Allyship and Intersectionality

There are an infinite number of ways you can be an ally

Allyship and Intersectionality – these two topics are now indeed hot within the diversity, equity and inclusion world, and both these topics do truly come together.

Many more companies and organizations, for profit, non-profit and governmental are now focusing on the importance of allyship in building a cohesive work environment and better serving customers, clients, citizens and residents.

My favorite definition of allyship and being an ally was written by Katherine Turner of Global Citizen LLC, a leading diversity consultant and practitioner I enjoy collaborating with. Katherine defines an ally as “a person with relative privilege and power who builds trusting relationships and acts in solidarity and with accountability with people and/or groups with marginalized identities without detracting from their power and voices.”

A second diversity construct that is getting a lot more focus now is intersectionality, coined in 1989 by professor Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw to describe how race, class, gender, and other individual characteristics “intersect” with one another and overlap. We cannot look at someone as only one dimension of their diversity, but that every person is their own unique combination of many different aspects of their diversity.

Each person is their own unique mix of diversity attributes (graphic courtesy of Syracuse University Libraries)

Some aspects of our complex diversity make up give us relative power and privilege in various settings, and some aspects give us relative marginalization. For example, being white and male provides me relative privilege, being gay relative marginalization, and being older can be either an advantage or disadvantage given different environments.

Because of intersectionality, every one of us can both be allies to some people, while others can be allies to us. Every one of us can simultaneous be an ally and use an ally.
• White men and white women can be allies to people of color
• Men can be allies to women
• Heterosexuals can be allies to members of the LGBTQ+ community
• Able-bodied people can be allies to people with disabilities

And so on.

And being an ally means taking action – standing with others, listening to them, supporting them and pushing for equitable treatment and respect for all. And being an ally is a two-way street – both the ally and the person being allied with gain insight and value from allyship. Do read my earlier blog “Allyship is a Two Way Street – 5 Points.”

And look at all the various aspects of your own diversity, and consider how you can be an active ally to others. You and the world will be better because of it.

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Total Engagement Consulting includes allyship and intersectionality in most of our diversity, inclusion and equity training, and we can also provide a deeper training on allyship for your organization.  Please do not hesitate to contact me [email protected]



Allyship is a two way street – 5 points

Being an ally is a two-way street.

As a diversity, inclusion and equity consultant and trainer, one of the main topics that organizations are focusing on these days is allyship – the concept of supporting all diverse people in a positive way, helping build unity and respect.

One of my favorite consulting colleagues, Katherine Turner of Global Citizen, LLC wrote one of the best definitions of an ally: “An ally is a person with relative privilege and power who builds trusting relationships and acts in solidarity and with accountability to people and/or groups with marginalized identities without detracting from their power and voice.”

Lindsay-Rae McIntyre, Microsoft’s (link to their allyship program info) Chief Diversity Officer, shares this definition, “An ally is somebody who intentionally engages with empathy and care to support someone else in the way which they would want to be supported.”

And given the complexity and intersectionality of each person’s unique diversity, we each have combinations of relative power and marginalization. At various times we can be allies, and at other times, need allies.

In training around allyship, I use materials from a large number of excellent industry consultants, but recently I developed some of my own original content, called “Allyship is two way street.” Here are the 5 major points:

1) Allies must show authentic full respect of all people and not do it a “patronizing” way or appearing “better than” the other person or group. All people are of equal value and worth, deserving of full dignity and validation.

2) We need to study and seek to understand with an open mind and without getting defensive, the historical perspective of “white imperialism” and “systems of oppression” and how they can impact the people we are working with.

3) We can use allyship as a way of building genuine diverse relationships. Just don’t talk – listen deeply and build a friendship.

4) That as allies, the relationship is not “one way.” We can gain rich gifts and insights from those we ally with.

5) We need to understand how being a strong and sensitive ally benefits us. Being a strong ally to diverse communities makes the world a better place for others and for ourselves as well.

You can google and find all kinds of resources about being an ally. I will leave you with this impactful 2 minute 15 second video (thanks to the company Salesforce for creating and publishing it) that demonstrates the power of allyship.