Speaking up: The importance of allyship in construction

Jayne Little is founder and chief executive of Skills 4

Many of us have heard the analogy of diversity and inclusion being likened to a party: “Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance.” But who will ask?

To succeed in attracting and retaining diverse talent, I believe the sector needs to focus on the importance and value of allyship.

“Don’t assume someone else will step in – being an active ally means finding your moral courage when you see or hear something that isn’t quite right”

A few years ago, I entered a meeting room as the only woman. I took off my jacket and hung it over the back of my chair – one of the men said “Keep going Jayne”, much to the amusement of many around the table. I felt embarrassed and gave a small uncomfortable laugh. But what really hurt was that no one, not even the men who were clearly uncomfortable with that comment, stepped in and challenged it.

An ally is someone who actively supports and stands up for the equal and fair treatment of others. It needn’t be complicated or time-consuming – the beautiful truth about allyship is that anyone reading this article, regardless of age, gender, position or background, can make a difference through active allyship.

I have been supporting women to reach their full potential for 18 years, and have seen many positive changes. However, I still hear examples similar to my experience being played out in today’s workplaces and this must stop. It is not enough to support women; we also need to ensure that the sector – and everyone working in it – creates an inclusive environment where everyone feels they belong.

The ABC of allyship

There are three simple things you can do:

Awareness: The first step is to be aware of what is going on around you. Pay attention and look for any microaggressions or signs of bullying or harassment.

Bravery: Don’t assume someone else will step in – being an active ally means finding your moral courage when you see or hear something that isn’t quite right.

Choose an appropriate response – is it appropriate to intervene directly or is it better to seek assistance or follow up in private given the particular circumstances?

There are multiple considerations in any given scenario and there will never be a one-size-fits-all when it comes to allyship. But everyone has the gift to do something when they see behaviour that isn’t quite right. This could be following up with the perpetrator in private; checking in with the person on the receiving end; making other people aware of what is going on; or digging deep to find your moral courage and challenge the behaviour or comment in the moment.

Beyond gender, the TUC has reported that two in five (41 per cent) ethnic-minority workers have experienced racism at work in the past five years; more than one in five working-age adults have a disability; an estimated 15-20 per cent of the population are neurodivergent; and more than half of all trans people have hidden their identity at work for fear of discrimination.

Many companies and industry bodies are already playing their part in creating cultures where everyday allyship is business as usual, particularly larger organisations that have greater resources to offer more structured support and training.

There needs to be open dialogue around what it takes to create inclusive, psychologically safe workplaces with everyday allyship at the core.

It is promising to see that the theme for International Women’s Day – the day that marks a call to action for gender parity – is ‘Inspire Inclusion’.  We hear so much talk about inclusive cultures and psychological safety, especially in the past two or three years, but really, allyship is the driving force behind that.

If you are reading this and want to take action, you can get involved in International Women’s Day or reach out and support your own employee network groups, if you have them.

And the next time you are at the party and see someone alone, you could ask them if they would like to dance.

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