In today’s society, from at home and in social settings to workplaces and in public environments, individuals are coming to terms with racial and social justice and their role in larger movements. Many people have the best of intentions, but have little guidance as to where to begin their journey of heightened awareness.
Allyship and advocacy are words we hear often in this type of critical work, but what do they really mean in the context of diversity, equity, and inclusion training? Is it better to follow one path over the other? Here, we’ll explore the meaning behind both terms, the ways in which one can be a better partner to marginalized groups, and the lifelong learning it takes to offer active, meaningful support.
Ally vs. Advocate
If we’re going by traditional definitions, an ally is one who is associated with another or others for a common cause or purpose; a person or group who provides assistance and support in an ongoing effort. The term has come to represent someone who is not a member of a marginalized group, but who expresses or gives support.
Meanwhile, an advocate is someone who supports, promotes, and pleads for or on behalf of another or a community. Therefore, an advocate uses their own privilege and platform to bring attention to injustice and affect change.
These differences might seem slight, but they are powerful.
Think of these words not as nouns, but as verbs, and the distinction become clearer: To ally yourself with someone or something is to associate, join, or unite; to advocate is to speak or write in favor of, to support by argument, or to recommend publicly.
To put a finer point on it: Allyship denotes passive support in someone or a group in which the person has a vested interest, while advocacy refers to public sponsorship of a larger cultural, economic, political, or societal movement.
The difference ultimately lies in the intent.
Allyship and Advocacy in the Workplace
The lines between allyship and advocacy are further blurred in the workplace. As an inclusive leader, your number one priority is to create an inclusive culture in which everyone feels accepted, understood, and valued, and to build an equitable environment where they can thrive.
In an effort to show solidarity and unmitigated support, our efforts towards greater racial and social justice could become watered down (black box Instagram posts, we’re looking at you), misread, or even misleading. Here’s how to ensure your DEI workplace initiatives are clear, careful, and, most of all, effective.
Let’s start with allyship. Being aware of both the implicit and unconscious biases you may carry and the language you may use, as well as being willing to accept correction, are great first steps towards greater awareness.
From there, you can seek out and amplify voices and perspectives in your office that might not otherwise be heard and educate others in your organization to do the same. These are impactful actions of advocacy to start to enact advancements both within yourself and in your workplace.
Aiming for Activism
Perhaps the best, most all-encompassing label we should all be aiming for is activist: an especially active or vigorous advocate of a cause.
Activism is the place where real systemic change happens. This type of unwavering commitment to what one believes in needs not only dedication, but careful, constructive practice.
One might think that activism comes naturally to the passionate and the invested, but activism in the workplace requires specialized training.
Virtual reality training provides just that type of learning. By establishing realistic scenarios for carrying out difficult situations and conversations, without the risk of traditional role play, the learner is able to come to the practice fully present and unguarded. Mursion’s “human-in-the-loop” training, in which a Simulation Specialist guides the interaction and provides immediate feedback, is especially effective. The learner can improve upon their empathic leadership skills in an iterative practice, returning to the scenario until they feel comfortable and confident.
The Next Steps to More Inclusive Workplaces
Leadership development training for creating inclusive, equitable workplaces is a marathon, not a sprint. We should approach these essential initiatives just as we would training for a marathon — with meticulous, immersive learning that, over time, becomes an ingrained lifestyle.
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