The Benefits Of Building Black Allies In The Office
When you play the game of networking, Black representation is everything
“It takes a village to raise a child” they say. Well, it also takes a village to cultivate a professional. In a dog-eat-dog world, it means so much to have a community of individuals in the office who can support, advise, and transform you into a better professional all around. In the spirit of Game of Thrones (#DemThrones #JusticeForMissandei), you might consider them your counsel or your allies. It’s even more impactful to have yourself surrounded by allies who look like you, who come from a similar background as you do, and who don’t need any assistance in understanding where you’re coming from – especially within the workplace.
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Like many of you who will read this, I have worked and still work in spaces where I infrequently meet Black folks. The lack of office exposure to the highly melanated has consequently provided me a fair share of workplace confidantes and mentors who have existed outside of the black community. While we will inevitably need to collaborate with team members who live outside the realm of our identities, it’s just as important to surround yourself with folks within it to uplift and support you throughout your career.
An ally is a person or group that provides assistance and support in an ongoing effort, activity, or struggle and the struggle is real. Of course, your workplace experience isn’t going to be like climbing a crystal staircase. It’s going to be arduous and daunting at times and you’ll need an outlet for your frustrations when Becky with the good hair doesn’t quite understand why you’re upset that the hiring manager dismissed a resume because it had a "Black sounding" name or why majority of your white colleagues are receiving promotions with fewer credentials and less experience than their peers of color. This is when you can lean on your allies. We are all in this together and deserve a workspace free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination, but unfortunately it exists and having people who you can converse with about these frustrations and how to create solutions is essential.
With the losses come the wins and they deserve celebration as well. So find people who can celebrate the wins with you - both big and small - who have come out of the challenges that you are facing. When we take the time to appreciate the work that you or someone else has done, not only are we giving recognition and self-esteem boosts, we are creating more opportunities for us to be noticed. Acknowledging the hard work that someone has put into a project allows for that person’s name to circulate more freely within the organization and be connected to providing value and success. Celebrate those wins with your allies and let your name and theirs’ receive more acclaim within the work environment. No crab buckets here. Let you and your allies be a part of an uplifting community.
This same community can not only uplift you, but provide you with keen insight on how to navigate the politics within your office. You’re not going to be privy to every meeting and you’re not going to be a part of every team. Having allies throughout the office from various functions of the organization allows for you to gain better clarity on strategic priorities of senior leaders, learn more about the group dynamics within various teams, and uncover who else can be seen as a potential ally to your cause. Take the time to be informed so that you can make the right moves within your organization.
Of course a part of surrounding yourself with these allies in the workplace is to let you know that you can be here too. Representation is everything and to have someone to talk to who essentially mirrors you is unfortunately a luxury in today’s work environment. Studies show that employees are more likely to stay within a company when there are more employees who look like them. Not only is an organization doing a service to aid in employee retention, but it is also supporting the cultivation of allyship in the office. Yet, sometimes this isn’t the formula that companies follow.
Sometimes these work place allies are in plain sight. You might actually be in a work environment that has hired Black people within each level of the organization. For those that have witnessed this, then you might be looking for ways to meet these folks. You can start by reaching out to your employee resource groups (ERGs). Larger organizations will have ERGs where members of the same identity can convene and talk shop. Imagine discussing this quarter’s earnings and dishing on the latest #GoT episode in one meeting. Typically, these ERGs are championed by a senior leader in the organization who identifies with the group (think GoT houses) and they probably won’t be the only one showing up from time to time in the meetings. Scope out the attendees and make the time spent in an ERG count by making connections at all levels. It’s not enough to just have peers as allies. Your faves in GoT know this. That next assignment, promotion, or transfer could be standing beside you in the next ERG meeting. Make. It. Count.
Now, some of you may not have an ERG in your organization. For whatever reason that may be, do not be dismayed. There’s still a way to create this community. Go beyond your work borders and find black allies through various platforms that allow for people to connect. A quick search through sites like Eventbrite or Meetup will populate your computer with a list of networking and professional development opportunities geared towards Black people within your tri-state area. Also, don’t underestimate the power of an online community as well. With greater reach and flexibility at your disposal (and better than those slow when they want to be and fast when they want to be ravens), we are able to find our people all over the globe. Websites like LinkedIn and Meetup allow for you to meet Black folks from all levels of the organizational hierarchy and from a variety of industries. With the caveat that a few events may be private or require you to be a member of a particular group based on location, alumni, or professional status, you can cultivate a community of Black professional allies who can support you from your mobile phone, office, or home.
Again, it takes a village. Not just to survive within this dog-eat-dog world, but to thrive in it. You deserve that and nothing short of it. Black folks aren’t a monolith and we come with a variety of identities that need to be supported by a community as well. So take these steps and apply them to all aspects of yourself so that you can build the alliances that you need to succeed within the office environment. So the next time when John from Marketing proclaims he doesn’t see race or if Karen from Finance wants to touch your hair, make sure you have a bevy of black folk in your corner to be your counselors, your mentors, your allies, and the ones to support you when you’re ready to pull a “Dracarys” moment in the work place.