By Patrick Thomas
Co-workers of a Black employee at PricewaterhouseCoopers assumed
their colleague had a time-management problem when he was
consistently late visiting a Chicago-area client.
But in a 2016 employee forum on race, he spoke about how when
driving in the client's predominantly white neighborhood he was
several times stopped by police.
The firm didn't contact the police at the time but would do so
today, said Shannon Schuyler, chief purpose and inclusion officer
at the consulting and accounting giant. PwC hosted the open
discussion following a series of events including the 2016 fatal
shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile by police.
Difficult conversations with colleagues about their experiences
are a critical part of being an ally in the workplace, Ms. Schuyler
said. "We have to allow people to voice what they've been through,
and the physical and mental exhaustion," she said. "You have to be
uncomfortable every single day or we're not going to get this
Prompted by protests after the police killing of George Floyd in
Minneapolis, many corporate leaders are evaluating how best to
advocate for underrepresented employees as part of broader
diversity and inclusion efforts.
From tech giant Microsoft Corp. to law firm Winston &
Strawn, companies are unveiling plans to provide training and host
discussions about the concept of allyship.
Ally training promotes the idea that an ally, generally someone
who is white or otherwise in the majority, supports the workplace
advancement of people who are Black or otherwise in the minority,
and stands up for them when they experience discrimination or
At supermarket chain Kroger Co., one of its workplace groups,
the African American Associate Resource Group, developed an
allyship guide with advice on how to support Black colleagues and
recommendations for books and movies that discuss race, such as
"Just Mercy," a 2019 film about a Harvard-educated lawyer's fight
on behalf of a defendant on death row, and "Between the World and
Me," by Ta-Nehisi Coates.
"We know allyship is a huge lever in creating change," said
Lindsay-Rae McIntyre, chief diversity officer at Microsoft. "It
isn't a 'check the box.' It's a behavior. It's something we have to
Allies can serve as a sounding board for peers and work to
understand where bias exists in an organization, said Alex Alonso,
chief knowledge officer at the Society for Human Resource
Management. Ally training also is frequently used in educating
people about the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community
and how to advocate for colleagues regardless of gender identity
and sexual orientation.
Kimberly B. Cummings, founder of Manifest Yourself, a leadership
and career consulting firm, said the idea behind the programs isn't
to be a perfect ally. "No one is a perfect ally," she said. "It's
important to keep trying and informing yourself. The best way to
support is receiving feedback and not getting upset when you get it
Organizers say participation in allyship events is on the rise
as conversations about racial equality ricochet from employee chats
to boardrooms; such training is mandatory at some companies
including Microsoft. Jennifer McCollum, chief executive of
leadership-development firm Linkage, said her organization has been
offering free public webinars during the coronavirus pandemic and
typical participation has doubled since they have pivoted to topics
on race in the past few weeks. A June event had more than 1,600
registrants, including dozens of employees at Walt Disney Co.,
Oracle Corp., Medtronic PLC and other companies.
In a Linkage webinar on black allyship, Eddie Turner, a
Houston-based leadership consultant, described an instance in which
a white manager reprimanded an employee following a racist
incident, and how colleagues helped Mr. Turner move up through the
corporate ranks by providing mentorship and support.
"When white co-workers refer to their black co-workers as being
'too loud,' or 'aggressive' or their appearance doesn't fit within
their personal acceptable standards, managers need to address these
micro-aggressions," said Helen Aboah, CEO of Urban Zen, a New
York-based clothing, beauty and home décor retailer.
Ms. Cummings, of Manifest Yourself, and other advocates for
allyship say sharing salary information is one step toward
potentially creating a more-level playing field for Black employees
within organizations. New research shows that when companies stop
using salary history to determine pay for future jobs, compensation
inequality starts to even out, with pay boosted by 8% for women and
by 13% for Black workers.
Wilda White, a consultant who also serves as the chair of a
Vermont oversight commission on mental health and law enforcement,
said she has been getting texts recently from colleagues asking how
she's doing. It is nice that people are trying to express
solidarity, she said, but in the absence of a meaningful
relationship such efforts can feel like empty gestures. White
employees can help Black co-workers by being respectful of their
experiences, instead of arguing or trying to invalidate their
feelings, she said. "If a Black person tells you that they're
feeling something is racist, just believe them."
For some, the recent conversation on allyship is happening too
Diane Liotta, an entrepreneur living in New York City, began her
career in tech in the 1970s before founding a cosmetics firm. She
said she was often the only Black person in her office, and some
white colleagues would try to compliment her work by saying that
she was "different" from most Black people -- both alienating
experiences. She wishes her colleagues had taken the time to learn
about Black history and culture so they would perhaps have felt
more comfortable around her. "In my personal experience, it would
have been night and day," she said.
--Te-Ping Chen contributed to this article.
Write to Patrick Thomas at Patrick.Thomas@wsj.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
July 12, 2020 21:14 ET (01:14 GMT)
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