Ros Fordyce answers your queries

Last week, VinciWorks hosted a webinar on the topic of allyship with our partners Skill Boosters. You can listen again to that webinar here.

During the webinar we had a series of great questions come through. Below are some of the questions that came up, with answers from Ros Fordyce of Skill Boosters, who developed the allyship training.

In the kitchen scenario video, why did you choose to include the fact Adrian was being excluded from the team meeting? It seemed to consolidate his being othered/forgotten – was that intentional?

This was indeed an intentional part of the drama. It demonstrates that there is clearly a wider issue of Adrian’s exclusion by manager Catherine, which will in turn impact on his motivation, his well-being and engagement and ultimately on the performance of the business itself. Racist micro-aggressions like the ones we see demonstrated in this drama are often indicative of wider and more entrenched issues of bullying, discrimination and exclusion and as allies we should always be looking a bit deeper at what might lie behind the language and behaviours that we are witnessing. If you’re interested in finding out more, Skill Boosters’ training on Race Bias looks at this in more depth and shows how we can find out whether bias and discrimination is a problem in our organisation and what we can do to address it.

How do we ensure it isn’t just a tokenistic tick box exercise for organisations? Allyship is quite hard to measure.

This is a very good question, and I believe it comes down first and foremost to being authentic in our allyship as opposed to performative. As I mentioned in the webinar, leaders really need to set the tone from the top when it comes to being allies – if they are authentic and set an example by being active, genuine and consistent, then this will percolate through the rest of the organisation. Similarly, if they are just going through the motions for the sake of good optics, then others will follow suit and see it simply as a tokenistic tick-box exercise for PR purposes.

In terms of measuring allyship, one thing we can do is to incorporate it into our professional development goals – for example, by setting objectives such as attending network groups, educating ourselves about particular groups/issues, organising events or supporting diversity and inclusion initiatives in the workplace. That way we can ensure that we are setting clear targets against which we can measure our progress.

What is the best first step in initiating a diversity and inclusion program? Surveys/metrics? Training? Policies?

The more information you have about your organisation and where there are problems with inclusion – or similarly where there are examples of good practice that can be shared – the better equipped you will be to start making changes. Anonymised surveys can be a good starting point for gauging attitudes and behaviours, but it’s also a good idea to conduct exit interviews with staff who are leaving the organisation – particularly from marginalised and minority groups – to find out about their experiences of working for you and their reasons for leaving. Talking to network groups can also give us valuable information about people’s experiences of working in the organisation. However, in order to ensure that we are getting honest feedback, we first need to ensure that everyone feels safe to share their opinions and experiences – they have to trust us and know that there won’t be any negative repercussions for them, and they also need to know how we are going to use the information they give us. This takes us back to the question of creating psychological safety, which we discussed in the webinar – creating an environment where people feel safe to be themselves and to speak up to voice opinions, suggestions or concerns without the fear of any negative come-back.

Once you’ve gathered the information, then the next challenge is being able to interpret the data you’ve gathered in order to identify where there might be issues and work out how best to address them. That might be through training, or it might be through a revision/introduction of policies, or it might be by sharing examples of good practice from different parts of the organisation. If you’re interested in finding out more, Skill Boosters’ course on Inclusive Leadership looks at what leaders and managers can do to make their workplaces more equitable and inclusive.

As a woman who is often the only woman in meetings. When I try to interject into a meeting, I’m often spoken over the top of. What should others do to try and recognise that?

Very interesting question and you’re sadly not alone. McKinsey’s 2019 Women in the Workplace report found that women get interrupted 50% of the time in meetings, and 38% had experienced others taking credit for their ideas. We all have a role to play in ensuring that everyone gets the same opportunity to contribute in meetings and share their opinions and suggestions. There are a number of simple things that meeting chairs/facilitators can do – for example, going round the table systematically person by person, or by setting a ‘time box’ for each person to speak – but the other people in the meeting have a role to play too. As we show in our Allyship course, an important thing that allies can do is to create opportunities for people from minority or marginalised groups to have their voices heard – for example by actively inviting contributions from them, highlighting their skills, experience or achievements and giving them public credit for their work. Our training on Six steps to productive meetings looks in detail at how to make our meetings more inclusive, while our courses on Gender Bias look in more detail at issues around gender bias and discrimination and suggest some effective ways for tackling it.

How can you balance your “concern” against being perceived as “condescending”?

I think it has to come down to being consistent and being authentic. And that goes back to what we were saying in the webinar, about allyship not just being for show. If people know that your allyship is genuine, they won’t think that you’re being condescending. But being authentic is all about taking the time to educate yourself – it’s about putting in the effort, and being seen to do that.

How do you encourage allyship in an organisation that doesn’t think there’s anything wrong?

This comes up a lot. The organisation or the decision makers don’t necessarily think there’s a problem, so don’t see a need for committing resources to it. But every organisation is made up of people and it is only natural that some people clash, there will be imbalances, disagreements, and, importantly, there will be people from marginalised backgrounds. That’s why there’s anti-discrimination policies and diversity training. Allyship is a natural extension of that, because as we’ve seen, allyship is the ‘how to’ when it comes to building an inclusive culture at work. It’s about challenging those elements that are naturally going to exist in the most constructive way possible.

Any tips on getting more people to join our networks as Allies even if they do not identify?

It can help to make the network groups more visible in an organisation – and again, leaders have a role to play here. The leaders can go along to the groups themselves and take part in discussions, and they can organise awareness days, speaking events, that sort of thing, to help raise the profile of the network group and highlight particular issues, and demonstrate their own personal solidarity with that particular group. And I think it’s also about network groups being open to people who want to be allies, people who genuinely want to know more and find out how they can help.

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