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Two Questions for Allyship

Written by MJ Ryan, SheEO Development Guide

Image by @ohhappydani

As a white woman with a lot of privilege, I’ve been thinking a lot about allyship. I feel like an ally, meaning I support racial, gender, and social justice and want to do everything I can to stand up for those who are being attacked and persecuted. But what actions can I take besides educating myself, signing every petition that comes to my inbox, and donating to as many causes as possible?

Recently a Neuroleadership Institute blog by Cliff David gave me a very simple but profound new practice. But first, a bit of insight on why those of us with privilege really need to work at becoming true allies. “Research shows that people are more motivated to maintain the status quo when they benefit from it, than they are to challenge the status quo when they stand to gain from change. In other words, the drive to avoid loss is stronger than the drive to increase reward,” writes David. “That partially explains why acknowledging one’s advantages can feel so threatening; our instinct is to protect our status and maintain the status quo, but it’s possible to work through our emotions and persist.”

David goes on to suggest educating ourselves and supporting structural changes that enhance equity, which of course are vitally important. I am grateful that SheEO staff, Ventures and Activators are leading the way in our community on this important front. In 2020, Wakumi Douglas, founder of SheEO Venture Soul Sisters, led a seven month racial justice working group that is about to start Part 2, and this May we hosted a Learning Circle on Anti-Asian Racism with participants committing to actions such as bystander intervention training, using their platforms to talk about racism, and buying from small neighborhood Asian-owned businesses to name a few. And at the end of June, we’re hosting a Pride Story Slam featuring LGBTQI2S+ community members sharing their personal stories, with more to come.

But it’s what David suggests on a daily, moment to moment basis that really caught my attention. “To increase equity, you might speak up to acknowledge power dynamics at play, amplify the voices of those whose voices have been minimized or ignored because of their identity, and work to extend equitable opportunities to those in less advantaged positions.” That goes to the heart of my practice I wrote about recently about not ignoring the elephant in the room, speaking into rather than ignoring difficult conversations and emotions.

We ally-wanna-bes can do this, he suggests, by asking ourselves in any circumstances, two simple questions:

  • “If you don’t act, would it be in service of yourself?
  • “If you do act, would it be in service of someone else, the team, or the organization?

“If you answer in the affirmative to both, it’s an opportunity for allyship.”

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