Creating an Allyship Program to Build an Inclusive Corporate Legal Team

Allyship is a powerful tool for leaders who are striving to move their legal teams toward a more inclusive and equitable corporate culture.

Allyship occurs when people with power and privilege in an organization commit to maintaining a culture in which marginalized people are heard, empowered, and given a fair shot at advancement. Those with power and privilege are most often white and male, while marginalized groups include women, people of color, LGBT+ individuals, disabled people, and other under-represented groups.

Evidence suggests people in leadership roles may have an overly rosy view of their role as an ally. A study from Lean In found that more than 80% of white employees see themselves as allies to people of color at work — but only 10% of Black women and 19% of Latinas say their strongest allies are white.

This disconnect in perceptions is why most allyship guidance emphasizes listening, introspection, acknowledging blind spots and implicit biases, and taking positive steps despite not fully understanding the impact of oppression.

Eight steps to implementing an allyship program

Here’s a plan for establishing an allyship program within a corporate legal team.

  1. Establish the baseline: Allyship is a tool for moving an organization from diversity — when historically under-represented groups are on the team — to inclusion, which occurs when everyone feels welcome, heard, and valued for their contributions. Where is your organization on this path? To find out, conduct an audit of culture-focused initiatives and metrics. Make sure your employee engagement survey addresses inclusion and segments results by race, gender, and other designations.
  2. Create the plan: Determine what the program needs based on gaps identified by the audit.
  3. Create buy-in from the top: Build a business case to demonstrate the benefits of an allyship program and how they align with the organization’s strategic priorities. 
  4. Set goals and objectives: Be specific and report on progress regularly.
  5. Identify financial resources: Based on the plan, determine the size and source of the budget. 
  6. Recruit and support allies: Engage everyone with a role to play: leadership, human resources, affinity groups, and learning and development. 
  7. Launch the program: It’s okay to start small, focus on quick wins, and grow from there. It’s essential to include an awareness campaign and consistent communications that convey the organization’s values and goals and encourages participation. 
  8. Provide ongoing training: Allies will require coaching, mentoring, and best practices.

Six ways to be a better ally

A recent Thomson Reuters survey asked respondents from under-represented groups to identify ideal behaviors for allies to make a difference in everyday work experiences. Here’s what they recommended:

  1. Display curiosity. Strive to understand the “lived experience” of diverse colleagues. For example, don’t dismiss by saying, “That is not true” when a person of color shares their truth.
  2. Listen and allow the person to finish speaking before talking.
  3. Speak up in group settings when a colleague is interrupted. Invite the person who was interrupted to continue sharing their thought.
  4. Intervene politely when someone is dominating the conversation in a group and create an opportunity for quiet attendees to participate in the discussion.
  5. Attend workplace community gatherings hosted by affinity groups, employee business resource groups, and under-represented groups.
  6. Assign one person in every meeting to be responsible for identifying and addressing instances of people being talked over, ignored, or dismissed.

Additional resources

Want to make your legal culture more inclusive?

Then check out the “Workplace Diversity and Inclusion Toolkit” in Practical Law today. Start your free trial now.