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The Power Of Allyship: Even The Smallest Steps Make A Difference

Gina Narcisi

“If it wasn’t for my ally who stood up for me to remove the roadblocks for me, I would have not been seen as a whole for my contribution. I would have been marginalized,” said Rima Olinger, managing director of North America partners for AWS.

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Rima Olinger, managing director of North America partners for AWS.

Allies in the workplace consistently advocate for minimizing bias and boosting equity to create an inclusive environment. On a one-on-one level, an ally can speak on someone’s behalf when they’re not in the room—or haven’t been invited to the room.

Rima Olinger, managing director of North America partners for Seattle-based Amazon Web Services told an audience at the Women of the Channel Leadership Summit in May that at one point she worked with an engineering team that was “99.99 percent male.” She recalled a time when her then-company went through a leadership change, which altered her working relationship with management for the worse.

“My efforts, because I was a female, were always undermined and my mistakes were overvalued,” she said. “Then, we went head-to-head when I realized that the business was in trouble if we did not shift the engineering [team] in a specific direction.” She sounded the alarm to the team leader, who dismissed her concerns.

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Olinger knew she had to address the issue, so she wrote up a document outlining the problems and suggesting solutions. She had more men who tried to stop her, she said, but then her manager, a white male, stood up for her.

“He helped me in two ways,” she said. “He became my ally. He ensured the meeting took place, and he ensured that the aggression that was directed toward me was not about passion but about facts and numbers.”

The result of the meeting was that she always had a seat at the table. “If it wasn’t for my ally who stood up for me to remove the roadblocks for me, I would have not been seen as a whole for my contribution. I would have been marginalized,” she said.

Having allies as part of your professional support system is powerful, according to technology leaders.

Sponsors are people who can use their influence within the organization and can advocate for others, typically their direct reports, on things like promotions, raises and assignments. Allies, on the other hand, build on the role of a sponsor by using their position in the company to help others and actively create an inclusive culture.

Unlike sponsors, however, anyone can be an ally, regardless of their career stage or leadership position.

Tracy Diziere, president and CEO of Phoenix-based TDZ Creative Partners, said she loves helping people find their voice and believes that unlike the title of “mentor” or “sponsor,” “ally” is an earned title that is given externally.

“For me, it’s about knowing yourself and having a commitment to that continuous improvement as a leader,” she said. “It’s not about [the ally]. It’s not a performance, so they have to be in a place where their ego takes a back seat.”

Building A Culture Of Allyship

Men can get things rolling by being allies for their female counterparts, Diziere said. “I hope that men can make allyship personal so that they can make a difference, whether it’s picturing their daughters or wives—whatever they need to do to bring it close to home because I think that level of commitment is what’s important to ultimately drive larger-level change when there are so many different competing responsibilities,” she said.

While there’s no debating that men need to be allies, women also can step up for their fellow colleagues who may be under-represented or marginalized.

Allyship means stepping outside one’s own circle or comfort zone to support someone or a group of people, which could involve risk, Diziere said.

“The hope for me is that a lot of these small steps will add up to [people] seeing results personally and then inspiring others to do the same,” she said. “Then, that just becomes contagious, and it starts to take o­ and becomes bigger than just you and your individual first action step.”

According to a 2021 Women in the Workplace study by McKinsey in partnership with LeanIn.Org, more than three-quarters of white employees said that they consider themselves allies to women of color at work. When asked about specific actions, however, less than half said they’re consistently giving credit to women of color for their work and ideas. Only about 40 percent said they are actively confronting discrimination.

The good news is that since creating a healthy companywide culture of allyship starts at the individual level and branches out from there, even the smallest, or “micro” changes can impact the larger company culture, said Katie Kunker, founder and CEO of The Art Of Hustle and Heart, a mentorship and coaching firm for professional and personal development, at the Women of the Channel event.

“Making micro changes, little changes, every day [can] get you to where you want to be because whether we know it or not, if we’re not holding ourselves accountable … we’re actually creating the culture that we’re complaining about,” she said.

Gina Narcisi

Gina Narcisi is a senior editor covering the networking and telecom markets for CRN.com. Prior to joining CRN, she covered the networking, unified communications and cloud space for TechTarget. She can be reached at gnarcisi@thechannelcompany.com.

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