3 ways organizations can strengthen corporate commitment to allyship


3 ways organizations can strengthen corporate commitment to allyship

There’s a gap between employees’ intentions for workplace allyship and action. Read how DEI leaders from the NBA, Sony Music Group, and Momentive are supporting allyship in their organizations.

Zachary Nunn

March 7, 2022 | 7 min read


One key to building and fostering an inclusive business is to encourage, support, and empower a workplace for allyship. In the first post of this two-part series about allyship, we discussed the gap between intention and action, which was revealed in the Lean In and McKinsey 2021 Women in the Workplace study. We discussed four actions that individuals can take to close this gap. Today, we’ll demonstrate what business leaders can change in their organizations. 

Most employees want business leaders to take a stand on current events. We found that a full 60% of employees1 want to hear business leaders speak up about social and political issues—which indicates that workers expect executives to skip the sidelines and lead by example. Here are three ways to lead your organization to strengthen your corporate commitment to allyship. 

1. Value the work of allyship and the people doing it

According to the Lean In Women in Workplace report, “Compared to men at their level, women leaders are up to twice as likely to spend substantial time on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) work that falls outside their formal job responsibilities … They are also more likely than men to take allyship actions, such as mentoring women of color, advocating new opportunities for them, and actively confronting discrimination.”

But there’s a disconnect between what corporations say and what they do. The report found that almost 70% of companies believe the work employees do to promote DEI is very or extremely critical but  less than a quarter of companies are recognizing this work to a substantial extent in formal evaluations like performance reviews.

Ensuring the full participation of ALL leadership, through clear communication—and formal objectives—strengthens organizational commitment. At an allyship panel session at the recent Equity at Work event, presented by Lean In and in partnership with Momentive, Oris Stuart, chief DEI officer for the NBA, observed that a huge part of the success of his organization’s DEI efforts has been due to the leadership of NBA Commissioner Adam Silver. Stuart pointed out that Silver is unequivocally committed to DEI and allyship and expects the same of everyone in the organization. With this commitment, the organization has been collectively effective at connecting DEI to the business; to their ambition to grow the game of basketball; to grow globally; to build more intimacy with fans; and to innovate.

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2. Build the required infrastructure for allyship  

Stuart also said that while it’s important to have whole-hearted and active sponsorship of DEI work at the executive level, organizations also need the infrastructure. “You’ve got to build the processes, the practices and the support system, because it takes energy and it can be exhausting,” he said.

This is where data can help. Antoine Andrews, Momentive chief diversity and social impact officer, explained how the Momentive Workplace Equity IQ solution can help companies understand where there’s a gap between intention and action on DEI and allyship. Through a consultative engagement, Momentive researchers can gather and layer HRIS data to offer deep insights that can help organizations prioritize and drive effective action. For example, an organization can combine its aggregate data on employee attrition rates with aggregate employee sentiment data, data on average time in role, pay and benefits, recognition and rewards—and more—to obtain deeper insights about which groups of employees are feeling they can—or can’t—flourish in the environment.

Stuart spoke about the approach his team has taken at the NBA, where their ongoing objective is to build the instinct for inclusion. For Stuart’s organization, it’s been a conscious five- to six-year journey. He explained that the journey began with a focus on conscious inclusion, followed up with the conversation they called “everyday inclusion,” because it wasn’t enough to be aware of the issues. “We wanted to have practical steps and strategies we could apply as individual colleagues, as leaders, wherever we are in the organization, all day, every day,” said Stuart.

Stuart said they followed this with a third conversation, called “practicing inclusion.” The organization established expectations for how they would treat one another as colleagues and serve employees as leaders. And not only in the informal moments, but in the formal ones too; preparing for a performance review, for example. Providing the tools, setting expectations and showing the path to where the organization is headed together creates the support structures everyone needs to work as a team toward that vision of justice.

3. Include everyone in the vision of allyship

As many of the panelists agreed, DEI and allyship work isn’t done once, quickly, or easily. It’s ongoing. But the effort will sustain itself if you can connect it to why you’re doing what you’re doing, said Stuart. He pointed out that everyone’s busy, and if they feel like DEI and allyship is another job, they’ll feel overwhelmed. But if they can understand that it’s an enabler—that they’ll get more out of the everyday effort they put in place; that this will drive innovation, attract great talent, build the brand and the company— “then you can really connect with people’s motivations and ambitions and it can have a life of its own.”

Empower all employees with an understanding of what allyship at work means and how everyone can leverage their power to drive positive change. Examples could be a host or participant of a meeting making sure everyone is given the opportunity to speak or to give their views (at the meeting or post-meeting), or setting up employee resource groups where like-minded communities of people can join together to help and lift one another. 

At Sony Music Group, Chief Diversity Officer Tiffany R. Warren is building out the DEI and allyship practice and discipline with the help of Lean In’s Allyship at Work training program. In an approach that combines corporate and individual action, Allyship at Work helps employees at every level of an organization discover specific ways they can take action to make a meaningful impact.

Warren shared how energized and excited SMG employees are feeling about the work and “this idea that we’re part of something bigger, that what we do within the walls of our company is going to have an impact, not just at our company, but in our personal lives and society.” 

Learn more about allyship and how to create a better future

Ongoing learning and listening are key tools for allies. Here are some steps you can consider taking to build stronger allyship:

  • Read the Women in the Workplace report. It offers eye-opening insights about the experience of women, including women of color and other abilities, in the workplace—including the microaggressions they frequently experience, no matter what their level of seniority.
  • Consider sponsoring the Allyship at Work training program for your team or across teams to help build the allyship skills and toolsets of individuals at all levels of your organization. 
  • Start your journey—or better measure your progress—to a more supportive and inclusive workplace by engaging with Momentive DEI experts to gather employee insights and layering that over your HRIS data. You’ll get a richer and more rounded view of how your employees are feeling about DEI in the workplace, their place in the organization, whether or not they feel supported at work, and if they can bring their whole selves to work. Through Momentive Workplace Equity IQ, you’ll get data-backed insights into your company’s strengths and opportunities in the DEI space, prepared by a professional research team and presented thoughtfully to your stakeholders.

You can access on-demand the full replay of this panel session from the Equity at Work event, and all the other sessions, including a fireside chat about DEI with CEOs from Lean In, Ariel Investments, and Momentive. 

¹This Momentive study was conducted Apr 8-18, 2021 among a national sample of 8,233 adults. Data were weighted for age, race, sex, education, and geography using the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey to reflect the demographic composition of the U.S.

Zachary Nunn is Director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Social Impact at Momentive

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