‘Being an Authentic Ally Is a Journey’ — Advice for People Looking to Improve Their Allyship Skills

Sponsored by Henkel

Julie Phillips O'Grady and Debbie Welch.

Photos courtesy of Henkel.

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May 22, 2024 at 4:28AM UTC

Becoming a true ally involves constantly learning and growing — and it's a journey without an end. Throughout this journey, “education is key,” shares Julie Phillips O'Grady, Research Manager for Consumer Insights at Henkel.

In her own journey, O'Grady recalls, “hearing first hand from guest speakers about the journey many Trans people have had to take.” This was an, “eye-opening and heartbreaking [experience],” O’Grady shares, which helped her educate herself as an ally. 

In addition to educating yourself, “allies can support their colleagues by listening when they share their stories and expressing empathy for what they have gone through and continue to experience,” Debbie Welch, Assistant General Counsel, Beauty Professional NA tells us. “Allies can also be champions by advocating for those colleagues and amplifying their qualifications during performance calibrations, promotion discussions and executive committee meetings. Allies can also shine a spotlight on colleagues by recommending them for stretch assignments, learning opportunities and sharing their career goals with influencers.”

Today, both O'Grady and Welch are following their own advice by actively participating in employee resource groups (ERGs) at Henkel, where they learn and support their colleagues. 

O’Grady tells us that she is “most active as an ally for our Henkel Pride ERG,” where she has been the co-chair for her local division since 2019. She uses this position, “to think more broadly about diversity and inclusion overall,” shares O'Grady. Further, “I try to put my money where my mouth is every day by working hard with our Henkel PRIDE ERG to educate others about the LGBTQ+ community.”

As for Welch, she’s currently one of three co-chairpersons of the Henkel PRIDE ERG Stamford. Here, “I help to identify guest LGBTQ+ speakers and invite them to speak to Henkel employees, work closely with other PRIDE ERG groups to educate others and provide a sense of belonging to the LGBTQ+ community and local LGBTQ+ community centers,” Welch elaborates. “I got involved in the PRIDE ERG Stamford in 2019 because I wanted to embrace diversity and support a work environment that fosters a sense of belonging and an inclusive space. I realized that I needed to grow in terms of my understanding and empathy and that if I felt this way, there were many in my organization who felt this way, too.”

In this article, O'Grady and Welch share more allyship tips and how companies can help!

What is your best advice for other people who want to be better allies?

O'Grady: Listen and learn! It is so much easier to understand our LGBTQ+ friends and colleagues when we understand their journeys, histories and needs.

Welch: My advice would be to accept that being an ally is a journey. The starting point is different for many, but the goals are the same. Throughout one’s journey, an ally will experience new ways to support the LGBTQ+ community and understand that education is an ongoing process.

For myself, admitting my fear of lack of familiarity with suitable terminologies and how best to address my colleagues was an important step in this journey. I soon learned that I was encouraged to ask questions to better understand how someone identifies themself and how they would like to be addressed. I understand that, both for myself individually and for everyone, it is a journey to ensure true community and acceptance and none of us are free from making mistakes or learning more deeply about the culture of LGBTQ+ community. 

Do you have any suggestions for books, podcasts or other forms of media that share advice on being a better ally?

O'Grady: That’s hard to answer — we have had a multitude of guest speakers from within and outside of Henkel. Learning first hand from our LGBTQ+ colleagues feels the most impactful to me personally.

Welch: I highly recommend Justice in June, a resource for those who want to become active anti-racist allies. The website, www.justiceinjune.org, provides valuable resources, including readings and podcasts. Last year, I organized a book club for my department with the suggested readings from this website to help our colleagues understand how we can be better allies to the Black community. 

More broadly, how does your company foster a culture of equality and fairness?

O'Grady: It certainly is a work in progress, but Henkel has given significant financial and 'corporate' support to our ERGs. There are many virtual and, more recently, in-person educational and social events designed to further understanding and acceptance across our diverse employees.

Welch: Henkel has fostered a culture of diversity, equity and inclusion where employees experience a sense of belonging, appreciation and value. Henkel strives to create a work environment that enables all employees to feel safe and comfortable with who they are — regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. Please visit our site for additional examples of Henkel’s commitment to DE&I.

How has Henkel engaged with or supported communities?

Welch: In May 2021, Henkel became a member of Out Leadership – a global LGBTQ+ business network. As part of the membership, all Henkel employees can access the Membership Portal for learning and global networking events. Henkel also joined the list of supporters of the United Nations Standard of Conduct for Business Tackling Discrimination against LGBTQ+ People. Henkel participated in the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Corporate Equality Index (CEI) Survey for the first time in 2021 and received a score of 95 out of 100. 

Henkel is also supporting a local organization, Triangle Community Center, by sponsoring Pride in the Park on Saturday, June 11th in Norwalk, CT. This event will host more than 7,000 attendees, 50 vendors, activities with live entertainment and music to help support TCC and its endeavors to educate and advocate for the LGBTQ+ community. 

On a global level, Henkel has Pride participation in Berlin, Cologne and Amsterdam and will benchmark against the U.S. Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Corporate Equality Index (CEI).

In 2021, we hosted a PRIDE event with Guy Tang, a global celebrity hair influencer, for all Henkel employees. Guy spoke on a topic entitled “My Story and #StopAsianHate”. His story was so powerful and inspired many employees to want to become allies. Employees who listened to his words were motivated to want to learn about the LGBTQ+ community and how to be more empathetic to others. 

What do you think other companies can learn from how your company handles allyship?

O'Grady: Corporate support is key. Everyone is busy with their jobs, but we would be so much further back if we didn't have this support, both financially and socially.

Welch: Other companies can learn to provide a safe space for their LGBTQ+ community and educational opportunities for all employees. In the absence of such programs or opportunities, individuals are not free to be their true selves and the collective culture is truly not one based on education and inclusivity. 

At Henkel, all ERGs — including multiple LGBTQ+ ERGs— are open to everyone and allies are encouraged. Want to join this team? They’re hiring! Click the link below to apply to current job openings.

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