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   Ally Toolkit to Support Diverse Leadership


Being an ally involves someone from a privileged group actively engaged in an on-going process of deconstructing their own privilege (Case, 2013).

The image contains a head-shot of Dr. Lisa Richardson, and her title “Special Advisor in Indigenous Health, Women’s College Hospital and Faculty of Medicine and Associate Professor and Vice-Chair, Department of Medicine, University of Toronto.” It also says “ Allyship does not mean to speak/act/advocate for a group. It means asking a person or community how and if you can contribute. It means asking yourself why you are acting and who benefits from your allyship. It means following not leading.”

Ally-ship involves a continuous commitment to learning and unlearning. In the MALE ALLIES TOOLKIT , we have provided resources for (largely white) men to actively listen to and learn about how to create supportive environments for women on their leadership journey. Additionally, white women can learn about white privilege and work towards ally-ship with Indigenous and racialized women and gender diverse individuals.

According to the British Columbia’s Teachers Federation:

Allyship is not an identity—it is a lifelong process of building relationships based on trust, consistency, and accountability with marginalized individuals and/or groups of people. Allyship is not self-defined—our work and our efforts must be recognized by the people we seek to ally ourselves with.” See the BCTF website for more information.

For other resources, check out 5 Tips for Being an Ally, from Franchesca Ramsey

  1. Understand your privilege
  2. Listen and do your homework
  3. Speak up, not over
  4. You’ll make mistakes! Apologize when you do
  5. Ally is a verb, so do the work

So you want to be an ally? The Guide to Allyship is a great resource designed for anyone considering allyship. 

Allyship involves understanding privilege. In addition to a working definition of the term ally, there are other key definitions and resources that you should know.


Understanding privilege

People's lives are complex. Any individual’s identity is shaped by multiple complex social locations. This is an important insight on the concept of Intersectionality (learn more on intersectionality from Black feminists) .

This image depicts a wheel of power/privilege. On this wheel there are twelve indicators that determine power and marginalization. The twelve indicators are : Citizenship, Skin Colour, Formal Education, Ability, Sexuality, Neurodiversity, Mental Health, Body size, Housing, Wealth, Language and Gender. Individuals in positions of power are typically citizens, white, have a post-secondary education, are able-bodied, heterosexual, neuro-typical, have robust mental health, a slim body, own property, are rich, speak English and identify as cis-gender males. Those marginalized are undocumented, have dark skin color, an elementary education, significant disability, are lesbian, bi, pan, asexual, have significant neurodivergence, vulnerable mental health, large body size, is homeless, poor, a non-English monolingual and identifies as trans, intersex and non-binary. In the middle of the wheel, we find those in between positions of power and marginalization. For those “in the middle”, we can find individuals who are documented, have different shades of skin color, a high school diploma, some disability, identify as a gay man, have some neuro-divergence, a mostly stable mental health, an average body size, is sheltered or renting, is part of the middle class, has learned English and identiy as a cisgender woman.

This image depicts an individual whose mouth is being covered by multiple hands. Each hand is labelled with the words sexism, racism, ableism, xenophobia, religious prejudice, ageism, classism, transphobia, white supremacy and homophobia. At the top of the image it reads: “There’s really no such thing as the VOICELESS. There are only the deliberately silenced or the preferably unheard. Words by Arundhati Roy and Artwork by @sylivaduckworth

Writing and thinking about privilege (which is ultimately about power) is necessarily complex, and it's an ever-growing area of thought, study and action. We will not be able to cover all types of privilege and power in these pages.
We will start by outlining some key concepts that we think are important for engaging with the material presented in the toolkit.

Privilege: is “ a right or immunity granted as a peculiar benefit, advantage, or favor.” This means that you don’t earn this right. It is an advantage that you have based on your social situation.

One example is white privilege. White privilege is “ the unquestioned and unearned set of advantages, entitlements, benefits and  choices bestowed upon people solely because they are white”. (Peggy McIntosh. “White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming to See Correspondences Through Work in Women Studies,” qtd. in Racial Equity Resource Guide).

This image has a white background with green letters saying: “ Privilege is the benefits you receive due to how close you are to the dominant culture.” - Tiffany Jewell

Peggy McIntosh is a feminist, a white woman, a scholar, and anti-racist activist. She wrote an important piece called White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack . McIntosh explains that white people who experience privilege do so without being conscious of it. Some examples are: ‘‘I can walk around a department  store without being followed'; ‘I can turn on the television or look at the front page and see people of my ethnic and racial  background represented". However, for many people of colour and Indigenous people (particularly those who do not "pass" as white), these types of privileges are denied on a daily basis. 

Whiteness can also be described as an institution, and given our position in the Canadian context, it is relevant to know that our government, academic and health-care systems are modelled primarily on white, Western knowledge systems. 

Talking about whiteness and white privilege can be very difficult. One reason is that white people are not used to thinking about themselves in terms of race (as white is assumed to be the norm) (McIntosh, 2003). This can result in experiences of white fragility. White fragilityis a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves. These moves include the outward display of emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt, and behaviours such as argumentation, silence, and leaving the stress-inducing situation. These behaviours, in turn, function to reinstate white racial equilibrium” (DiAngelo, 2011, 54).

To better understand privilege, we also require a basic understanding of settler colonialism. Settler colonialism can be defined as a “distinct type of colonialism that functions through the replacement of indigenous populations with an invasive settler society. Settler colonialism destroys to replace”. Indeed, it is a territorial project – the accumulation of land – whose seemingly singular focus differentiates it from other types of colonialism... Because ‘Indigenous’ peoples are tied to the desired territories, they must be ‘eliminated’; in the settler-colonial model, ‘the settler never leaves’ (1999, 2006)” (from Patrick Wolfe, cited in Simpson, 2014, p. 19). Settler colonialism is an on-going project, and its impacts are widespread. Settler colonialism is based on, reinforces and interacts with white privilege.

White Supremacy 

It is equally important to define white supremacy. The Merriam Webster dictionary defines white supremacy as “the belief that the white race is inherently superior to other races and that white people should have control over people of other races.” This ideology must be addressed through critical self-reflection, the rejection of white privilege, and anti-racist activism.


Overcoming our own biases

Ted Talk “ How to overcome our biases? Walk boldly toward them.” by Vernā Myers is an excellent resource on how to  look closely at some of the subconscious attitudes we hold toward groups that are not privileged. Myers makes a plea to all people: “ Acknowledge your biases. Then move toward, not away from, the groups that make you uncomfortable.” In a funny, impassioned, important talk, she shows us how.

Recognize & stop microaggressions

Microaggressions are “brief, everyday exchanges that send denigrating messages to certain individuals because of their group  membership” (Sue, D.W., 2010, p xvi). These microaggressions are often unconsciously delivered by people who believe they hold egalitarian views. These can be “subtle snubs or dismissive looks, gestures and tones” (Sue, D.W., 2010, p xvi) and can be related to race, Indigenous status, gender, sexuality, ability and other systemic inequities. The subtlety to microaggressions makes them difficult to address. Learning skills like interrupting harmful messages, which are taught in bystander training, can be the first step to stop the repetition of harmful stereotypes.

The image contains a head-shot of Candace Brunette-Debassige, and her title “Special Advisor, Indigenous Initiatives to the Provost at Western University.” It also says, “If you are constantly interrupting the status quo, you may be labeled as difficult to work with and dismissed and silenced.”

Candace Brunette-Debassige shares that microaggressions are common amongst Indigenous leaders and indigenous peoples working in mainstreamed organizations such as institutions, public institutions and higher education. Microaggressions are the commonplace verbal or behavioral indignities which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative slights or insults. 

There are three levels of microaggressions which Candace explains as: 

  1. Microinsults (often unconscious) are defined as behavioural/verbal remarks that convey rudeness, insensitivity, and demean a person’s racial heritage and identity.
  2. Microassault (often conscious) are defined as explicit derogatory characterized primarily by a violent or nonverbal attack to hurt the person through name-calling, avoidance behaviour, or purposeful discriminatory actions.
  3. Microinvalidation (often unconscious) are defined as verbal comments or actions that exclude, negate or nullify the thoughts, feelings, or experiential reality of a person. 

Watch Candace’s video on YouTube.

Examples of Microaggressions and How to Intervene

Why not? What to say instead What to say as a bystander
A woman colleague tells you that she has been selected for a leadership role in the Canadian Headache Society “Are you sure you can do this? You have two small children. You don’t have time for this” Saying this to a colleague leaves her feeling that you think she is less capable because she has children. She may feel you are imposing your own values on difficult work/family balance decisions. She should be the one to decide for herself if something is too much for her. She doesn’t want her colleague to assume what she cannot do or what she cannot handle. People rarely make this sort of statement to a man. “I know you will be great at this. Let me know how I can support you

“Really? What did you just say?”

“I’m really looking forward to seeing Dr. X in this role" 

“I have three young children and no one ever says this to me”

A Black woman colleague is speaking at a conference about her experience of racial discrimination. After the conference, you and another white woman colleague meet up with the speaker. “Dr. X, I never see you as a Black women. I just don’t see colour.” This statement implies that you consider your colleague to be an exception to what you consider as a rule: that Black women are less intelligent or competent than white women. This reinforces racist steretypes.  Saying “I don’t see colour” implies that, as a white person, you are the racial norm. It also sends a message that you haven’t stopped to understand the lived experience of race and racism. “Thanks for sharing your experience. I hadn’t considered how racism affects your life. I need to do my own work to learn more.” “Dr. X’s experience as a Black woman is different than mine, and it’s important to understand all parts of people’s experiences.”
A young latina woman heard this on numerous occasions after displaying an ‘extensive’ vocabulary or use of grammatically correct English.

“Why do you sound so white?”

“You talk white.”

This signals an idea that:
you’re not like the rest of them.” The Latina woman who reported this said “I felt angry, sad, despondent. I would go talk to my mom afterwards in my frustration and luckily she would tell me how wrong what they said was and that being intelligent was NOT exclusively ‘white’, supported with many examples of educated people of color.”

This example comes from

Don’t say anything. Reflect on your prejudices, and learn more about how to counteract them. “That’s an offensive thing to say.

Adapted from Eleven Things Not to Say to Your Female Colleagues.

5 Microaggressions You Might Be Committing Without Realizing It” is an article that defines different types of microaggressions, gives tips on how to respond and how to avoid saying them in the future. 

Confront Racism in Conversation

A black and white image of a woman at a Black Lives Matter protest holding a sign saying: “If you are tired of hearing about racism, imagine how tired people are of experiencing it” #BLM
Image source:

WHAT’S UP shares effective strategies for confronting racism in conversations. 

  • Know yourself.
  • Educate yourself so you can present history and facts.
  • Share those resources with the people you are talking with, too
  • Recognize intentions, ask about intentions. Recognize and explore your own, too.
  • Ask questions, dig deeper! ‘what?’, ‘What did you mean by…?’, ‘Have you heard how that statement can be interpreted as racist?’
  • Use I-statements: ‘When I hear a comment like that, I feel really disappointed…’
  • Know when to walk away.

More tips can be found here

Recognize and Call Out Oppressive Behaviour 

When you see oppression, and feel comfortable doing so, call it out. In social justice circles, “ calling out”, means that someone is publicly pointing out that another person is being oppressive. 

Why call somebody out? Here are 2 reasons:

  1. It lets that person know they’re being oppressive
  2. It lets others know that the person was being oppressive. (By letting others know about this person’s oppressive behavior, more people can hold them accountable for their actions.)

Read this article called Calling In: A Quick Guide on When and How by Everyday Feminism for more tips on how to call out oppression the right way. If you wish to take your learning further, here are some options: 

  • Call It Out by the Ontario Human Rights Commission: A 30-minute interactive eCourse that offers a foundation for learning about race, racial discrimination and human rights protections under Ontario's Human Rights Code. The course offers a historical overview of racism and racial discrimination, explains what “race,” “racism” and “racial discrimination” mean, and provides approaches to preventing and addressing racial discrimination.
  • Racism: Problems and Solutions are a series of videos highlighting the personal stories of individuals who have dealt with racism and discrimination. The series is intended to inspire conversation and generate support for continued advocacy. 

A black and white image of clouds. Each cloud has words written on them. Together, all the clouds say: “ Racism is like smog in the air. Sometimes it is so thick it is visible, other times it is less apparent, but always, day in & day out we are breathing it in.” Image and artwork by @rickfraustro

LinkedIn Learning is also offering 11 free classes on practicing allyship and antiracism within the workplace. Some of the topics include:

  • Confronting Bias
  • Inclusive Mindset for Committed Allies
  • Advocating for Change in your organization
  • Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging
  • Skills for inclusive Conversations


Challenge Tokenism

Microaggressions are “brief, everyday exchanges that send denigrating messages to certain individuals because of their group  membership” (Sue, D.W., 2010, p xvi). These microaggressions are often unconsciously delivered by people who believe they hold egalitarian views. These can be “subtle snubs or dismissive looks, gestures and tones” (Sue, D.W., 2010, p xvi) and can be related to race, Indigenous status, gender, sexuality, ability and other systemic inequities. The subtlety to microaggressions makes them difficult to addre

This image has an orange background with the words: “ The fine line between tokensim and diversity. The mere presence of an actor of color is not progress”
Image source:  

It is important that when any member of an under-represented group is recruited, that this helps to develop a pool of representatives. This includes wording job advertisements to attract those who are under-represented, whether they are Black, Indigenous or People of Colour (BIPOC) or those living with some form of disability.

Hiring only one non-white, able-bodied individual in an environment of white privilege will most likely result in silence, isolation and experiences of ongoing systemic racism. 

Read the National Collaborating Center for Health Public Policy Briefing note on Health Inequalities and Intersectionality (2015) 

FOLLOW:  @ethelsclub @EqualityLabs @RachelCargle @MsKellyMHayes @DenaSimmons @callmemrmorris @deray @colorlines @ckyourprivilege @EbonyJanice #WhitePrivilege #Tokenism #Racism #Bias #WhiteSupremacy #Intersectionality #Privilege #Ally #Allyship