How Allies Are Helping Companies Win With Inclusion


Societe Generale Americas is promoting "The Power of Allies" in October as part of what we call “Diversity Month”, a reminder of the positive impact a diverse workforce can have on a company and society.

As we become a more global and connected workforce, conversations around inclusion and difference continue to move to the forefront. Traditional models of diversity and inclusion have focused on what needs to be changed to create fair opportunity for everyone and remove obstacles and mitigate biases that impact under-represented groups. While this work is still very important and relevant, the inclusion conversation is evolving to focus on how we can enable those who are not part of under-represented groups to understand their critical role as allies, to advocate for their colleagues, to help everyone to feel a greater sense of belonging, and to create true and systemic change.

Societe Generale Americas is promoting "The Power of Allies" in October as part of what we call “Diversity Month”, a reminder of the positive impact a diverse workforce can have on a company and society.

What Does It Mean To Be An Ally?

Societe Generale Americas recognizes that organizations need a model of inclusion that focuses on how this work benefits the whole organization and actively engages allies for diversity and inclusion. We have a saying, “we are stronger together” – and allyship is critical to achieving this. For some employees this often begs the question: What does it mean to be an ally, and how do I become involved?

According to Damian Smith, Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer at Societe Generale Americas, this is a natural progression for the broader diversity efforts that the bank has made in recent years. Educating employees across the region on diversity and inclusion issues and engaging in frank and sometimes uncomfortable conversations around privilege, unconscious bias and structural bias.

The next step comes largely from within - where men and women in leadership and management roles actively seek to help their colleagues reach their fullest potential. 

"The conversation about diversity is a lot more focused on what we need to do in a very action-oriented way," Smith said. "If I want to be involved, how do I get myself out there? It's not just about putting an "ally" flag on my desk. It means I must get up and do something that truly makes a difference for a colleague. And if we are not in that mindset, then it becomes someone else's issue."

Everyone Benefits

Research on allyship continues to reinforce the positive outcomes of inclusion.

McKinsey & Co. has done extensive research and published multiple reports on the benefits of advancing women's equality in the workplace. Its global report from 2015 forecast that advancing women's equality could add $12 trillion to global growth, or 11 percent of global GDP in 2025. A 2016 follow-up report from McKinsey on the United States estimated that advancing women's equality could add up to $4.3 trillion to GDP in 2025.

Creating more active allies in the workplace is also essential to reducing the negative impacts of bias in the workplace. Research from the Center for Talent Innovation, “Disrupt Bias, Drive Value (2019)” finds that 33% of employees who perceive bias, whether it impacts them directly or not, feel alienated at work, and 48% have looked for another job in the last six months.

Organizations are taking notice of the need to engage more allies. The United Nations' HeForShe campaign which launched in September 2014, has had more than 2.1 million people sign the pledge for gender equality. Societe Generale Americas is looking to add to that number by inviting professionals at the bank to sign the #HeForShe commitment this month.

Learning from Each Other

Societe Generale Americas has broadened the scope of allies groups within the organization. The bank has turned to its eight Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) for help. Its Pride & Allies group, for example, spearheaded a reverse-mentoring initiative that allows colleagues in the LGBTQ community to teach more senior leaders in the bank about LGBT issues and inclusion.

"They created a very small, safe place for people to have conversations and to have and to ask questions that are often uncomfortable,” said Nancy Harrington Jones, Chief Culture & Conduct Officer, Societe Generale Americas.

"You learn a lot - whether you think you have an open mind or not. You learn vocabulary you didn't know. And you realize things you were doing that you don't want to do anymore because you didn't understand the full context. Our Pride & Allies reverse-mentoring program has been impactful and the beginning of an important model for us."

The bank’s Americas Women Network borrowed from the Pride & Allies guidance for its own allies’ initiatives. Societe Generale Americas employees can declare themselves as an ally, putting them on a contact list for events, information and working groups. Anyone who signs up as an ally of the Women's Network is invited to make one commitment to the #HeForShe site, which is then submitted to the UN website.

Equipping Allies

Societe Generale Americas recognizes that allies need practical tools to allow them to be most effective at creating real change. The bank is creating a resource guide for those interested in becoming an ally as well as those wanting an ally. The guide, called "What Do You Want Your Allies To Know About You?", was developed based on employee input and addresses some of the topics to discuss or not discuss, as well as assumptions allies should not make.

Additionally, the bank recently hosted a panel to broaden the discussion around allyship with Mark Green, an author, speaker and senior editor at The Good Men Project; Mark Goldstein, counsel at the law firm of Reed Smith; and Nathan Manske, founder and executive director of Driftwood, a non-profit forum for the LBGTQ community.

Finally, at the end of October, the bank is holding an ally workshop where employees can register for online learning called "Allyship: Creating Ongoing Advocacy For Inclusion." That initiative will offer practical tips on inclusion for allies, with a goal of rolling it out across the organization.

Ultimately, the Societe Generale America's efforts are about communication, understanding and trust. Employees are learning to put themselves in the shoes of others, understanding different lived experiences, recognizing they don’t have all the answers, and seeking to come together and figure it out collectively. Creating that dialogue through a variety of means may not only help allies assist colleagues but will also provide examples that spread throughout the organization and make diversity an everyday part of the culture.

"At the end of the day, it is really about trust and compassion," Smith said. "Hopefully, we'll be able to have those difficult conversations with each other that will help everyone see a more complete picture. We know that to be successful, we need to engage with and benefit from the talents of everyone who works here."

Five Things Allies In the Workplace Can Do

Among the first questions for allies is, “What can I do?” Some simple actions can go a long way in changing someone's day, week or career.

  1. Listen: In meetings, give some space to those around you who have great ideas. Talk to your colleagues to understand the challenges they face and the support they need.
  2. Advocate: Be active sponsors for talented employees who are from different backgrounds.
  3. Learn: Relate to the issues that you’ve seen. Be open to reverse mentoring with a colleague. You'll learn a lot about them, yourself, and you’ll have those uncomfortable conversations to pick up some critical do's and don'ts.
  4. Know Yourself: Understand your own biases and how they might show up. Recognize your privilege within an organization or community and be open to the messages from others.
  5. Follow Your Leader: Strong organizations offer strong leadership on diversity. Societe Generale America's CEO Slawomir Krupa often says, "Our strength is in our differences." Back up your organization's leadership with some of your own.

Big or small, every positive action helps to foster an environment in which people can ask for the support they need and feel confident that they will get it—no matter their background.