Frederick Douglass is best known as a 19th century abolitionist, speaking out against the practice of slavery and the need for it to end. What some may not be aware of is that Douglass was also quite active in the women’s suffrage movement, eventually becoming co-founder of the American Equal Rights Association which advocated for universal suffrage. Today, a descendant of the Douglass family tree, Leadership Development Consultant, Christina, carries his legacy forward by shining her light on the importance of allyship.
Christina views allyship as recognizing that your own situation and circumstances are different than others and, in turn, seeing your privilege in comparison. But it goes beyond just learning. I sat down with Christina to learn more about why allyship is important to her and the impact it’s made—and continues to make—on her career journey.
Why is allyship important in the workplace?
There are many groups within workplaces that may not always experience the same privileges as others, such as people of color, women, or those with disabilities. As a woman and person of color myself, there’ve been times when I found myself being the only person that looks like me in the room, whether it be the only person of color, only woman, or sometimes both. Historically and currently, minority groups may be asked to carry the burden of change on their own shoulders, but we can’t do it alone.
For example, if you look back at some of the biggest movements in United States history—women’s suffrage, LGBTQ+ rights, the Civil Rights Movement—they weren’t done only by people in those affected communities; all these movements included allies. Allies are important in the workplace because they’re intentional in using their privilege to make progress towards change.
Can you think of a time when someone acted as an ally for you?
I had a manager who served as an ally for me. When I came to Progressive in 2007, I started in a leadership development program, which prepared me for leadership roles within the contact center. I knew I wanted to eventually progress beyond being a supervisor, and while it wasn’t initially apparent to me, I later became more aware of the fact that I didn’t see many peers or managers who looked like me. So, I asked for help.
A lesson I learned then was that if you’re looking for someone to be an ally for you, it’s important to be authentic and to not be afraid to ask for help. I learned to be vulnerable and shared my concerns with my manager about not seeing many others in management positions that looked like me and the challenge I felt that presented while trying to navigate my career as a woman of color. To her credit, my manager heard my concerns and connected me with a black female manager who had the influence to—and did—make a major impact on my career. Not only was this manager someone who I could identify with, but she taught me so much about Progressive culture. Additionally, she helped me learn the importance of networking, creating a personal brand, and building confidence to be my authentic self.
Tell me how you’ve been an ally to others
When I think back to when I started, it was apparent to me that Progressive cares about the development of its people. With that in mind, I believe in pulling others up with me and make it a point to give back as much as I can. A lot of what I do in my day job, whether it was as a supervisor, manager, or an HR consultant, has been centered on getting to know people and what’s important to them. Early in my career, somebody reached their hand out to me and said, “You know what, I’m going to pull you up with me.” So, I’m being an ally by advocating for others and using my network to help lift people that are putting their best foot forward.
A space that allows me to serve and be an advocate for others is our Employee Resource Groups (ERGs). My participation in ERGs over the years has allowed me to reach and have an impact on so many. I believe there’s enough to go around for everybody, so by sharing my experiences, I’m able to share information and knowledge for others to utilize.
How has your participation in ERGs helped you shape your allyship?
Participating in ERGs has helped me to become more aware of the need for allyship. Hearing people share their stories about the need for information, networking, advice, or just being their authentic selves at work really highlighted for me how much people need and are seeking community. This ultimately reflects a need people have for support, whether it comes from an ERG community or someone that can help you advance your career.
I recently served as chairperson for one of our ERG communities, Network for Empowering Women (NEW). In this role, I worked with my team to plan events that featured those whose voices may not have been as readily heard otherwise. In 2020, we also made allyship the central theme for our events, whether it was allyship for women or allyship from women of different backgrounds. We also heard stories from men who had been allies for women and spoke to the importance of stepping up and being a voice.
Thanks for sharing your insights, Christina. Do you have any final thoughts?
Whether you’re trying to be an ally or are looking for an ally, the first step is to be vulnerable and honest. Even when acting as an ally, you still need to show vulnerability to earn the trust of those you’re seeking to support. I would say vulnerability is the key on either end of the relationship.