Every Leader Should Be an Ally: How To Implement Diversity and Inclusion in Your Business

January 8, 2021 6 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

In many ways, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 launched the current workplace equality movement. In addition to granting protection to those who might otherwise be discriminated against, it also introduced the opportunity for lawmakers to become allies.

An ally is someone who is typically not a member of a mistreated or marginalized group but who expresses or gives support to that group in the ongoing effort to effect change. Allies need only have an open mind and a compassionate heart. 

Historically, allies have assisted movements generated by marginalized groups because of the access and privilege they have that some oppressed groups may not have due to the societal, political, or legal status quo of their time. The lawmakers who passed the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 were some of the original allies. The 88th Congress included 14 women and five black men, out of the total of 535 lawmakers. The remaining 516 congressmen were just that, white men.

Related: How Brands Can Go From Performative Allyship to Actual Allies

The fact that the law was passed with votes from only 4% of those it served to protect, leads to the conclusion that many allies were involved in the passing of this landmark employment law. Today the 116th Congress has transformed to include 126 women and 60 black men. Currently, 349 congressmen are white men. 

In the 1950s only 34% of the workforce was women, this number has increased steadily over the decades to 60% in 2010. In order for these changes to take place, there had to be a group of allies who stepped in and made a difference in the transformation of the workforce demographics. 

Why diversity is key for businesses 

The business case for integrating diversity, equity, and inclusion into the strategic business model and plan for many companies has already been made. Setting the course that attracts diverse talent and serves a variety of markets has proven to make many companies, large or small, significantly more successful. 

The role that allyship plays in companies with a focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion is significant and tangible. Allies serve as leaders, trainers, educators, and sponsors of the strategic work that is being done every day to further achieving the critical goals and objectives for being an inclusive organization. 

Allies have long been at the tables where decisions were made for those who did not have the same access. This representation has led to the development of diversity councils and employee resource groups in countless companies across the globe. 

Implementing DE&I in an organization presents its own challenges

There are numerous barriers to establishing a solid strategic plan for integrating D, E, and I into an organization’s leadership model, cultural norms, and business practices. Those barriers are rarely insurmountable when people collaborate on a focused vision. 

Related: 5 Ways Entrepreneurs of Color Can Determine an Ally’s Authenticity

These are just three of the challenges that leaders, allies, and marginalized individuals and groups face in driving for a more diverse and inclusive organization. 

  1. The massive amount of work that needs to be done might become overwhelming. 

  2. The partnerships needed to advance the strategic diversity initiatives might not develop effectively in time to make an impact. 

  3. The leaders who are not willing to create a more inclusive workplace might sabotage the work being done. 

How to overcome these challenges 

The solutions required to overcome these barriers are best developed with a group of leaders who are committed to making the changes needed to create a more inclusive environment and experience for their workforce. The leaders who have figured out how to also be allies are the most formidable champions when it comes to serving and supporting those groups and individuals who might otherwise be overlooked or mistreated. 

These are some of the ways to overcome the challenges associated with creating a more diverse and inclusive workplace. 

  1. Go beyond the CHRO in developing and cultivating as many C-Suite relationships as are reasonable in the organization. 

  2.  Draft and present a business case with the tangible benefits to the C-Suite for buy-in and support. 

  3. Conduct an audit of the organization’s diversity, equity, and inclusion practices and present the findings to the C-Suite.

Many leaders benefit from having a career development plan that guides them in taking risks and making decisions about their career choices. It seems that the leadership coaching industry is gaining more visibility and growing by leaps and bounds with an estimated revenue of nearly $8B US, over half of the global market value of $15B. 

Related: How This Nonprofit Leverages Powerful Allies Like Joe Biden to Advance Its Goals

Many proficient coaches include components specifically focused on D, E, and I best practices in their programs. Leaders who are actively engaged in a coaching program while developing themselves as both a leader and ally are far more likely to make a significant impact on the implementation of any strategies associated with diversity, equity, and inclusion. 

Why allyship is crucial for leaders

These are three of the benefits for leaders who are also allies

  1. The knowledge, skills, and competencies that are developed as an allied leader are universal and transferable. 

  2. The impact that allies make in the diversity, equity, and inclusion space might enhance their personal branding and reputation. 

  3. The leadership that allies demonstrate has the potential to transform and shift a culture more in the direction of being more inclusive. 

The journey since the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed by the 88th Congress to the landmark decision made by the Supreme Court in June 2020 which included sexual orientation and gender identity as a part of the groups protected has been a long hard struggle for many people. Allies are among those folks who have helped further these goals and changes in our society. 

The shift in leadership from baby boomers to millennials that is taking place now and for the next several years will create a significant opportunity to advance the strategic plans for many companies. 

Simply put, diversity training aims to increase awareness about diversity, equity, and inclusion while education serves to achieve the goals that end uncover biases, prejudices, and discrimination. 

While all of the work of the past 56 years is worth noting and celebrating, imagine if twice as much work and progress might be achieved in the next 28 years. 

Leaders as allies have the unique role and opportunity to move forward the implementation of diversity, equity, and inclusion best practices, proven to be successful by so many pioneers and trailblazers, into their organizations.


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