By: Natalie Runyon
Guidance for men on how to be an ally to women is an increasingly hot discussion topic today. I sat down with Jennifer Brown, diversity and inclusion consultant, author, and speaker, to discuss her perspective on her work with executive men and elevating their journeys as allies for gender diversity.
In the second part of this interview, she shares how she defines what it means to be an ally, helps us understand the struggle that carrying multiple stigmatized identities can entail, and how men can use a time when they experienced exclusion to connect with the experience of an individual from an underrepresented community.
Natalie Runyon: Explain your concept that everyone has a “diversity story.” What is a diversity story and how does it relate to the majority group, which, in the professional context, is white men?
Jennifer Brown: As a starting place, we need to remember that certain people do not get their stories told, or do not feel comfortable telling their stories because they don’t feel safe to do so. As we work to bridge divides in the workplace and create equity and belonging across differences, these are the stories that should be centered and shared, first and foremost.
More broadly, a diversity story can be any life experience, identity, or attribute that causes someone to feel excluded. There are many who share a common experience of exclusion but remain on the sidelines, wondering, “What do conversations about inclusion have to do with me?” The truth is, these conversations have everything to do with everyone.
Many of us conceal a lot about ourselves in order to fit in, including the majority of leaders — who are mostly straight white men. It is easier for us to leave pieces of ourselves out of the picture when we come to work, but our work suffers when we do that. So, too, does our sense of connectedness with those we work with.
Examples of situations where straight white men, for example, may have felt the pain of exclusion include abuse; the experience of being impacted by a disability or having a loved one with a disability; growing up socio-economically disadvantaged; being a parent and terrified for a daughter’s safety; having a partner of a different nationality or ethnicity; having a child from another country; or struggles in the family with issues of addiction or suicide.
Traditionally, leaders have not-so-readily shared the moments in which they felt like they didn’t belong, because that would require embracing vulnerability and revealing weakness. But if we want to bridge divides in the workplace, create a culture of safety and belonging, and bring teams together across differences, finding the courage to share can help cultivate a deeper connection with those around us because of the common emotional experience of exclusion.
[Related: Good Men of the World: Step Up. We Need You.]
Runyon: I have heard you say, that the “most powerful allies can be from underrepresented groups.” What do you mean by this statement?
Brown: It is a provocative statement, because some of us are already carrying more of the responsibility than we should for the conversation because of who we are. To think of ourselves as potential allies for others can seem like even more labor. But as an LGBT+ woman who is also white, even though I identify as part of a stigmatized community, I can also be a tremendous ally to a person of color, because I share an experience of being part of an underrepresented group and can use my identity as a white person of privilege to amplify their needs. Intersectional allyship can come from any direction, from any identity or multiple identities, and can be especially powerful when you have firsthand experience as a teacher.
Having said that, many of us are tired of teaching those in the majority/dominant group, and the burden should not be on us. People in the majority/dominant groups need to do their own work to educate themselves about how they can be better allies, rather than leaning on somebody from an underrepresented group to educate them about what it’s like to hold that identity.
Natalie Runyon is a inclusion leadership strategist, professional ally of underrepresented groups, intrapreneur, recovering entrepreneur, mother of two, non-profit board member, and wife. Her life’s mission is advancing women and colleagues of color to attain positions in the executive ranks of corporate America and political institutions.
This article was originally published on Legal Executive Institute.
Originally published at www.ellevatenetwork.com.