Allyship Without the Baggage
In this episode, herdacious host Lorelei chats with Cristina Santos about the do’s and don'ts of allyship. With the uptick of social justice conversations emerging this past year, many of us find ourselves asking the important question: How can we be supportive allies? Cristina emphasizes that allyship is not as straightforward as we might believe it to be - it requires consent between the receiver and the giver, open conversations about those relationship expectations, and careful research of communities we'd like to support. But once we understand the multifaceted dynamics of allyship, we can then work on becoming more productive allies to our peers. From disclosing our preferred pronouns in communal spaces to checking our inherent privileges, Cristina shares her expertise on all things allyship so that we can better advocate for those receptive of our support. Let's leave the bags at the door, initiate those honest conversations, and actively learn about communities to make meaningful steps forward toward equality!
Host: Lorelei Gonzalez
Co-host: Cristina Santos
Cristina Santos is Senior Vice President, Head of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion at Capital Group, where she drives the asset management firm's DE&I strategy with an emphasis on a culture of belonging, leadership accountability, diverse teams of associates and impacting communities. She is also a facilitating faculty member for the Diversity & Inclusion certification program at Cornell University's Industrial Labor Relations School. A proud wife and mother of four children who always keep life fun and interesting, she was recognized in 2012 as a “Working Mother of the Year” by Working Mother Magazine.
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Looking for additional resources on this topic? Check out our podcast episode with Harold Hughes “Queen [or King] of Allyship”
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Sponsor: Today's episode is brought to you by HERdacity. HERdacity is a non-profit inspiring confidence in women to achieve their professional goals. For resources, networking opportunities, and a strong community of women, visit herdacity.org to learn more.
Lorelei: Welcome to HERdacious, a podcast for audacious women. Welcome, welcome to you all to HERdacious, the podcast for audacious women looking to make some moves in their career trajectory, and HERdacious is here to help you. My name is Lorelei, the happy host of the show, and today we're gonna be talking about allyship without the baggage. To support us in this incredible conversation, I have a facilitator at Cornell University School of Industrial Labor Relations, a mother of four, and the Senior VP Head of Diversity Equity and Inclusion at Capital Group, a private asset management firm, Cristina Santos.
Cristina: Hi, Lorelei, thank you. Nice to be here with you.
Lorelei: It is our pleasure to have you here today, you are bringing a lot of experience and knowledge to the conversation, and I am really glad that you are doing that with us.
Cristina: Well, I'm glad to be here and I think it's a good topic for us to dive into with so much going on these days.
Lorelei: Indeed, indeed. So let's start off the conversation with a baseline understanding of allyship.
Cristina: We both know that diversity, equity and inclusion is just about everywhere you look. Well, for me, it's been there since forever, but for rest of country, rest of world, especially since last summer. And at the center of a lot of that conversation is allyship. Well, what does it really mean? So according to our friends at Webster, it means that to be an ally, is one that's associated with another as a helper, a person or a group that provides assistance and support in an ongoing effort, activity, or struggle. When we're talking specifically about DE and I, now it's used more so as a person who's not a member of a marginalized or mistreated group, but who expresses or give support to that group, that's an ally. So as women, and even more so as women of color or lesbians or trans women, we should think about not only our point of view as recipients, but also as allies, so it's both sides of that conversation, and I think it's really important to distinguish the two.
Lorelei: To clarify, being an ally and having an ally.
Cristina: That's right.
Lorelei: What is the most common challenge that folks experience and their understanding of and journey in being a true ally?
Cristina: Most people come to allyship with a particular point of view and definition for them for what it means to them to be an ally. Typically, they want to be part of a solution, they want to be able to change the challenges, they usually have a limited point of view of what the very people they're hoping to help actually experience. So what do I mean by that? Most allies act first, they stumble a bit, then either, hopefully they adjust or they get frustrated and they may just give up. In other words, if they don't really do the work, they can miss the mark, and in a big way. You wanna be the change. You wanna be the solution. So you just start acting because everybody wants to do that, right? Who doesn't wanna be the change. The problem is there's so much that needs to happen before you can actually act, and that, to me, is a huge challenge. There are others, so skipping that critical step of learning and listening is huge, but also checking assumptions for what you think is helpful.
Cristina: It requires a conversation.
Lorelei: Right, right. So that's like making the assumption that the ways that you are acting are being in allyship with other people. One of the things that we've heard a lot recently is about waiting for folks to name you as an ally.
Cristina: That's right, you can't self-declare you're an ally just because you want to be. It's not even that you can't study it, you can look at the frameworks, you can do all kinds of things in the name of allies, but until the group you're trying to help validate you as an ally, you can't walk around saying that you are, right? That in and of itself is a problem.
Lorelei: Break that down a little bit more for us.
Cristina: One of the biggest pieces of baggage is, if we say people enter into this space, sometimes we're motivated whether we like it or not, by validation and recognition. And if we're gonna go around telling everyone I'm an ally, and then you have to validate it, it's really... Because we see ourselves as good people, we wanna demonstrate that we're good people, we wanna be part of the solution. It could be anything from using pronouns, but not really understanding why we're sharing our pronouns with people. It could be helping amplify somebody's voice in the room, and it may be interpreted in the wrong way, but really, if we're centering ourselves in the conversation, it has more to do with our own recognition that it does have to do with the other person that we're helping. I think the most impactful allyship happens behind closed doors where no one sees it. And if it's really selfless in the name of someone else, then that's where the real impact starts to happen.
Lorelei: Awesome. Give us some more examples of the maybe harmful, maybe benign baggage that people bring with them into their allyship.
Cristina: There's that validation or recognition, and that's when people are wanting to be an ally. The other is the expectation that it's going to be easy, and then it feels good. So if all of a sudden you wake up and you said, "there's so much going on right now," whether it's with women in the workplace because of all of the additional responsibilities that many women carry for caregiving during covid, we know that's been a conversation. We know that that's been a real struggle. All of a sudden you're gonna help. You wanna jump in and do something that's helpful, and it's going to be easy. Well, that baggage is... It's gonna be easy. And then what if you trip up, what if you actually cause more harm than good. And you need to pause and think, "Okay, what's the impact that I'm actually having?" To me, it's the baggage of validation and recognition as well as the baggage of expectations. Remember what we said before, it goes back to, as women especially, we are going to be recipients of allies and we wanna be allies for others, and I think that expectations piece is actually problematic on both sides of the coin.
Lorelei: Excellent call out. Now, for those who might benefit from having more allies in their workplaces or other spaces... I think you already touched on this a second ago, but what are some of the challenges that these folks might experience with their supposed allies, those well-intentioned folks who aren't quite hitting the mark?
Cristina: If I'm the recipient of allyship or I want to be, and especially if we're just talking around gender lines now, and I'm going to want the men in my life to be better allies and create the space for me, I just need to check where I'm at in this relationship or what I'm seeking. Because if I don't, I might walk in with some resentment and frustration already lying beneath the surface if my ally doesn't get it right away, or if they make a mistake.
Lorelei: How do you mean? So if the people that I'm trying to help as an "ally," if they don't understand that I'm their ally, I'm already gonna be frustrated?
Cristina: Could be. Well, remember, we're talking more about the people who are having allies. What I mean is we might harbor resentment and frustration if our allies don't get it straight away. So someone comes to me and says, "Cristina, I wanna be your ally, I am really frustrated by what I'm seeing. I feel like women aren't getting a fair stake. I feel like like moms are carrying too much of a burden. I know that you're a woman and your mom, I'm going to help you." I say, "Great," and we don't have that honest discussion to really ground us in what it looks like. And so if my supposed ally all of a sudden starts doing things that he believes to be helpful, but in actuality, really just frustrate me more, then that can be problematic. So if my ally thinks, "Okay, well, I'm gonna stop giving Cristina certain assignments because I don't wanna put more on her plate." In all of this, he thinks it's being helpful. Well, now I'm actually going to be in a worse place off than I was in the beginning, because now I'm not getting the assignments. But it's coming from a really good place, and so when I'm on the receiving end, what I find interesting and what I talk to other people about when you're entering into this space and you wanna be thankful for somebody's allyship. It might take work on our part, we may have to interrupt behaviors and say, "Hey, when you did that thing, I know you meant well, but what actually happened, the impact it had on me was quite the reverse. When you spoke over me or you made sure that somebody heard my point, it actually came across as paternalistic and it didn't allow me to take up my space fully in the room." Those kinds of missteps take a lot more energy than I think sometimes we realize receiving somebody's allyship also means partnering with them. It means saying to them, explaining perhaps more than you wanted to in the beginning. It's almost like being in a good mentor-mentee relationship. We can't assume that they know exactly what to do, even if they read all of the articles and watched all of the videos, it still might take a really honest, uncomfortable conversation to point out the impact of someone's behavior if they've never really thought about it before.
Lorelei: On the point of those conversations, tell us how somebody who wants to be an ally could start to have those conversations in an open and authentic way.
Cristina: If you wanna be an ally to someone, the easiest thing to do... Well, I shouldn't say easy, it's actually the hardest, but it's a simple first step to take... Is to ask them. I can't pretend to know you, I can't pretend to know your experiences, especially. By definition, being an ally is helping someone in another group, in this case, that someone is either under-represented or oppressed in some way and you wanna be helpful, and that means that you have some agency, some privilege, some power that they don't possess. So it needs to be a moment of humility and vulnerability to say, "I want to help you, I'm not sure how." So rather than assuming, I just ask you, what's the most helpful thing I can do for you? Simple, but really complex.
Lorelei: Yeah, I love that. Well, going back to the challenges that folks might experience with their soon-to-be allies, their hopeful allies, or optimistic allies, any other challenges that we wanna talk about?
Cristina: I think it's a challenge for ourselves to make sure that we're always assuming positive intent.
Lorelei: From the other person?
Cristina: From the other person. Especially if someone's entering into the space of allyship for the first time ever, if all of a sudden they awaken to some injustice and they wanna be able to be helpful and they wanna be able to use their voice for good, it's important that the recipient assume positive intent, because they're going to make mistakes, and if we make them feel terrible about those mistakes or shame them in any way or blame them, then they might just shut down before the progress has even begun. So it's the pause and say to yourself, "What if they really are trying to just do good? And they don't know any better. How can I help them in the situation?"
Lorelei: I love that. Alright, well, to help us in our show, we're gonna put a pause on this conversation for a quick sponsor break. We'll be right back.
Sponsor: Hi. Barbie here from Moonray, husband and wife indie-pop duo. If you enjoy the intro music, we invite you to listen to our debut EP Honeymoon. Streaming now on all platforms. Visit www.moonray-music.com for more.
Lorelei: And we're back with Cristina Santos talking about being an ally without the baggage. So Cristina, give us some solutions to overcoming our personal history, all the little things we drag behind us in our journey towards becoming better allies.
Cristina: There are so many amazing places that you can go to to find different frameworks when it comes to allyship. I think it's important to pick the one that's right for you and to do the work. Whether we wanna be an ally or receive allies, we should still understand the frame that we're working within. So I love Jennifer Brown's continuum she's created. And it's about how you go from being apathetic to aware to active to advocating, and that is a great way to think about it. It is a journey, you can't just... Well, one, you shouldn't declare yourself an ally without the validation from another, but remember that you can't just jump in and start acting... It takes time. And it's a process. I also love @chescaleigh, she's on mtv's decoded. She's got a fantastic YouTube video called "Five Tips For Being An Ally." This doesn't have to be really daunting academic theoretical work, it can just be how you act on the daily. The first step that she talks about is understanding your privilege, we all have some sense of privilege.
Cristina: It might be different at home than it is at work, than it is in our community, but understanding your privilege and then how you can use it for the good of others is critically important. We've already talked, Lorelei, about listening and having to actively listen and do the work, so that's obviously a part of this. Speak up, not over. You can't just declare that you're in, all this isn't about you, it can't be centered around you. It has to be centered on the other.
Lorelei: Right! Let my allyship drown you out. [laughter]
Cristina: [laughter] Right, exactly. I'm so great, I'm such a great ally. Look, you're gonna mess up, you're going to make a misstep and you just have to own it and apologize when it happens. So that way you stumble forward and you learn something from it. That is not my phrase, that comes from Dolly Chugh, but it's so great. Visually, you see yourself stumbling forward, it doesn't have to mean that you're regressing. And finally, allyship actually requires you to take action to do something.
Lorelei: Well, since this is a show specifically for career women, what about allies for women?
Cristina: So I think the first thing to ask yourself is, "Am I bringing baggage into this work, are there certain things that I'm already frustrated about or think should be happening from others for me to help me further myself professionally?" Or maybe it's at home how the division of labor works within your household, you need to have a conversation with yourself first about what are the things you want people to be able to do for you when it comes to allyship, and then what are you willing to do for others? So whether you're being an ally or you're receiving it.
Lorelei: A two-way street.
Cristina: It is absolutely a two-way street, and if it's about receiving, make some space for your ally to learn. So I'll tell you in my own home, my husband has become a huge ally for me over the last couple of years, since he decided to leave the workplace, then he stayed home. And all of a sudden he got a view into my work in a way that he never had before. What was really interesting and the space that was created for him to learn was when he started staying home, the immediate reaction from our community was, "that's so amazing, you're gonna stay home with your four kids," and it was the celebration. He's the Super Human dad and isn't that fantastic? Or the other reaction was, "What do you mean you're staying home? Can I help you find a job? That can't possibly be... " It was this very gendered thing, and that we would have honest conversations about and his immediate frustration was, "This is ridiculous, no one would ever say those things to you if it was you who decided to stay home." It was now a space for him to learn and now he tries to be an ally in the way he shows up at school, because now it frustrates him that even though he's the emergency contact, I'm still the one getting the phone calls.
Cristina: Right, it's really fascinating. So he now, because we've created the space, we have these honest conversations, we reinforced and we reflect with one another. Him calling the school irrate and frustrated, "Why aren't you calling me?" That's a really amazing way that he's being an ally for me, not just for me, but for all working moms. It's redefining this normal of what's expected, so that's just my own personal reflection, but think about where you want the allyship and how you're gonna create space for people around you to learn, whether it's at home or at the office.
Lorelei: Okay, and what about for our male counterparts who might be listening or as women, we might be educating some of our male counterparts after learning about this.
Cristina: Well, I would say that there are, just like their frameworks that I shared for being an ally, I think for men in particular, it's an investment in time and it's deep and it's complicated, especially if you are a straight white able bodies, cisgender man. There's so much that goes into this work. So don't go it alone. Go to groups that have stood up expressly for this purpose. My two favorites, one around Men Advocating Real Change, that's the actual name of the group, Men Advocating Real Change. And it comes from my friends at Catalyst. And there's also the Better Man Movement, there's a conference, and that group is sort of for us by us, and you walk in and it's the safe space for men to talk it out. It would be really hard for me to share with a man their lived experience, obviously for all the reasons we already talked about, so there needs to be a space for doing the work in a way that's comfortable and that will resonate, and that actually can help men, I think, get ready for advocacy and allyship in a different way.
Lorelei: Awesome. Alright, so you've given us some gender specifics on allyship, what do we need to consider when it comes to being an ally to folks of color?
Cristina: The first thing to consider is that it's not the same. Being an ally across the lens of gender is very different than doing it, whether you're talking about people of color, or you're then going deeper into specific race and ethnicity and nationality and background, there's a myriad of issues that you need to be thoughtful about. So if we go back to the framework and say, listen and do the work, and how do you become aware? You need to consider what's my proximity and what's my exposure to that community today, how can I learn more. How can I get engaged with that community, and just because you've maybe mastered being an ally across gender, it doesn't mean that it's going to be as easy or happen as quickly, if you're gonna do it across race or ethnicity or across a sexual orientation for that matter, or gender identity, or even generationally. The frames are the same. You need to come to it with humility, you may need to really consider, do I have people in my life of this community? Just because you're infuriated by what you're seeing from a social injustice standpoint, doesn't mean that you can just start doing the work of being an ally if you don't have any people of color in your life. It goes back to doing the work and having that reflective moment for yourself saying, "Wow, maybe my first step in ally-ship is creating that intentional exposure," and if you don't have anyone in your life in that particular community, then how can you start to advocate for them or be an ally to them. And what does success really look like for you in that instance? Why are you coming to the work I think is important to really think about. Is it because I'm frustrated, is it because I can't believe what's happening, is it because I deeply care and want to show support, your motivation might actually lead to a different solution that will really resonate for you. I think one of the important things for us to all consider, Lorelei, and it goes back to understanding your privilege, what is the agency that you have, what are you uniquely positioned to do for others that I might not be. So that's also part of that conversation. And we can't necessarily prescribe what allyship is to other people, I might be an extraordinary ally in ways that you would never see or hear or know of, and that's just fine, and I think it's important for us to remember that as well. Just because I don't see, the actions you're taking doesn't mean that you're not taking really significant and meaningful steps to make this a better place for our Black and African-American friends and colleagues, or those in the LGBTQ community, or our Asian colleagues that are experiencing high rise in anti-Asian hate. There can be all kinds of things that we're doing that we're not necessarily shouting from the rooftops, and sometimes that's the most meaningful stuff.
Lorelei: Indeed. To dovetail off of your conversation about marginalized communities, it's Pride Month, folks out there might be wanting to learn more about allyship with our LGBTQ counterparts. How might we go about doing that in a better, more supportive and more authentic way?
Cristina: There is no better time than right now to do it, and the reason I say that is because the resources are endless, you literally can't turn on your Netflix or you're Hulu or any given podcast, anything that you're consuming, you can't go into any of your social media feeds and not see material content, stories, pictures, just thoughts about the LGBTQ community. How lucky are we that we're in a world where that just happens. I think it's quite extraordinary. And you can spend just even five minutes a day on any website, whether it's the human rights campaign, or PFLAG, straightforequality [dot] org, there's no shortage. Just read, read an article and share a link with a friend and see the conversation that ensues. But once you do that, then make some nugget that you've learned and then share it with others. If you are in a working space, bringing it up at your next team meeting and you can say, "I just learned this thing, I'm trying to learn more. This stood out to me. What did you guys think or have you ever read anything like that?" Because it's Pride Month, you can use pronouns as part of your introduction, and here's the thing that I do, dovetailing off of what we were talking about before, it's not because you're trying to center the conversation on you. If you see me and you know about my life that I identify as a cisgender woman, but having pronouns as part of my Zoom screen or WebEx screen tells others that I understand that gender is not a binary thing, and that there is a continuum, and that there are more than just two sets of pronouns. It signals to people that I get it, or at least I'm trying to get it. I can tell you, Lorelei, the one thing that I've been doing since the beginning of covid, I always have my pronouns on my screen, and without question whether it's a group of 20 or 200, I will have someone private message me and say, "as the parent of a brother, or fill in the blank, a transgender child, somebody... It's important to my life. I love seeing your pronouns, and I'm so glad that you have them there," and that can spark a huge conversation. The other thing is peruse your own entertainment habits, and if all you watch are straight, cis-gender content, and those are the family things that are in your sitcoms that you see, shake it up. Introduce yourself with a lot of intentional exposure to something different, that's the way that we start to learn and all of a sudden, it doesn't become that complex, these are easy things that you can do in privacy of your own home, and nobody even has to know that you're learning, but you are. And that's really the point.
Lorelei: It is isn't it? Thank you. Those are all very actionable, I appreciate it. Please share some resources, some more resources for our listeners to continue their learning journey on this topic.
Cristina: So I previously referenced them, and there are easily two of my favorites, but Jennifer Brown's Ally Continuum, search it up. And I think that's a really good place to start. And if you like to consume video and you're a quick hitter, you want something that's under six minutes, that Five Tips To Being An Ally video from @chescaleigh is a really good place to start. And then finally, Catalyst is a research-based organization that I adore, it's really well-vetted, highly credible, and they're always adding to it. So there's a terrific piece they have on allyship and curiosity to drive inclusion at work, and I think you'll find it's actionable beyond work too, 'cause I like when you can take things from the workplace into your home place.
Lorelei: Excellent, thank you so much for that. As we mentioned before, it's Pride Month, and we're not even halfway through 2021 and we've already witnessed several incredible achievements for those within the LGBTQ community. In the world of entertainment, the Grammys put inclusion at the forefront with the nominees of the eight artists nominated for the Best New Artist category, five of them openly identify with the LGBTQ community, Phoebe Bridgers, Kaytranada, Chika, Megan Thee Stallion and Doja Cat, with Megan Thee Stallion taking home the win. In the political realm, Joe Biden's induction as the 46th President, has ushered in the most inclusive administration to date with seven LGBTQ identifying members, like Dr. Rachel Levine, the Assistant Secretary of Health. She is the first openly transgender federal official confirmed by the Senate. Or Karin Jean-Pierre, the Deputy White House Press Secretary, she is the first out lesbian to serve in this role. So we're gonna take a quick minute to stroll down memory lane and highlight some of the incredible LGBTQ women who've helped change sports, culture, politics and history in honor of Pride Month.
Kicking this off with sports, many of you might recognize one of the greatest to women's tennis players of all time, Billy Jean King. King was an openly out lesbian and 39-time Grand Slam winner who famously beat Bobby Riggs in '73 in what is now dubbed, the battle of the sexes, the most watched television match in American history. King dedicated a large part of her life to gay rights activism and gender equality movements who work in advancing these agendas, which rewarded her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama in 2009.
Going back to politics for a hot minute, one of many LGBTQ women who made political history, Sharice Davids. Sharice is the first openly LGBTQ Native American elected to the US Congress and was and has been the first and only Democrat to represent Kansas in the United States House of Represnetatives. Prior to her political career, she visited Native American reservations across the United States to gain a better understanding about creating community development programs for indigenous peoples. Fun fact, she also circles us back to the world of sports because she was a professional MMA fighter.
Now moving on to the world stage, we gotta talk about Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir of Iceland, and you'll have to pardon me. My Icelandic is a little rusty. Jóhanna is the former Prime Minister of Iceland. Not only was she the country's first female Prime Minister being elected in 2009, she was also the world's first openly gay Head of State, and she is the longest-serving MP for Iceland.
More recently over in Baton Rouge, Blair Imani is a historian, author and activist, and is a prominent voice within the Black Lives Matter Movement, as well as just an overall bad ass role model. Blair founded the non-profit Equality For Her whose mission is to provide tools and a forum for all women identifying and non-binary individuals to feel empowered. Blair is also the official ambassador for Muslims For Progressive Values, an organization that nurtures progress and inclusion for Muslim communities across the globe.
And last but most certainly at least, I trust the name Laverne Cox rings a bell for many of us Orange is the New Black fans? Laverne's acting career skyrocketed after her appearance as Sophia Burset in the before-mentioned Netflix series. Her performance was so profound, it garnered her four prime time immunizations for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama or Comedy Series, making her the first openly transgender person to be nominated for a prime time in any acting category ever. She also won a daytime Emmy for her show, Laverne Cox Presents The T-word in 2015. Laverne uses her platform to speak out on LGBTQ issues such as addressing transgressions against the community and equal rights advocacy for transgender people.
LGBTQ history is being made every day and every moment, each milestone moves us toward a more inclusive and compassionate society for everyone. LGBTQ folks, both those working in the limelight and those behind the scenes, continue to stand strong and proud, doing the difficult work of activism, support representation for the LGBTQ community, and for that, we are grateful to every individual on that journey. On behalf of HERdacious, we would like to wish all of our LGBTQ community members a joyful and proud Pride Month. We are so thankful for you, and I am very thankful for you, Cristina, for joining us on the show today.
Cristina: I am thankful for the conversation with you, Lorelei. This has been a real treat.
Lorelei: Indeed it has. Now, if you enjoyed the show, I highly request that you follow, subscribe and start downloading our episodes. You can even leave us a review, and if you are so inclined, you may also send us an email to [email protected] [dot] org. Don't worry, I will list that email as well as all of the amazing resources that Cristina listed in our show notes, so be sure to go check out our show notes page. Until next time, be proud of every step you take. It is part of your courageous journey forward and it is always worth celebrating.