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Being an Active Ally

By: Trevor Mitchell | Mar, 8 2024
Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Belonging

Photo Credit: Pexels.com

Over the past couple of years, I’ve found myself in several situations where I’m one of only a few white men in the room. I didn’t notice this at first, but when I did, I noted that this is what we are striving for, and  Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB) work does have good outcomes. But it is far from over. One recent example is when I attended the Texas Society of Association Executives (TSAE) Women’s Summit. The Women’s Summit is defined as: 

“The TSAE Women’s Summit convenes women working in the association industry to network, inspire one another, and have the opportunity to learn how to strengthen and support the leadership of women in association management. The summit will provide an experience that inspires women and men in the association community to participate and support the development of women as leaders.”

While this summit has occurred for several years, this year was the first I attended. My reasoning for not attending in the past was I didn’t want to intrude into a space designed for women to have the space and opportunities to discuss topics and issues that were important to them openly. While my intentions were genuine, I realized I could attend to show my support for and affirm those women around me. I can also better understand what’s impacting women and how I can better support them in my own life. 

As Chair of the TSAE Board of Directors, attending this year’s Women’s Summit was an honor to experience it along with the attendees. I still had my reservations going in. Here I was, one of three men in attendance, the only one not on staff, in a room of 120+ women. I had several things running through my mind. “How would they perceive me, a male, opening up at an event designed for women?” “How do I show up and participate while respecting the space of those around me?” “Are there times when I must step back and wait to be asked?” “And If I do that, how will it be perceived?”. To say I was mindful of my words and actions would be an understatement. I was downright concerned about not causing harm and respecting the individuals and environment this Women’s Summit created. Rather than let these thoughts impact my participation, I remembered that I had an opportunity to practice being an ally in this moment—something we may not always recognize.

We must continually assess our efforts and align our actions as we navigate our individual and organizational journeys in Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB). Through these DEIB assessments, we can identify, reframe, and change deep-seated notions that we have been indoctrinated with over time. It’s not an easy process that we must regularly undertake. 

In my journey, I’ve found that self-assessment and individual reflection are vital for a leader to hone and utilize. One area of DEIB that continues to challenge me is being an ally and advocate for others. I struggle with questions such as “Am I doing enough?” “Was I supposed to do something I missed?” “Did I say or do something wrong?”. While on the surface, these seem like good self-assessment questions, and they are a place to start, they can also be debilitating. That feeling can lead us to avoid situations where we might be uncomfortable to say or do something that may not be interpreted as intended. Rather than speaking up and being active, it leads to being passive. To be true to our journeys in DEIB, we must practice what we are learning to improve ourselves and lead by example.

This experience reminded me of what I had learned about being an ally. During this conference, I practiced the following:

  • Listening and learning from the women around me to hear their points of view, experiences, struggles, and needs to support them. 
  • I spent time checking my privilege on what men may experience that is different from women and how I can potentially work to address this moving forward.
  • As someone who is in a leadership role, it’s typical that I find myself leading conversations. In this instance, I focused on being led by women in the conversation and avoiding dominating discussions or making it about me.  

I’m sure I wasn’t perfect, or there is something I could have done differently. But I wouldn’t have known if I didn’t have the opportunity to put my knowledge to work. While this was at an event designed for a specific identified gender, these practices can be applied to any area of DEIB. I’m committing to be more cognizant of applying these practices regularly and being a better ally and advocate for those around me. 

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