helped cultivate, enhance, and promote across the full spectrum of inclusion. Being a good person doesn’t immediately factor into everyone’s definition of leadership, but my own career experiences tell me it is an essential ingredient.

As we hear more about the importance of allyship, we also may wonder how we can start or re-energize ourselves as allies. Here are some examples that worked in a pre-COVID world when we were together in the same physical locations … and that also work in today’s virtual world.

Allyship in action

1. Your boss stops by a few times looking for Ruth. When Ruth comes back to her desk, you say, “Ruth, Amy stopped by a few times. She is looking for an update for her 3 p.m. meeting.”

2. You are at the printer to pick up your printouts but realize John has left personal information on the printer. You put the information in an envelope and place it on his desk — while trying to not look at any of the details. And you don’t mention it to anyone else.

3. You are in a meeting and realize Amy is missing. She mistakenly didn’t receive an invitation, and the topic is an area related to her assignment. You send a note to the organizer and / or mention that Amy is missing from the invitation list and should be included. When the mistake is noted, you then send her a text and ask if she can join the meeting. If she is unable to attend, you offer to bring her up to speed on any actions. If this a Zoom call, you mute the call and try to reach Amy on the phone in case she didn’t see your text in time.

4. Steve can’t make an update meeting — it’s his day off. Fortunately, he and you are working together on the project. When you give the update, you note that both you and Steve are working well together and then give the status.

5. A team meeting usually involves many interjections and contributions. You notice that Stephanie isn’t able to get a word in, so you say, “Stephanie, it looks like you have a few thoughts to share on this topic. What’s on your mind?”

6. About 15 minutes into that same team meeting, Lisa makes an observation that is not acknowledged. Thirty minutes in, Richard and Katie both offer the same thoughts as Lisa’s earlier observation. You say, “Great point, Richard and Katie. It sounds like Lisa agrees. Lisa, is this what you were thinking?”

These are just a few examples of allyship in action. They may not be as intuitive as not eating someone else’s lunch, helping a senior cross the street, or calling 911 if you notice that a building is on fire, but they’re just as important. All too often, however, when allyship is needed, silence or non-action is more likely to happen when it involves a diverse group.

Being an ally and being a good person are related. Each involves taking care of other people. Let’s consider the many ways we can be better team members tomorrow than we were today. Little actions add up to big ones. Checking on a sick team member, remembering to ask about sad or even great news, or advocating for someone whether or not they are in the room are great ways to be an ally. These actions also promote teamwork — trust, inclusion, and a sense of belonging for everyone.

Perhaps one day we won’t need to talk about diversity. Perhaps, instead, we’ll be able to celebrate our differences and the differentiated value each of us contributes to our organization’s shared mission, purpose, and values.

If not you, who?

If not now, when?

Kimberly Ellison-Taylor, CPA, CGMA, CISA, is a past Chairman of the Maryland Association of CPAs, a past Chairman of the American Institute of CPAs, and Executive Director - Finance Thought Leadership with Oracle. She is also a thought leader, consultant, and course author with the Business Learning Institute.


Kimberly Ellison-Taylor