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Improving diversity and inclusion through allyship

By Nazreen Visram, director, public sector: head of charities & citizenship at BarclaysThis blog follows up on a previous article: Driving diversity and inclusion in the charity sector.

A narrated version if this blog is available at the bottom of the page

The need to embrace and deliver diversity and inclusion (D&I) has rapidly moved up the agenda for both commercial and non-profit organisations across the UK in recent times – and rightly so.

Yet, the well-documented and shameful racism that targeted black footballers following the England football team’s defeat in the Euro 2021 final was not only shocking but a clear indication that, collectively, we still have a long way to go to create a fairer, more equal society.

There are undoubtedly inherent D&I-related issues embedded in the cultures of many organisations. Disappointingly, almost 90% of aid sector staff do not think their organisation is committed to diversity, equality and inclusion, according to a recent report from UK-based aid sector umbrella group Bond.

Bringing about change in the charity sector means every organisation – and every individual within them – has a part to play by actively helping to create and develop a diverse and inclusive culture in the workplace.

At Barclays, we’ve embraced an approach to working that we call ‘allyship’ to promote, support and continuously improve D&I across the bank – and some of the insights and experience we’ve gained so far might prove informative for charities making their own D&I journeys.

Embracing allyship

So, what is allyship exactly? In essence it means being consciously inclusive in a way that helps colleagues from all groups feel respected, valued and connected on a daily basis.

Anyone can become an ally by promoting an inclusive culture, taking conscious steps to make people from all groups feel that they ‘belong’ or by developing empathy for the challenges or issues faced by a particular group.

For example, this might involve white colleagues showing solidarity with black colleagues or heterosexual staff highlighting and opposing homophobia.

In other instances, men can play a part in redressing the inequalities women colleagues face by supporting their career progression. Managers can create flexible working arraignments to support those with caring responsibilities, and non-disabled colleagues can help create accessible workspaces for those who are disabled.


Five small steps

These are just a few of the many possibilities but regardless of the particular situation, we’ve found that becoming a great ally can be broken down into five small steps – namely, to embrace difference, empower others, stand up and speak out, open up opportunities, and challenge your own understanding.

So, what does this mean in practice?

Embracing difference involves actively seeking the views of people with different perspectives to drive change and spark new ideas and encouraging all groups in the organisation to share their viewpoints. It also means being curious about different aspects of identity and having conversations about how change can happen.

We can empower others by, for example, giving under-represented groups more space and ‘air time’ in meetings or through managers at all levels promoting diverse talent to support and cover for them when needed. Offering ‘micro-affirmations’ – small acts that open doors to opportunity or gestures of inclusion and caring – and actively demonstrating you are listening are also empowering actions.

Standing up and speaking out about D&I is vital, of course, because we all need to actively challenge entrenched attitudes and practices wherever they appear and hold others to account for their actions. Our experience at Barclays demonstrates the importance of identifying and challenging ‘micro-aggressions’ and acknowledging the impact of certain behaviours and language on colleagues.

Opening up opportunities for progression and levelling the playing field for under-represented groups can take many forms, but could include, for instance, ensuring that both the range of candidates and those involved in their selection come from more diverse backgrounds when appointing someone to a role at any level

Last, and certainly not least, we all need to challenge our own understanding and learn about communities other than our own, and be aware of any bias or privilege we have, whether by attending D&I-focused events, listening to podcasts or joining internal or external diversity networks.

We’ve also found ‘reverse mentoring’ can be incredibly powerful in encouraging wider understanding of the experiences of various groups at work. So, for example a junior Asian colleague might spend time reverse mentoring a senior white colleague to help them appreciate what it’s like to be a young ethnic minority person in their organisation. Similarly, a male manager could be reverse mentored by a female colleague to gain insight into her perceptions of the workplace.

Next steps

Barclays is passionate about promoting greater D&I and is always keen to support our clients to deliver their own D&I agendas. Although I’ve only been able to scratch the surface here on the value and benefits of allyship, hopefully it’s provided plenty of food for thought.

If you are interested in finding out more about allyship and how it might help your charity, please contact me.

In the meantime, I’d like to leave you with a great example of allyship in action. Remember England football manager Gareth Southgate comforting distraught young player Bukayo Saka after the Euro 2021 final? Throughout the tournament, as a leader he resonated authenticity and inclusion, and demonstrated belief and confidence in players from minority communities by empowering them with opportunities to shine. Above all, he used his voice to openly support them and speak out against unacceptable racist behaviour. For me, that’s what being a good ally looks like.

Narrated by a member of the ACEVO staff

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