Who Are You An Ally For?

Updated: Oct 2, 2018

For the past few years, I have been beating the drum on how important “male allyship” is to progress in closing the gender gap and accelerating the advancement of female talent. Yes, it’s been a consistent message of mine and one that I am trying to live out loud in leading IWL. Recently, I have had a few humbling experiences related to allyship causing me to pause and reflect on my own privilege and the opportunity I have to help others on their equality journeys.

The first was at lunch at a downtown restaurant early summer with extended family members who were visiting Indianapolis from out of state. One of my relatives made a comment that was not supportive of the waiter serving us, whom my relative presumed to be gay. I asked this relative a question about his perspective on a person being gay. Both the answer and the attitude were troubling to me. I made a brief comment that I had a different perspective and made a conscious decision to wait until I had another opportunity to have a deeper 1-on-1 conversation with that outspoken and, in my opinion, uninformed family member. I wanted to share with that relative that one of our family members is gay and I know it has been a very difficult lifelong journey for that individual. Unfortunately, the window to have that 1-on-1 conversation closed. I missed the chance to serve as an ally for our gay family member during that in-person time together.

Over the past few months, I have also had other conversations related to IWL’s focus on advancing women and the opportunity we have to place greater emphasis on minority women. It has become increasingly apparent to me that even in the “women bucket”, there are different levels of privilege. As a white female, I have more of an advantage than women of color. I didn’t earn that advantage. I was just born with it.

James Loduca, Director of Equality Programs for Salesforce, opened our amazing 9th Annual IWL Women’s Leadership Conference in Indianapolis. James Loduca also opened my eyes, heart, and now voice even wider on this topic of allyship.

James is gay. James is in a loving relationship with a wonderful partner. Together they have a beautiful infant daughter. With boldness, James inspired me and the other nearly 1,200 people at the JW Marriott to recognize that we are all on an equality journey! Yes, each of us is playing on some field in our life that isn’t level. James also encouraged each of us in the room to be an ally for someone who is on a different equality journey than our own. I was deeply moved by his talk. I had a pivotal awakening on my role and responsibility to also be an ally.

Since the conference, I came across this compelling definition of allyship:

“Allyship is an active, consistent and arduous practice of unlearning and re-evaluating, in which a person of privilege seeks to operate in solidarity with marginalized individuals and/or groups of people.” (The Anti Oppression Network/PeerNetBC)

Allyship isn’t about “saving” someone. It’s about treating them as an equal and advocating for them.

In his keynote, James offered 4 simple steps for being an equality ally:

1. Ask others about their experiences and share yours.

2. Listen with empathy and seek to understand different perspectives.

3. Show up by being present, engaged and committed.

4. Speak up as an advocate and evangelize your allyship among others.

In our work tied to activating men as allies, we stress that “ally” is a verb and not just a noun. It’s about action, looking for small and big opportunities to speak up for another even when that person isn’t in the room. It’s a chance to share resources and continuously disrupt the power imbalance.

I am grateful for the men that are allies of mine and the work of IWL. I am now even more committed to being an ally for others - and that doesn’t mean just for women like me.

So two questions for you.

1. Who can YOU be an ally for?

2. What ONE NEXT STEP CAN YOU TAKE on your allyship journey?

My next step is to share this blog and have that overdue conversation with my extended family members.


Kim Graham Lee is the CEO of Integrating Women Leaders Foundation. She has a diverse business background including c-level leadership of start-up and growth companies and account management for some of the largest corporations in the world. Kim's professional passion is helping grow other “good businesses." For much of the past 15 years, she has led emerging Indiana-based companies primarily in the technology space, and more recently pivoted to leadership and talent development. Kim transitioned from longstanding IWL Board member in May of 2017 to CEO. She also helped co-found and serves as the President of the newly-formed Indianapolis chapter of Conscious Capitalism - a global movement which also believes that businesses are a force for good and need more of the strengths that are considered more inherently feminine characteristic

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