Building Allyship Through Repetition

By: Hudson Taylor, Founder and Executive Director of Athlete Ally

A number of years ago I had the pleasure of meeting Macky Bergman, founder of Steady Buckets, a free basketball and leadership development program in NYC for kids aged 4-18. He shared with me a simple truth: “You can’t get a six-pack by only doing a single sit up.” While this wisdom has athletic value, Macky was making a point about behavior and how we build cultures of inclusion and belonging. He argued that if we wish to create inclusive communities, we can’t expect to do so by only doing the right things or by having difficult discussions occasionally. We must do so by building our capacity to show up for one another through engaging in hundreds of acts of allyship a week. This, he would say, is how we will develop a metaphorical “ally six-pack.” 

When I teach coaches or athletes how to be better allies to the LGBTQI+ community, I have often failed to make this concept known or accessible. As a result, I believe the trainings that I have led with coaches, athletes and administrators, while packed with meaningful content, have been falling short of their full potential. To remedy this, I have spent the last few months trying to define what “allyship reps” might look like, so that I can better equip leaders with the skills they need to engage in hundreds of allyship repetitions a week. 

Meaningful allyship exists on two axes. First, the extent to which a behavior helps curb privileges or unearned advantages and second, the degree to which that action involves personal or professional risk. The more an action addresses privilege and the greater the personal risk, the more impactful that act of allyship will be. For this reason, I set out to build allyship reps that could help directly address the deficits marginalized people face in regard to their personal credibility, environmental predictability, visibility, safety, and penalty. 

Taken together, I created allyship reps to better help us achieve Victory Through U.N.I.T.Y.

Unconditionally Acknowledge

People with marginalized identities are oftentimes not acknowledged for the same work or contributions as someone within cultural margins. For this reason, ask yourself: who on your team or in your life could you give greater acknowledgement to? By giving that recognition, you increase the appreciation felt and therefore their sense of feeling seen and valued.

Name the North Star

People with marginalized identities have a less predictable experience than those within cultural margins. It is often unclear how they should expect to be treated by their peers or by people in positions of authority. For this reason, find opportunities to name what you expect from others. By naming your expectations of inclusion and belonging, you help increase the predictability for marginalized groups leading to greater overall team connection.

Inquire Appreciatively

People with marginalized identities often have less visibility within a group. This lack of visibility leads to their unique experiences and perspectives going under-noticed or outright ignored. For this reason, find opportunities to inquire appreciatively. You do this by following the 4 D’s:

  • Discover: Ask them what has been done well to create an inclusive culture. 
  • Dream: Ask them what they think a more inclusive culture could look like. 
  • Design: Ask them what steps they think you can take to build more inclusion and belonging. 
  • Deliver: Put those ideas into practice and repeat the process of inquiring appreciatively. 

Teach Accountability 

People with marginalized identities experience the world as being less safe. Contributing to this, people are oftentimes not held accountable for contributing to that lack of perceived or actual safety. Teach accountability by owning your errors and ensuring that other people in your life own theirs. Vulnerability builds trust, and safety can only be secured when people fully trust one another. By teaching accountability, you will create a culture where people have a greater sense of autonomy and agency. 

Yield the Floor

People with marginalized identities often lack the same access to spaces and forums as their non-marginalized counterparts. For this reason, the people who are asked to speak, lead, mentor, or otherwise take center stage are oftentimes not the most marginalized members of your community. Work to offset this disparity in access by yielding the floor to those who rarely have it. By doing so you will increase the competence, connection and autonomy felt by the full diversity of your peers, and allow everyone to learn from a diverse set of teachers, speakers and leaders. 

It is my hope that these 5 allyship reps will be something you can work to employ in your life, on your team and in your community. Everyone wants to feel recognized and valued by the people in their lives. Unfortunately, that recognition doesn’t evenly flow between people and communities. By taking up these allyship reps on a daily basis and by building your “ally six-pack,” I believe we can lift the floodgates of recognition to sail towards a world where everyone gets the access, acknowledgement and appreciation they deserve. 

Hudson’s Corner is an ongoing series featuring original thought pieces by Athlete Ally’s Founder and Executive Director, Hudson Taylor.