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Lean In’s Allyship & Inclusion Journey

This summer, Lean In is piloting our new Allyship at Work program. We designed it to bridge a concerning gap we see in our research: a majority of white employees consider themselves allies to women of color, but relatively few are taking basic acts of allyship like speaking out when they see racism or advocating for racial equity.

Working on the program taught me a lot about what meaningful allyship looks like and pushed me to reflect on my own journey – both as an individual and as the head of Lean In. In the past, when I spoke about race and guided our work on racial equity, I was sometimes so worried about getting it wrong that I was less bold than I could have been. I’ve realized that when it comes to fighting racism, doing more is more important than doing it perfectly. The crux of allyship is making the commitment to do the work, taking action, and being open to learning what you didn’t get right so you can do better next time.

2020 was the year that I became bolder – and we as an organization became bolder too. And pausing for a moment, I want to recognize that the women of color on our team were ready for this long before I was. I had the privilege to get there more gradually.

Lean In started to speak out more regularly and more loudly on racial justice and the critical need to address the systemic racism Black women face at work. We built our Black women’s vertical – the first Lean In project conceived, written, and designed entirely by our Black team members. We followed it with the State of Black Women in Corporate America report, which to our knowledge is the most comprehensive look at what Black women are dealing with in corporate workplaces. And we completed a project we started in 2019 to make our 50 Ways to Fight Bias program more intersectional. The program now includes 50 additional cards explicitly focused on the biases women face because of other aspects of their identity. No project will ever be perfect – we’ll always be on the journey and our programs will always be evolving – but many women tell us they feel seen and understood in the cards.

When the groundswell of anti-racist activism demanded we do more last year, we had the foundation in place to be bolder. Over the previous eight years, we’d built a strong body of research about what Black women and other women of color are up against in the workplace. We established a More Voices team to make sure our internal processes are equitable and inclusive – now more than half of our staff and senior leaders are women of color. We hired racial equity experts to facilitate the self-reflection and honest conversations that we needed to have, and need to keep having. And starting with our Circles for Tradeswomen materials, we now collaborate with a braintrust of experts with diverse backgrounds and lived experiences to guide the development of our programs. I’m deeply grateful for @sheryl, the Lean In team, and these amazing experts for pushing to make our work as inclusive and impactful as it can be. I honestly think we’ve turned the corner from diversity with a small-d to diversity with a capital-D, when not just the demographics of an org change but the work and culture itself.

From now on, everything we do will be guided by the core belief that achieving gender equality requires centering on women with marginalized identities – Black women, Latinas, women with disabilities, trans women, lesbian women, Muslim women, Jewish women – to name just a few groups. The data is very clear: marginalized women face more barriers and discrimination, and all the gender diversity efforts in the world won’t help unless they’re designed specifically to address that fact. That’s our message to employers – and how we’ll measure our own work.