A Review of
White Allyship of Afro-Diasporic Women in the Workplace: A Transformative Strategy for Organizational Change
Towards Organizational Transformation: White Allyship of Afro-Diasporic Women
Antiracist, feminist white allyship has the transformative potential to support and uplift the career development and leadership advancement of Afro-Diasporic women in U.S. corporate leadership.
In this conceptual article, lead author and Afro-Latina doctoral student Samantha E. Erskine and Dr. Diana Bilimoria explore how white allyship can support the career development and leadership advancement of Afro-Diasporic women in the workplace. Afro-Diasporic women, or Black women from across the African diaspora, are critically underrepresented in corporate and senior leadership roles in the United States. White allyship, a possible missing piece in white-dominated organizations, is defined by the authors as the regular and active practice of examining whiteness through the lens of intersectionality. Antiracist and feminist white allyship has the potential to both propel the career trajectories of Afro-Diasporic women and transform organizational systems, while simultaneously benefiting white allies.
To develop white allyship more fully in the workplace, distinct from mentorship or sponsorship, the authors reason that white colleagues could leverage their power and positions in serving as allies to Afro-Diasporic women. In line with this thinking, Erskine and Bilimoria offer a model and suggestions for white allyship that encourages solidarity with Afro-Diasporic women. They uplift courage as a virtue of white allyship, identify key behaviors of white allyship on behalf of Afro-Diasporic women, and detail several positive outcomes of allyship for a wide range of organizational stakeholders and systems.
Both Erskine and Bilimoria conduct research at the Department of Organizational Behavior at the Weatherhead School of Management, Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. Erskine, a Ph.D. candidate in Organizational Behavior, brings twenty years of nonprofit experience to her research on how women and people of color navigate, lead, and thrive in organizations. Bilimoria, who serves as a KeyBank Professor and Department Chair, has been internationally recognized for her research on organizational transformation and gender diversity in governance and leadership.
Methods and Findings
Erskine and Bilimoria present a conceptual model of antiracist white allyship on behalf of Afro-Diasporic women in the workplace. Key to their model are antecedents that affect the potential for white allyship, as well as factors that motivate or detract from allyship and antiracist behaviors.
- Sociopolitical antecedents such as institutionalized white supremacy, patriarchy, color blindness, aversive racism, and implicit bias are each likely to negatively influence the environment for white allyship.
- Individual antecedents such as personal values and convictions, feelings of white guilt, and positive thoughts and mindset are each likely to be positively associated with white allyship.
- Organizational antecedents such as tokenism are likely to be negatively associated with white allyship, whereas psychologically safe work environments and organizations’ espoused interest in diversity and inclusion may be precursors to allyship.
Individual and contextual factors:
- Motivators of white allyship may include self-efficacy and the motivation to benefit others. These may include allies’ goals of not appearing prejudiced toward other racial groups and maintaining alignment with social justice beliefs.
- Detractors of white allyship may include white fragility and privilege, fear, tone policing, performative allyship, and the resistance potential allies may face from those they are seeking to support.
Behaviors of white allyship:
- Interrogating whiteness as an ally involves engaging in critical self-reflexivity about how one’s beliefs and actions reinforce racialized sexism, whether it be intentional or unintentional, and making visible the privileges and practices of whiteness at all levels of the organization.
- Prosocial Behaviors by allies, particularly those in gatekeeping roles, may help pave the way for Afro-Diasporic women to enter leadership roles in an organization. Such behaviors include knowledge sharing, protection from adverse organizational dynamics, making introductions, and acting courageously to interrupt the status quo.
- Tempered Radicalism as an ally involves working within organizations to challenge norms, build coalitions in solidarity with Afro-Diasporic women, and quietly effect change while negotiating conflicting pressures.
White allyship can create numerous benefits for Afro-Diasporic women, while also potentially benefiting white allies and their organizations. Erskine and Bilimoria’s model and research describe potential immediate, long-term, direct, and indirect outcomes of white allyship within organizations. Such effects include mutual empowerment and empathy, positive relationships and work environments, and greater job satisfaction and organizational commitment.
For white allies, their experience supporting and uplifting Afro-Diasporic women in the workplace can lead to a heightened sense of purpose, integrity, self-confidence, self-respect, and peace of mind. Through allyship, white colleagues may experience improved performance evaluations, status, and skills such as problem-solving, while feeling less emotional exhaustion and regret. For Afro-Diasporic women, allyship may support them in attaining improved career outcomes, shifting from a mindset of surviving to thriving, and experiencing greater solidarity in the workplace.
For organizations, white allyship may lead to more Afro-Diasporic women in senior leadership roles, more equitable evaluation processes, and more innovation, creativity, productivity, and client satisfaction. Allyship may also give organizations a competitive advantage as an employer of choice, foster an inclusive and ethical workplace climate, and lower costs associated with turnover. Training white would-be allies to engage in allyship that truly empowers Afro-Diasporic women can prove to be a transformative strategy within organizations.
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