There is confusion for allies about when they can speak to drive forward inclusion and when they need to step aside and let those with lived experience take the mantle.
There is no easy answer here, it requires deep reflection when opportunities present and I’m not sure you ever can hit upon the right answer – like with much DEI work, we have to feel our way through and hopefully we have built enough understanding and experience to make better choices when it matters.
There is much value in men speaking up about gender equity, Elizabeth Broderick articulates it well in this article. But is an IWD panel the space for it? I believe it depends on the topic, the audience and the other panel members.
For instance, if it’s a lived experience panel where the panelists will be asked to share their personal experiences of gender inequities then no, a male’s voice is not needed. However, if it’s a panel about how we create gender equity in our workplaces and you have been involved in leading initiatives then absolutely.
A piece of advice I would provide though to all being asked to speak is remember your space, your experience, and your knowledge. Don’t speak to someone else’s experience when a person next to you has that direct experience, stick to your lane and only answer questions that are relevant to your purpose on that panel.
If you find yourself in a meeting with no representation of people with disability and a decision is being made about hybrid working, diversity quotas where disability hasn’t been considered, or budgets on accessible spaces – then this is your time to shine as an ally.
Ideally ask the meeting to seek the missing voices before making a decision but if that is not possible then put on your best ally shoes and advocate for those not present. This is when allyship really matters, when voices are missing we can replace that silence – not as well as someone with lived experience but hopefully well enough to cause for pause.
Being an ally takes courage, education and self-awareness but above all it does require us to get things wrong as we simply can’t know what we don’t know. So take the plunge but do it respectfully always and recognise what is your space and what is not.
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