My Story of Ally Activation: A Year of Listening, Education and Action
The events of 2020, and COVID-19 in particular, have both highlighted and aggravated social inequities. Like many of you I’m sure, I have slowed down to take stock of both my professional and personal life as a result of these developments. This reflection has taught me that words matter. Visible action is critical. And above all, it showed me why listening is so important.
As a leader in my organization and a white cisgender heterosexual male, I increasingly recognize why it’s incumbent on me to encourage others to open their hearts and minds. By listening and continuing to learn, I am in a stronger position to take visible action and inspire others to see the value they can bring in contributing to positive change.
In late 2019, I attended an illuminating training session on intersectionality, a topic that I had not internalized until this training.
For those less familiar with the term, intersectionality is the concept of how social categories, such as race, class and gender, are intertwined. Because we are each a unique combination of these factors and our lived experiences, intersectionality helps to take into account the complexities and prejudices often associated with peoples’ identities. This recognition of multi-dimensionality heightens the need to acknowledge and value every person’s unique identity.
It woke me up to the fact that my personal intersections are often privileged, and cemented in me the need for continued listening, education and action despite being a long-time champion of inclusion and diversity.
The Importance of Speaking Up
Earlier this year as my colleague Eric and I were discussing Pride, we touched on a variety of practices to actively engage in diversity, equity and inclusion. For me, two stood out as shining examples of why education must be a constant.
The first practice, and what was a pretty simple change, is including preferred pronouns in your email signature and social media profiles. For transgender people, this clarifies the pronouns they would like you to use. As more people state their preferred pronouns, it helps encourage and normalize discussions around gender and make a broader range of gender identities visible. I’ve found that adding my preferred pronouns has elicited multiple discussions and helped expand understanding.
Allies are needed everywhere. In every community. And in every organization.
The second relates to branding, an ever-popular topic within our Marketing organization! Branding helps make a memorable impression and is a way to show someone what to expect from your organization. Surprised that we did not have a Pride-themed logo for our social media accounts, I encouraged my Marketing colleagues to make this the year we introduced them. What I had not realized was how meaningful this small, but visible, action was for so many employees.
As part of my desire to lead by example and visibly do more, I became one of the co-executive sponsors of State Street Global Pride. In this role, I am committed to providing support to our great volunteers and members, and helping to teach others. As part of being an active ally, I also mentor and sponsor members of State Street’s Professional Women’s Network and Black Professionals Group, while also working to further advance our organization’s anti-racism efforts. Volunteering through buildOn Boston, an organization focused on breaking the cycle of poverty, illiteracy and low expectations, has been another initiative that has energized me.
How Does One Become an Active Ally?
Being an active ally is a skillset you must practice every day and take with you wherever you go. Here are four steps that have helped me:
1. Awareness: Explore how you are different from a group being marginalized. It’s also important to ask yourself: Where are you the same?
2. Knowledge and Education: Educate yourself about policies, laws and practices, and how they affect the marginalized group you want to learn more about. Discussion groups, classes, videos or movies, and books and articles are a great way to start.
3. Skills: You must learn to communicate your awareness and knowledge to others. Acquire these skills by attending workshops, role playing with friends or peers, and practicing in real-life situations by asking questions and taking risks.
4. Action: This may be the most frightening step, but it’s how you effect change. Don’t be a silent bystander. Bishop Desmond Tutu, a theologist most known for his human rights activism and work against apartheid, said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”
My learning journey has reached far beyond the workplace. At State Street’s Global Pride Ally Award event, I shared publicly for the first time that my wife and I are parents to two transgender daughters. Both transitioned socially this year after their own unique and thoughtful deliberations during adolescence. We are incredibly proud of each of them, and are full of love and joy for these amazing daughters who have emerged in our family.
I am so thankful to them for being my greatest teachers, as they shared their insights and experiences with patience and openness. For me, allyship is essential. It’s personal. I am motivated by my girls and hopefully by sharing this story you will also be motivated to join me in furthering your own journey of allyship. A first step that you could take is learning more about what the transgender experience is like or taking time on Friday, November 20 to reflect on why this day is the Transgender Day of Remembrance.
Allies are needed everywhere. In every community. And in every organization. Being an ally is not a badge we wear. It’s not a name we call ourselves. It is determined by how our actions are viewed by others. I’m proud of where my journey has taken me, and I can say with confidence that it’s made me a stronger father, friend, colleague and leader within my organization.
Anthony Ostler is the head of Stakeholder Engagement for State Street Global Marketing. Right now, he is listening to all of the great resources available from Out & Equal.