In celebration of International Women's Day and its theme "Inspire Inclusion," Ivey spotlights five exceptional faculty members whose research and teaching are shaping a better, more inclusive future for women. Read on to discover new insights and actionable strategies from Barnini Bhattacharyya on demonstrating effective allyship to foster inclusion in the workplace and watch the video above.   

In the modern workplace, allyship is swiftly becoming the cornerstone of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) efforts. An act of supporting and championing the voices and needs of marginalized individuals, allyship empowers everyone in an organization to create inclusive spaces, regardless of their role or official EDI involvement.

From public declarations of support to black squares on Instagram to EDI committee participation, instances of allyship abound. Yet, do these displays genuinely tackle marginalization, or are they merely performative acts?

In her new study, Barnini Bhattacharyya, assistant professor of Organizational Behaviour at Ivey and a notable authority in Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI), faces this question head on by flipping the script on EDI research.  

“When I started my PhD nine years ago, I was mainly seeking to understand the challenges and barriers that marginalized employees, such as racialized women, face in organizations. And, like many other studies done in this area, we did identify several significant challenges,” said Bhattacharyya.

Observing the wealth of research and evidence being delivered on the challenges of equity and inclusion for marginalized individuals, Bhattacharyya became drawn to the problem-solving aspect of equity research.

“Alongside uncovering issues that women of colour regularly face in the workplace, such as being made invisible, I wanted to understand how to effectively tackle these issues, how to create positive visibility, and how we – as individuals – can prevent mistreatment from happening or even interrupt them in the act,” she said.

Allyship at work

With this ambition leading the way, Bhattacharyya directed her research efforts toward understanding allied relationships at work.

“When considering ways that individuals could take action and drive real change around equity, without having to rely on other people or other avenues of support, the concept of allyship really stood out,” she said.

Guided by the question, “How do women of colour and their allies experience allied relationships at work?,” Bhattacharyya and her team conducted a series of interviews with 30 dyads of women of colour executives and their workplace allies in Vancouver – a location deliberately selected for its high rate of anti-Asian and anti-Black sentiment. Women of colour shared expectations from allyship and preferred support methods, while allies discussed their supportive actions. Analyzing these interviews, Bhattacharyya and her colleagues identified key areas of convergence and divergence between expected and enacted allyship.

And for Bhattacharyya, the convergence was the “sweet spot” to understanding what truly constitutes as effective allyship.

Hallmarks of allyship (More than a black Instagram square)

Based on her findings, Bhattacharyya determined that effective allies demonstrate three common qualities:

  • Centering: Instead of imposing their own framework on what allyship should be, effective allies center the needs, goals, and perspectives of the beneficiaries of allyship (women of colour in the current study) above their own.
  • Respecting: Effective allies view beneficiaries as equals, and not merely monolithic members of a marginalized group. Consequently, they respect the latter’s expertise, knowledge, and career goals.
  • Action: Above all else, effective allies are able to translate their knowledge and good intentions into beneficial action.

“Most of us have positive intentions when it comes to equity and inclusion. We want to do good, and we want to help one another. But this doesn’t always translate into positive, impactful, structural change. Effective allies always remember to focus on action over intention,” said Bhattacharyya.

Practice makes perfect progress

While Bhattacharyya affirms that allyship isn’t the convenient or easy route, she stresses its importance in changing workplace equity dynamics. For those looking to employ improved allyship, she recommends the following actions:

  • Never stop practising: Instead of being framed as an identity, Bhattacharyya recommends allyship be understood as a behaviour – one that requires ongoing practice, learning, and reflection.
  • Check your privilege: As allies, it’s important to reflect on and understand one’s position of privilege, and the power it holds. Armed with this awareness, it can be leveraged to support and advocate for others.
  • Get comfortable making mistakes: In an effort to demonstrate allyship, mistakes will naturally be made. Bhattacharyya emphasizes the significance of getting comfortable in making these mistakes, learning from them, and not allowing the fear of them impede progress.
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  • Barnini Bhattacharyya
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