allyship in action race in the workplace

Allyship in Action: Race in the Workplace

This is the third episode of the Voices of Energy’s limited series, Race in the Workplace. This series compiles the insights of several black energy professionals from our conversations with them during the Summer of 2020. Amy Deaton, emcee of this series, has categorized these insights into several themes around race in our workplaces. This episode, “Allyship in Action” looks at how employees can drive change on an individual level. We set out to learn how individuals can become better allies for their black colleagues in the workplace, and what the term, allyship, really means at its core.

Friendship vs. allyship (01:32)

Amy starts off the episode with an audio clip from Gaurdie Banister, former CEO of Aera Energy and member of the DOW Board of Directors, who offers his definition of allyship by recounting a story. Gaurdie recalls that one of his white friends from his college basketball team called him after the murder of George Floyd, saying he was sorry for having no idea of the kinds of things Gaurdie must have went through back in college. Gaurdie notes that, being the only black person on the basketball team, he was often thrown racial slurs and threats when they would travel to small towns in South Dakota. And while this old teammate that called him was a good friend at the time, he wasn’t an ally because he didn’t understand the hardships Gaurdie went through. The overarching message of this story: being an ally is different than being a friend.

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Taking the steps toward allyship. (03:35)

Rodney Williams, lead project manager at National Grid is next on this topic. He offers some step by step actionable items for how to be a better ally. Rodney says the first thing is to educate yourself and look at the history that you haven’t been taught. Next Rodney says to show up and show up consistently. It’s important for individuals to have the energy and the passion to address racist inequities today…and 6 months from today. The next item he lists is speaking up. An ally understands their privilege and uses it to speak up for more oppressed voices. Though Rodney cautions people to be mindful as they take each of these steps and not to treat their black friends and colleagues as “diversity google” as he calls it.

Speaking up (06:36)

While educating yourself comes first, speaking up is a critical step in exemplifying allyship. Paula Glover, President of The Alliance to Save Energy, shares her thoughts on the act of speaking up. 

She first disclaims that speaking up is definitely not easy and it can be risky, but that we must stop relying on other people to speak out in moments of injustice. It’s important that people take racist acts personally even if they aren’t actually directed at them. Paula says you need to decide that you can’t stand to be offended on behalf of another person and use that anger to speak up.

Committing to change. (08:10)

Amy draws the connection that Gaurdie, Rodney, and Paula all emphasize how allyship is multidimensional. For privileged individuals, it can feel overwhelming to try to educate and end racism when it is so deeply rooted in American institutions. But Carolyn Green, a co-author of “The Energy Within Us” and Managing Partner at EnerGreen Capital Management, stresses that people should take it one step at a time. Start small. Make friends with people who are different from you. Reach outside your comfort zone and broaden your sphere. Ultimately, it’s going to be the actions of those with the most privilege, that will drive change forward.

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