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4 “love-based” approaches to allyship after the DE&I backlash

DE&I has come under fire — but our leaders should still embed allyship deep within company culture. Here’s a plan.
Colorful paper cutouts of human figures in a row on a black background, symbolizing love-based leadership or teamwork.

Credit: Vitalii Vodolazskyi / Adobe Stock

Key Takeaways
  • Real allyship is a long and complex journey requiring a concerted and sustained effort.
  • “Ally-weariness” has made this collective journey even harder as organizations navigate the backlash against DE&I.
  • Post-backlash strategies for allyship include authentic storytelling, Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for new initiatives, and “love-based leadership.”

In recent years, many organizations have realized that the journey towards real allyship and lasting societal change is not as simple as hosting one employee celebration and posting about it on social media. It’s a long and complex path, requiring a concerted and sustained effort from the entire company in a way that underpins their culture and values. 

Many leaders are still committed to this journey but tackling the fatigue in our teams — the “ally-weariness” as I call it — has been made even harder as organizations navigate the growing backlash against DE&I. Movement against progressive policies has seen a rollback of legislation around affirmative action in the US, and many roles within DE&I are being cut as resources are quietly reassigned elsewhere. Vocal pushback on social media has also made business leaders more cautious, afraid to rock the boat and become the next target of negative online attention. 

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But allowing this backlash to impact our path forward puts not only the hard-won progress from this decade at risk, but also the potential wins for future generations. It sends a signal that our support was only ever at surface-level. In this environment, reinvigorating and celebrating our allyship is more important than ever. 

So, what can you do to celebrate allyship after the DE&I backlash? Here are four approaches to consider. 

#1 Acknowledge the personal impact on your teams

There will be people in your organization who will feel disappointed by and, potentially, afraid of the backlash. They may be questioning whether they have a place in your organization or if they need to hide parts of who they are in order to fit in. We must therefore use this moment as an opportunity for a reeducation, reengagement, and a recommitment to your people.

As a leader, it’s vital that you address these concerns to avoid the backlash becoming whiplash. Your employees need to know you are on their side. So, ask them what you can do to help. Use “what if” and “so what” questions to determine the priorities and find what unites you. Explain the need for DE&I and the difference it makes to all, not just for the people from under-represented groups. 

By looking at this holistically, in terms of how allyship impacts on your organization and on individuals, leaders can help you to identify new ways to celebrate and support your people — be that through events, training, regular meetings, or other means. 

#2 Be vulnerable

Storytelling is a key part of our shared human experience. We’ve used it for centuries to bring together people from across various cultures and groups who may seem like they have nothing in common, and to drive understanding and learning. For business leaders, the ability to connect a personal story to a real situation in the world of work, and to communicate the impact on those around them, can take stakeholders on a journey which mobilizes them to action.

But successfully celebrating our differences, history and what makes us unique requires us to break through the superficiality of job titles and responsibilities to see what lies at our core. This requires authenticity and vulnerability, telling stories that celebrate our diversity and truly resonate with all that makes us human; our strengths, limitations, quirks, ambitions, mistakes, everything that connects our people and their realities. Be open about your life to build trust with those around you and watch as they share insights into theirs.

#3 Put your money where your mouth is

Celebrating allyship isn’t something you can do half-heartedly. It’s all or nothing. Your actions must therefore reflect your intentions, and your budget and efforts applied accordingly.

If you’re implementing new initiatives, think about who is leading the way and what resources they’ve been assigned to achieve their goals. Is it someone senior and relevant to the project, or just a stand-in who has time in their schedule? I’ve often said that you measure what you treasure, and if the right KPIs and tools aren’t in place then leaders will start off on the back foot. We must provide the necessary equipment and experience to deliver success, and leaders need to put their money where their organization’s metaphorical mouth is. 

In my work as a leadership coach, I see the impact that love can bring to an organization and a leader.

Much like you would at the end of a project, having a “lessons learned” session can help you refocus your company’s attention on allyship. Share stories and discuss situations — hypothetical or not — where allyship was absent and what consequences this had on the organization as a whole. Use this as a time to explore what has been working and celebrate where you have succeeded, whilst also admitting where you’ve missed the mark and sharing your plans to address any mistakes or shortcomings. 

#4 Answer the question: What’s love got to do with it?

For too long we’ve believed the falsehood that managers and CEOs must be hardline and cold, focused only on profits. But in recent years, the power of empathy and compassion has carried organizations through unprecedented global events. 

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In my work as a leadership coach, I see the impact that love can bring to an organization and a leader. The complete acceptance of self and of others that it provides. The genuine sense of belonging that it creates for all — without exception. The commercial benefits that these environments experience, with greater innovation, productivity, and profits. 

Take this opportunity to explore the difference that “love-based leadership” — that most critical leadership capability needed today and tomorrow — will bring to your organization. How will it help people feel they belong? What will they learn about themselves and others if they are managed by someone who views them as more than their job title? Then, together with your people, work to see what can be done to establish this capability at the root of all that is done by your business. In doing so, you can create allyship in places you’ve previously overlooked, and embed it deep within your culture.

Allyship is not a leadership trend to jump on, or a buzzword to include in a presentation. It is the right thing to do, and a critical part of all our lives. We need leaders to be supporters and champions who stand together with their people at every moment. In doing so, we can create sustainable progress that benefits everyone. And that’s definitely something to celebrate.

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