Coaching and Allyship- Ali Hendry

allyship

When I first became interested in equity and inclusion twenty years ago, I didn’t know what an ally was. I studied the laws, policies, procedures, and inclusive terminology. The word allyship was in its infancy, even though the concept has been around for centuries. Think of any historical situation where someone outside of a marginalised group has spoken out against discrimination, or provided opportunities for progression when all others were shunning a group of people. In fact, allies are anyone who has challenged the status quo for the unheard voices in society.

Fast-forward twenty years and allyship is a topic I cover in both my Advanced Coach Trainings, Relationship Coaching Certification and DEIJB (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, Justice, Belonging) Coaching Certification.

Allyship, Advocacy, and Activism are related concepts. They have distinct meanings and roles in promoting social change and justice.

Allyship: Refers to the act of supporting and standing in solidarity with individuals or groups who face discrimination or oppression, even if one does not share their identity or experiences. Allies actively work to understand and dismantle systemic barriers.

Role: Allies strive to amplify the voices of marginalised communities, educate themselves and others, and actively challenge discriminatory behaviours or policies. Allyship is often about providing support and creating inclusive environments.

Advocacy: Involves speaking or acting on behalf of oneself or others to influence decisions, policies, or practices. Advocates aim to bring attention to specific issues, raise awareness, and drive positive change.

Role: Advocates often work within established systems, engaging with policymakers, organisations, or institutions to promote reforms or address particular concerns. Advocacy can take various forms, including lobbying, public speaking, or writing to effect change.

Activism: Involves direct action and efforts to bring about social, political, economic, or environmental change. Activists engage in various activities, from protests and demonstrations to grassroots organising and community mobilisation.

Role: Activists are typically on the front lines of movements, working actively to challenge and disrupt the status quo. Activism often involves a commitment to systemic change and may include civil disobedience, advocacy for policy reform, or other forms of direct engagement.

How does coaching and allyship fit together?

  1. Allyship can be conceptualised as a form of coaching that nurtures inclusion and diversity. Allyship practices guide the individual into an open place that feels purposeful and nourishing. Supporting our clients to live a life of purpose is a large part of what we do in the coaching space.
  1. Coaching creates mindset shifts within a safe, non-judgemental container. We coaches need to be aware of our own filters, so that we are not asking leading questions that serve personal narratives instead of our clients’ perspectives. Taking an active role in allyship can allow us to move forwards with increased understanding, empathy, and compassion.

On running a training course for a large corporation keen to improve their inclusion practices, I helped them identify areas they could begin to focus on for their allyship journey. They were open to the discussion and came up with a range of ideas, particularly around marginalised groups historically prevented from accessing their service. 

In contrast, when presenting similar ideas to another corporate client, they accused the presentation of “playing allyship by numbers” and it got me thinking. How deep was I actually sending them into the world of allyship? Clearly they viewed it as surface-level. We had an important conversation about performative allyship and how to go deeper.

After this session with the second client, I spent time going back to basics. Starting with posing some coaching questions to myself (yes us coaches do self-coach, although there is no comparison with using another coach who is outside of your own head!) I asked myself:

  1. What do I really think of allyship?
  2. How far am I prepared to take my allyship journey?
  3. What do I need to do to refresh my current allyship practices?
  4. And when will I make these changes?

Challenging Unacceptable Behaviour

Active allyship for me means:

  1. Keeping current with terminology
  2. Being prepared to challenge others on their words
  3. Remaining open to being challenged on our own language

Earlier this year I featured on The Divorce Social Podcast with Ali Hendry and before the recording I was chatting with host Samantha Baines. She mentioned her use of hearing aids and I said that in 2016 my LGBT+ improvisation troupe had sought funding for a British Sign Language (BSL) interpreter to join us on our national tour. At one point I added that we had performed at Brighton Fringe Festival and amongst the 700+ acts we were the only ones providing a BSL interpreter. I said how much I had learnt about the hearing-impaired community. 

Samantha paused, and said that “hearing-impaired” is no longer used, and that hearing loss is now acceptable. I apologised and said I would change my words and do more research on terminology. It is not the marginalised person’s job to educate us. I also find the change is more likely to embed itself if I have researched the history and the Why.

Hearing-impaired centres ableism: it ends up “othering” hearing loss as a condition that is less-than.

Here’s another example of changing terminology. Working in the wellness industry I have come across organisations encouraging clients to “Join my tribe” and yet we need to examine the history of this word and question whether it is appropriate. I have challenged several people over the years on their use of this, and I find it works best employing this format:

  1. I noticed you used the word “tribe” (be specific about what they said)
  2. This is a word I have used in the past too (reduce the opportunity for defensiveness and shame)
  3. I did some research on the history of this word; would you like me to send it to you? (learning the “why” of a word facilitates the move into not using it)
  4. I know you don’t want to offend anyone and using inoffensive language is a great place to start (reiterate the importance of trying to create an inclusive environment)

The other week I was talking to my sister about a recent challenge I made regarding “tribe”. She lives in Portugal, and I am in the UK. The following week she told me about a client of hers who was sharing their website. The client had used this word on their marketing and, from our conversation, she was able to highlight how this can be exclusionary. Collective commitment to inclusive practices can travel far and wide!

What will be your first step towards your allyship journey? Share below.

Resources

  1. The Trouble with Tribe | Learning for Justice
  2. NAD – Community and Culture – Hearing Loss Terminology
  3. DEI+JB – Radiant Coaches Academy
  4. Relationship Coach – Radiant Coaches Academy
  5. Working with Wellness – Radiant Coaches Academy
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