The “why, what, who, and how” of allyship

How do organisations and leaders plan D&I initiatives to allow allyship to play a key role?

By Philip Yuen, Chief Executive Officer, Deloitte Southeast Asia and Chairman, Deloitte Singapore

While the notion of allyship is not new, it has recently been in the
limelight amidst global movements that fight for equality and fairness across
issues facing race, religion, gender and more.

Allyship has its role in the broader society to make the world a more
inclusive place. Similarly, allyship plays a role in the place where we work;
it can help further an inclusive culture in an organisation.

Deloitte research has shown that even though there has been much
investment and progress made by organisations in fostering inclusion, bias
still remains, with the top three biases being age, gender and race/ethnicity.

Why is this the case?

Clearly, inclusion programs, even though important, seem insufficient to
reduce the instances of bias in the workplace. What might be lacking is for
organisations to help people embody inclusion in their daily interactions, and
to impact their daily behaviours.

I believe that the means to this end is to perhaps have workplace allies.

The argument for workplace allies is a convincing one. From the human
perspective, employees feel a greater belonging in organisations that encourage
inclusion through active allyship. And, when it comes to bottom-line impact,
the business case is strong. Ample data substantiates the increased innovation,
greater shareholder value, improved productivity, expanded market share, and
enhanced reputation that result from a culture that embraces allyship and

Now that we have established why allyship is significant to inclusivity, we need to examine what exactly is allyship and who is, or can be, an ally.

There are similar concepts in parallel with allyship – we are all familiar with the terms mentorship and sponsorship. In the context of the workplace, typically, a mentor and/or a sponsor is an individual that is more senior, with more experience and power to help an individual grow in their career.

An ally on the other hand is a peer, a colleague, that can help and support an individual through day-to-day workplace challenges by showing encouragement, empathy and understanding. Allies are commonly described as those who actively promote and aspire to advance a culture of inclusion by
utilising intentional, positive efforts. They strive to support co-workers who
might be marginalised, under-represented or face micro-aggressions in the

So, who is an ally? Essentially, all of us are, or can be, allies to our colleagues. Allyship can be present in all facets of organisational life – from being supportive at a team meeting or having casual conversations in the pantry, to being involved in decisions on who to hire and who to promote.

Take gender inclusion as an example: the past year and a half have created a perfect storm for women, and the impact of COVID-19 on working women that have multiple roles outside of work has renewed conversations around allyship. Male allies can help by supporting their female colleagues more during this time, and organisations can urge their male employees to help at home to relieve some of the burden borne by the working women in their families.

Authentic and real allyship requires long-term, continual and intentional commitment, both in words and actions.

How then, can organisations and leaders plan diversity & inclusion (D&I) initiatives that let allyship play a key role?

Let us start at the top and define allyship in the context of an organisation’s values – what does allyship mean in the organisation’s culture, how does it come together as part of its D&I strategy and what does the organisation hope to achieve?

For Deloitte, our Shared Values tell us to “Take care of each other” and “Foster inclusion”. We bring these Shared Values to life by promoting allyship where we stand up and speak up for the rights of others, addressing bias and unacceptable behaviour—and encouraging people to use their voice to effect change.

Business leaders of today need to be inclusive leaders that walk the talk and use their voice, truly exhibiting inclusive behaviours when leading their teams. They need to harness their power, skills, knowledge and relationships to advocate for change, and be prepared to push back against long-standing practices and attitudes.

Inclusive leadership, for Deloitte, is about treating people and groups fairly, understanding and valuing the uniqueness of others, and leveraging the thinking of diverse groups for smarter ideation and decision making.

It is best not to keep allyship a secret –  communicating and executing it widely can bring about great benefits for an organisation. At Deloitte, our global D&I
strategy – All IN – is well communicated and supported. It places great emphasis on the need for an inclusive everyday culture, underpinned at all times
by respect. This helps our people feel more confident and comfortable to have
conversations about common diversity-related topics, which provides the
foundation for a diverse and vibrant organisation. 

The allyship journey for an organisation is an iterative process that should allow for trial and error, and leeway for mistakes. There is no roadmap or precise way that an allyship program should be designed – each organisation will vary the size, design and content based on their own values.

As an individual, becoming an effective ally means knowing when to listen and learn about issues; and knowing when would be appropriate to speak out and educate. We may not get it right the first time, but the more we practice, the more skilled we become.

We now recognise the importance of allyship, in the workplace and our daily lives. I urge all of us to persevere in our efforts to be allies and not feel frustrated when there seems to be insufficient progress. As long as we are intentional in our support and encouragement, collectively, we will pave the way to a more inclusive workplace culture, and a more inclusive society to live

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