INVITING SOMEONE TO BE A BLOCK AT THE BOTTOM SO THE TOWER GETS TALLER IS
NOT ALLYSHIP ~ INSTEAD BUILD THE ELEVATOR TO THE TOP
Welcome baaack! Welcome to Season 2 of the Life Lnxx Podcast! So grateful to have you here and hope that the end of 2021 was peaceful and that this year is starting off slow and welcoming. So glad to have you back. Hope you took some time to really relax and consider what it has been like for these last few years. We’ve been stretched too thin by this pandemic and the unknowns created by it. But, I feel that, and I’m going to knock on wood – superstition – but I also have faith that this year will be different; different than the last two.
Let’s have some positivity as we all go through a huge change, a huge realignment for some intentional and focused healing, both ourselves and those around us . We really need to create this human connection again, after being isolated on our little silos for so many years. Community is everything. And, as you’ve now experienced, even though they don’t want you to believe it, community through a screen is not where it’s at, ladies. It’s not the same.
Allyship – It’s not a casual hookup
That’s what we are going to talk about today. The idea of community, but not how it’s been typically defined. We need to create a new community. A community based on allyship.
Allyship, by definition, is a lifelong relationship and responsibility between people in a position of privilege with people who have been marginalized by social structures. That’s the analytical definition of it. And although it’s not framed to be a them vs. us model, the tenets of teaching allyship tends to still send the message that those in power should help those without power.
This may appear like a justice provision. But really, it seems to emphasize that people without poser are in that position because they couldn’t do any better. The conversation focuses on people’s inadequacies rather than the circumstances that created the disparity. Even today, we have policy being blocked to secure the disparity.
Our leadership wants that. Not just politically. We’re seeing it within our businesses, as well. So, really, it’s not help that’s needed. It’s respect for another person as an equal, the very base of any healthy relationship.
So, today, let’s take the definition of allyship to a deeper personal level. Becoming an ally for someone takes action to understand and empathize with a person’s story, realize what causes interference and then independently act to remove the interference. It’s not a reach down and pull up, or reach down and hand out action. It’s a life long relationship based on trust and respect to become equals.
Allyship is a partnership based on sharing knowledge, pooling together resources and moving towards life goals so that the union is mutually beneficial. This eliminates the idea of a hierarchy or a handout, where one person is reliant on the other for representation in the relationship.
No sugar daddy, no sugar mama, no bread winners… We are all equal because any one person can’t be everywhere at once in their life. So, that means someone else is helping take care of other parts of their life that they’re absent in. Now, think about this when you may feel intimidated by someone who’s in a higher position or higher financial wealth. They didn’t get there alone. They leaned heavily on other people and that ability to lean on someone else, therein lies the allyship. They’re relying on someone else too, it’s just that they have a system in place that they can lean on. This is the ally ship that has to be created for everyone.
Diverse cultural lifestyle based on allyship
I can only speak from my own story as a Latina being raised to blend into the social structure of America in the 60’s. The cultural norms of that era were not inviting and the residue still persists. Although, I’m trying to clean off the grime as I get older. And, still, in learning of the true history of other communities, I realize their pain and struggle cut much deeper and sharper. It’s imperative to live diversity out loud so that the narrative is on point and so is our appreciation for each other. For too long, the true narrative has been silenced and we didn’t understand the severity of inequity in the communities.
In my own diverse life, there’s a lot of support within the specific community, but even that gets fractured. The Latino lifestyle tends to follow a spiral path rather than a straight line. A path filled with multiple people or groups that intertwine on any given day for more than just work. It’s for living fully within a community. It’s su gente, your people. They are like family to the point that your parents’ friends are your tios and tias, your aunts and uncles. And at some point, it makes it really tricky to finding your family heritage because you don’t know who’s really blood related. But then, it doesn’t really matter because they are family, su familia. They will be there for you.You can lean on them.
This community can be relied on for everything that life throws at you. There is an expectation that you can ask for help and you will not be denied because of someone’s schedule or distance. It makes asking for help so much easier knowing that to assist is a privilege, a sign of respect. To have someone ask for help from you, means that they trust you with their situation. That they feel comfortable and confident in reaching out to you.
To not be asked to help is a sign that you are not trusted or part of the community. That would rarely happen unless a person isolated themselves from the community. So the power lies within the person asking for help, not the person giving it.
This is the true definition of allyship. Allyship is less about a hand out, or even opening a door for others. Instead, it’s about being part of a community that leans on each other out of respect. A community is not organized in a hierarchical order but rather in rings that run in rounds, crossing paths with others and living within an even larger circle. Now, that larger circle is not a boundary, or wall of conformity. Instead, it’s an embrace, an acceptance that can grow larger as needed to care for everyone within its community.
Allyship is like Spirograph
So, I’m going to compare this to Spirograph, just to mix it up a little bit. Are you familiar with it? Ok, bear with me here. You can be looking it up as you’re listening. Spirograph is an art set based on using different size and shape wheels that run inside and outside of a large ring and use different color pens to create a design. The real beauty of its process is that there is no expectation of outcome other than a beautiful design.
Unless you have years of experience with it, you don’t have control of what the end design will look like because of all these unknowns. I could get into the mathematical equations right now about all the different possibilities, but I won’t. Yet, the artist, the business leader, the policy maker trusts that the final design will be more complex and fulfilling by using a multitude of options, rather than a singular mindset.
If you think about this a moment, you can see how the current system we have has the same pieces, the same color pens but they don’t move within the ring, they stay stagnant. If anything, they’re choosing the linear base so that the rings just run up and down, top to bottom. Yes, there is such a thing in the art set.
The goal in this existing system is moving up and down. You move up to create profit and reach down to hand out and that’s how we define success. People making profit so they can put their name not the buildings and give major donations.
But, they’ve built that on other people’s backs. Current leadership is acting more like blocks, stacking on top of the ones below to see how high it can go. You know that feeling.
Allyship is not an invitation to be one of the blocks on the bottom so that the tower can get taller. Instead, it’s the multi-directional, multi-colored creation that defines the various roles each piece is accountable for in their lives, how many directions one has to take on any given day that makes the entire design beautiful and more complex.
Each of these different size wheels and the different color pens in the different directions within this ring of community is essential to the overall success of the vision and there is no one aspect that is more important than the other.
This is allyship. No assignment of role based on color or heritage. No assumptions or expectations of roles based on hierarchy. Instead, developing a professional community that relies on each individual equally to complete the vision. The more differences, the more spectacular the product.
Realizing what allyship felt like
I know what it feels like to be under those barriers, let alone behind them. It’s heavy and sometimes you just don’t have the strength anymore to remove the barriers yourself. Nor should you. At that point, it seems easier to just move within the barriers rather than push them off.
In my experience so far, allyship has been absent from those who had the privilege to help but chose not to. Or, opted to give only their opinion rather than act, which doesn’t promote the trust needed to secure a relationship.
It was easier for me to get assistance within my home, like help with caring for my children or a group effort to work on the house. But, once I stepped into my professional world, or any aspect that was male dominated, that’s when bias showed up and made relationships contentious. And so, allyship was not present.
The bias is really palpable when you have differences in scenarios play out. When people align with you in empathy, it feels completely different from those who aren’t empathizing, but rather, telling you what to do.
For instance, when I first became a single mom, my beautiful elder neighbor came to introduce herself. She realized that I was alone since she didn’t see their dad’s car anymore, which maybe in this day and age is creepy.
But, actually, I was so grateful that she was looking out for me without having already established a friendship. Now, Carol instantly offered to help with my girls. But, I played strong woman and declined her offer. But then she told me something that started my advocacy for professional women and it’s continued to this day. She said, “I know how isolating and difficult it is. I raised 4 kids on my own and someone helped me when I couldn’t afford to pay her and so now it’s my turn to do the same.”
Unbelievable. That’s allyship. Seeing the need in others before they have to ask. Having empathy by putting yourself in someone else’s situation and living it. Then acting on it to eliminate the struggle, validate their inequitable situation and highlight how their diversity, their differences, add value to the relationship.
Allyship and Bias Make A Bad Couple
But, like I mentioned, it was easier to find allyship for areas related to family. Something about being a woman with children puts you in an, “oh, we need to help you” moment. But, when it came to my profession or financial decisions, I got a lot of flack from friends, family and professionals. That made a difficult situation even harder and decision making was really tenuous for me.
So many aspects of my own identity, first generation Latina, female engineer, single mother, Catholic created the pressure to outperform and succeed because if things went sideways, then there would be the perpetual, “I told you so… I told you you should have stayed married, I told you should have blended in, you should have… fill in the blank”. Having the men in my family add to this pressure by downplaying my intelligence made me feel alone and vulnerable as the only female.
And that pressure can put you on a detrimental path that you could have avoided if you just had that strong ally. Today’s professionals are leaving those types of situations in droves. It’s a beautiful sign of self-respect, of self-value and the belief that allyship is present in our society, just not in the majority of leadership right now.
So, my absolute opposite experience of allyship, an experience rooted in bias, was at about the same time as having Carol enter my life. This really made it a strikingly difference but unfortunately I didn’t realize it at the time. If I had, I think I would have gone searching for the business version of Carol to help me make this decision.
Now at that time, 1996, Apple and IBM had just plummeted in stock value and there was a major shift in their business structure. Even though it seemed ominous for them, I felt they were going to rebound and continue being leaders in the tech evolution. I thought this would be a cornerstone for my family’s financial security. So, I decided to buy Apple stock at $14 a share. $14. No splits, no nothing. Yep, just $14.
But, rather than getting support or guidance on securing the stock, I was ridiculed for being reckless with my limited finances as a single mom. I was told I didn’t understand business or stock and that these companies weren’t going to be around so I was throwing money away.
Here’s where that inner voice starts talking, right? “What if they are right? What if I lose this money that I need to raise my kids?” They aren’t going to be around to help me. Instead, it will be the mantra, “I told you so.”
So, I caved in and didn’t buy the stock. You know what happens next. It happens for a lot of us who feel alone in our decision making without the support of an ally who makes us their equal. If I had been a man, I probably would have been considered a great risk taker, an intelligent investor with insightfulness. This attitude would have supported me to buy that stock and secure our financial independence.
What would allyship look like to you?
This illustrates the power of allyship without bias or hierarchy. In a relationship without bias, unobstructed opportunity occurs, your struggles are mitigated, you feel heard, understood, appreciated. This should be the base for any relationship, but most necessarily in allyship in order to remove the barriers the system is still fighting to keep in place.
But first there needs to be an acceptance that we are all equal and the door is open for all, just like a great Latina party. Until then, diversity in leadership and business is viewed as an ideal, a quota to fill rather than acceptance of equality.
How do we create a positive, long term relationship, an allyship, that will bring equity between the people involved?
We must empower someone by removing the barriers that create hesitation for risk taking and silence of identity.
Removing the barriers is an act, not an idea, not a statement. It’s an action. That is allyship.
Take a moment now and consider what allyship looks like to you. Remember, this is a relationship, not a business model. What does it look like to be in relationship with someone who will listen to your ideas and needs? What parts of your identity do you hesitate to bring forward throughout your day because of not feeling understood or valued for them?
Now picture what you would need to bring forward your full identity. What barriers need to be removed in order to work freely in your identity? What actions or conversation create equity within your relationship, so it becomes a safe place where you can safely express your concerns without fear of reprisal?
Now I am asking you to define them but not to be the one to remove them yourself. You are already doing double time to prove yourself worthy, to prove your intelligence and your courage. That takes a big toll on our psyche and our bodies.
But, having this conversation helps frame the change necessary throughout society and into leadership. This isn’t a one night stand. This isn’t a casual hookup. This is a life long relationship that we will hand over to the next generation.
By understanding what you need, you can then switch sides, empathize, and understand what others will need. What you have space in your life to create for others, knowing what it feels like to have those barriers in your own life.
Allyship is fluid – No ceiling, no walls
The not so secret, secret to live life on your terms is by not doing it alone. It seems counter-intuitive, right? Usually to do things on your terms means doing it alone so that there is no interference. That’s the hierarchy talking.
The power of diversity is well rooted in the solidarity of community. So, as we redefine what community is by broadening it, by going further outreach with it, by empathizing with all identities to create the inclusion, then we have a greater opportunity to find our people who see you, empathize with you and fell like family, the type of family that has your back, not matter what is happening, rather than trying to blend into a system that’s already defined and didn’t even think of you occurring. We create a different community.
The beauty of considering what allyship looks like to you is identifying areas of your identity that are being silenced from lack of a community who will embrace you in solidarity. And in contemplating your own version of allyship, take some time to think about what that same situation may feel like for others. Create empathy for others in that same lens. Then, begin to create those relationships, the allyship, to forge a new community based on trust, respect and equality, especially equality. From here, the value of one’s full identity grows.
Step into your truth, ladies! Ciao!