As humans, we fear what we don’t understand. This fear can feel very real for people. As a white, cisgender, non-disabled, straight women myself, I cannot fully understand the lived experiences of people of color, those with disabilities, or those in the LGBTQ+ community. And, no one is asking me to.
In my research and work in the diversity space for 8+ years, white women refrain from speaking up about diversity because of:
- The Expert Effect. When we are with diverse groups, we rarely have all answers. More often, we have questions and have to listen to others explain the issues they’re experiencing to fully understand them. That’s uncomfortable when we’ve also been taught that we need to have the answers. One of the hardest things to say to a child or friend is “I don’t know” and still seem credible.
- Protector Mode. Well-intentioned white women avoid hard conversations about diversity because they can conjure up feelings of guilt and shame. Learning about diversity does not shame people, it frees them to learn about differences and learning requires discomfort.
- In Control. We love to be in control. Letting go of the control and being open to new ways of thinking becomes harder as our brains mature. Uncovering and confronting our own biases requires us to release control and co-create a better future for all, together.
When white women speak up, people listen differently.
Because white women have a unique position in benefiting from whiteness, and not benefiting from their gender, they can empathize and understand what is like to be in the dominant group and marginalized groups simultaneously.
People also listen differently because it appears they do not have “skin in the game” with the race conversation, and same goes for other dimensions of diversity where they might be an ally and not directly impacted.
Allyship is a choose your own adventure.
There is no destination to allyship. It is a journey. I have found these tenants to be most helpful as a white woman advocating for diversity.
- Why. Without a strong emotional reason to do this work, it’s easy to fall into the performative ally trap where participation fluctuates with the news cycle. Allies consistently use their voices for positive change.
- Empathy. The quintessential allyship skill. Allyship requires us to let go of control and is not about us being the expert or the protector. We have to listen to learn as allies.
- Vulnerability. It’s accepting that we do not have all of the answers that separates us as allies.
- Curiosity. As children, we are naturally curious, and we unlearn how to be curious as we grow older. In taking a lead from younger people, we can really learn this important ally trait.
- Emotions. Being mindful and separating facts from emotions that are part of difficult conversations can be tricky as an ally. Allies meet people where they’re at and they help to create psychologically safe places.
- Courage. If this was easy, we wouldn’t be having this same tired conversation about DEI. You’re not alone, the first step is deciding to do something.
- Coaching. Conversations with diversity will get candid. Practicing a coaching mindset instead of a teaching mindset can help expand conversations where both parties learn and grow.
- Accountability. Personal as well as shared accountability for our actions collectively matters. This means modeling the behaviors that we want to see from others, as we’re learning and growing, so that others will be motivated to join us as allies.
- Privilege. Acknowledging the benefits, one has by association with the majority group is important to understand. Allies leverage their privilege to uplift others.
- Inspiration. Part of allyship is calling others into the diversity conversation. Especially those with privilege and power.
It is progress over perfection.
White women can be better allies for diversity. Allies do hard things. They stay active in the face of adversity. If you want to lead like an ally in your personal life as well as work life, all aboard. We are stronger together as allies.
Julie Kratz is a highly-acclaimed TEDx speaker and inclusive leadership trainer who led teams and produced results in corporate America. After experiencing many career “pivot points” of her own, she started her own speaking business with the goal of helping leaders be more inclusive.