Written by Tenecia Waddell-Pyle (BSCJ’16), Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at MyPath Companies
When I began my journey at O’Neill IUPUI, I was a single mother of three active boys and a full-time police officer with mandatory overtime duties. I already had more than a decade of law enforcement experience under my belt but wanted to expand that knowledge. Now, six years after earning my Criminal Justice degree from O’Neill, I have a new career dedicated to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI)—that work includes helping people learn to become allies for different identity groups.
The cross-sector education I received at O’Neill has been a great light in my life and has helped me gain opportunities and make an impact in the spaces I have been in—from a 15-year career in law enforcement to nonprofit executive leadership and now to corporate senior leadership.
Throughout my career and life, I have been navigating DEI topics and cultivating DEI initiatives. In June 2021, this work became my primary focus when I was named the first Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for MyPath—a human services organization providing educational, therapeutic, and community supports for children, adolescents, and adults with disabilities, mental health issues, and other significant needs.
Yet before my current role, I was building relationships within the company. I started an initiative that created a safe and belonging space for conversation and education on topics that affected our diverse staff, clients, and communities.
We all can and must work to create those spaces wherever we are. We also should look for opportunities to build allyships and sponsorships. These two relationships are extremely important in supporting and amplifying underrepresented and marginalized populations.
WHAT IS ALLYSHIP?
Allyship involves individuals bridging gaps for humanity by actively advancing the interests and inclusion of marginalized and underrepresent individuals. The Center of Creative Leadership defines allyship as “the actions, behaviors, and practices that leaders take to support, amplify, and advocate with others, especially with individuals who don’t belong to the same social identity groups as themselves.”
An important note on allyship: it is something that should happen with those from another group rather than for them. There must be mutual respect and coordination to act in partnership with others.
WHAT IS SPONSORSHIP?
Sponsorships involve using your existing influence and networks to make pertinent connections and get individuals in front of the right audience. This has been an advantage people from non-marginalized groups have been privy to and utilized for centuries. Allies often use sponsorship as a method to elevate those from underrepresented groups.
WHAT SPONSORSHIP AND ALLYSHIP LOOK LIKE
I don’t have to look beyond the walls of my current organization to find examples of sponsorship and allyship playing out in my own life. My colleague John Soderberg shared how he was able to act as an ally to support me at MyPath.
“When I met Tenecia, it was readily apparent that she was tremendously talented and a natural leader,” he said. “Working with her in our organization, I began to fear that her talents would be underutilized in the role she was in.”
During John’s two decades within MyPath, he says he had made connections and been afforded a number of opportunities that he could leverage.
“As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I know those connections and opportunities may take longer to materialize for underrepresented people,” he admitted. “My task as an ally and a sponsor became utilizing the connections I created over the years to ensure Tenecia would have those same connections. She needed to be in front of the right leaders and her natural ability would do the rest. And it did. It was as easy as making sure to highlight Tenecia’s talent when I met with people by simply saying, “Have you met Tenecia?”
BECOMING AN ALLY
John’s seemingly simple gesture of using his existing resources to elevate my abilities opened doors to opportunity that otherwise might have stayed closed. But what he did is something we can all do to help those in identity groups that are different than our own.
As the Center for Creative Leadership points out, it is less about defining allyship and more about learning how to act as an ally—because those actions and behaviors are what make an impact. Some of the initial work toward becoming an ally is to:
- Determine your own identity groups based on race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, etc.
- Do an honest self-examination to better understand your own power, privilege, and access granted to you based on those identities.
- Educate yourself on different communities by seeking out educational materials rather than asking others in those communities to educate you.
- Avoid over-personalizing issues raised by people in the groups you seek to support.
- Keep the focus on other people, not yourself.
- Participate in ongoing actions, not one single action.
- Consistently speak up and act against racial injustice.
As we close out Black History Month, don’t miss this opportunity to begin your work as an ally. Educate yourself about why Black History Month exists, learn about and celebrate the accomplishments of Black people, and learn why representation is important not only during this month but all year long. These three simple steps are easy ways to begin your ally education and to support the amplification of the Black experience in our communities.