Barriers to Allyship at Home

Barriers that cause withdrawal from the DEI conversation

As humans, we fear what we don’t understand. This fear can feel very real for people. There are three main categories of fear leading parents, caregivers, and educators to withdraw from the DEI conversation.

  • The Expert Effect. In DEI, we rarely have all answers. More often, we have questions and have to listen to others explain the issues they’re experiencing to fully understand them. That’s really uncomfortable when we’ve also been taught that we need to have the answers. One of the hardest things to say to a child or friend is “I don’t know” and still seem credible.
  • Protector Mode. Well-intentioned people avoid hard conversations like DEI because they can conjure up feelings of guilt and shame. Teaching DEI does not shame people, it frees them to learn about differences and learning requires discomfort.
  • In Control. We love to be in control. Letting go of the control, and being open to new ways of thinking becomes harder as our brains mature. Uncovering and confronting our own biases requires us to release control and co-create a better future for all, together.

As allies, it is important to carry others’ stories with you. When someone shares their stories with you, it’s important to believe them and not to shame them or ask “what were you doing to cause this?” or question their perceptions of what happened. True allies listen without judgment. If you happen to hear a story more than once, or stories feel eerily familiar, there’s likely a high likelihood that this is a universal experience that people within that dimension of diversity have in common.

White privilege just means not having to think about your skin color.

All of my friends of color who have children have shared heart-breaking stories with me about their children being told by other kids that they couldn’t be played with or they didn’t belong based on their skin color. They were told these messages from a very young age. No child should ever feel less than based on something like their skin color which they have no control over.

In addition, my friends of color, who are parents, have shared that they, as a necessary precaution, will have the “talk” with their children about when (not if) they are pulled over by the police and how to handle the potentially dangerous situation (where to put your hands, keep your ID, etc.).

Because of my own learning journey and difficulty talking about tough issues like racism, sexism, and homophobia in my personal life, I decided to write this book. When I compared notes with other white parents, DEI practitioners, my gay friends, my friends of color, and my own family, I realized no one knew how to fully navigate DEI in their personal lives and with their own children. I wanted to put together a set of tools to help.

This is by no means the answer to extremely complex problems. These are ideas and tools that I’ve uncovered and learned and now rely on to help me with my own journey from work to home.

Allyship is a choose your own adventure.

There is no destination to allyship. It is a journey. We have found these tenants to be most helpful when having conversations with children, friends, and family outside of work.

  • Why. Without a strong emotional reason to do this work, it’s really easy to fall into the performative ally trap where participation fluctuates with the news cycle. Allies consistently use their voices for positive change.
  • Empathy. The quintessential allyship skill. Allyship requires us to let go of control, and is not about us being the expert or the protector. We have to listen to learn as allies.
  • Vulnerability. It’s accepting that we do not have all of the answers that separates us as allies.
  • Curiosity. As children, we are naturally curious and we unlearn how to be curious as we grow older. In taking a lead from younger people, we can really learn this important ally trait.
  • Emotions. Being mindful and separating facts from emotions that are part of difficult conversations can be tricky as an ally. Allies meet people where they’re at and they help to create psychologically safe places.
  • Courage. If this was easy, we wouldn’t be having this same tired conversation about DEI. You’re not alone, the first step is deciding to do something.
  • Coaching. Conversations with DEI will get candid. Practicing a coaching mindset instead of a teaching mindset can help expand conversations where both parties learn and grow.
  • Accountability. Personal as well as shared accountability for our actions collectively matters. This means modeling the behaviors that we want to see from others, as we’re learning and growing, so that others will be motivated to join us as allies.
  • Privilege. Acknowledging the benefits one has by association with the majority group is important to understand. Allies leverage their privilege to uplift others.
  • Inspiration. Part of allyship is calling others into the DEI conversation. Especially those with privilege and power.

As you begin your journey, be sure to protect your energy, practice good self-care and know this work is important, worthwhile and will have an impact. This work has ups and downs, it will not be a straight path and can be very humbling. To stay on course, it is important to visualize success. Begin your ally journey by reflecting on….

  • What the future could look like with more allies
  • How DEI conversations could spur positive change for others
  • How you could be a part of the change you want to see in the world

For me, it’s seeing a world that is more inclusive for my daughters, for my friends of color, for my gay friends, for my friends with disabilities, for fellow DEI practioners that are tired of having this same conversation, over and over. We can and will do better- together.

If we are waiting for perfect allies, we will wait forever.

Hold that visual in your mind. Keep that positive focus as you navigate the murky waters of allyship. Allies do hard things. They stay active in the face of adversity. If you want to lead like an ally in your personal life as well as work life, all aboard. We are stronger together as allies.

What’s next?

Want to do better, and not sure where to start? That is why we developed the Lead Like an Ally virtual self-paced training program, perfect for organizations struggling with accountability for diversity. You can also check out all of our other virtual and live program offerings.