Allyship is a very personal thing to individuals but plays a significant role in workforce retention.
To me Allyship is about people becoming aware of the world in a way they don’t normally see, perceive or interact with it, whether that’s recognising the challenges experienced by someone with a disability or understanding the experience of a person from a different racial/ethnic background. Allyship is also about no longer being passive when confronted with processes, systems or in fact conversations where the “other” will be marginalised or disadvantaged by the outcome.
Additionally, it’s about having empathy and understanding how that person who presents differently in the world can and frequently is treated differently, acknowledging this is an individual and collective journey.
For some allies it’s about an external context being addressed within the workplace, for example the impact May 25th this year (the murder of George Floyd) had on many people brought into sharp focus the ongoing disparity in the way that human life is perceived.
At the same time within NHS England and NHS Improvement we observed the disproportionate impact of COVID 19 on BME health workers which raised uncomfortable insights both inside the NHS and in wider society, to some extent the “blinkers” came off for people.
Some of this is about people understanding in a way that allows them to identify and act on situations where people are being discriminated against or not included, so it’s vital for me to see leadership within NHS England and NHS Improvement modelling what this is and for us all to create the culture that makes it safe to speak honestly when we see something which isn’t consistent with what we want our organisation to be.
I have noticed people becoming more pro-active in checking themselves in things they take for granted with colleagues and in the NHS working environment. People are more pro-active in identifying and actively challenging things when they show up which is a positive step change as it shows people are less prepared to just let things pass because they are not directly affected.
It is a different journey of Allyship and a different experience for people who are othered for whatever reason. People need to ask themselves ‘How do I educate myself? How do I learn? And where do I go?’
Part of the difference now is that more people are prepared to have conversations.
For some people, the pace at which they expose themselves to this wider learning differs, for some there is a lower threshold as it begins to feel just like it is, oppressive.
I’ve always lived in this skin so it’s different for me, I accept its difficult for people, you can’t force Allyship onto someone, nobody that doesn’t have to wants to feel uncomfortable.
Allyship can mean being exposed to ugliness and raw nerves, people naturally want to maintain privilege and can be motivated by the benefits associated with that.
Increasing someone’s capacity to ally, for those who are more resistant, only comes from experiencing oppression or disempowerment themselves or being put in a position where they are the other. I think for some people this is the only way that they truly relate or shift their point of view.
Black Lives Matter has perhaps given people a broad brush, very hard-hitting wake-up call as they were othered in understanding how to respond to a global crisis.
Allyship is almost a way of being, it’s a set of values which are consistent with who you are, it has a recognisable name but there has always been people who will break away and stand up for injustice, discrimination, its just who they are.
Can it be taught? I believe for some people it’s a core value of always standing up for rather than bystanding, however, having the blinkers removed has brought about an enlightenment for understanding and wanting to do better. Now people have started to see it – then they can now name and identify it.
Organisationally, we need to make it permissible and easy to have certain conversations. We need to be less accepting, no gaslighting.
What we thought was going on ‘out there’ with other people and their thought processes about race and about experiences of black staff, lack of progression, training, opportunities, is now inside and we’ve had to decide what we are going to do.
We must start to look at individuals in leadership or management positions, absolutely there has to be more diversity of thought, not only race and ethnicity but across the board. When you think of the harm that people can do within roles that have an element of leadership or management influence about them, we need to remember why we are here, in the NHS, its about people.
A friend of mine reminds me that change starts with me so …..