Equality in the workplace and all areas of life means a lot to me, which is why I became the Executive Sponsor of Leonardo UK’s Equalise Network Group. It is absolutely clear to me that enabling people to do their best at work is shaped by their working environment – whether that be people, culture or our surroundings. However, personal and commercial pressures can make this far less straightforward than it might at first appear.
This is why being an active ally is something I strongly advocate and aim to demonstrate myself. Allyship is particularly important when a person/position/group is in a form of privilege and can support or amplify the voices of those in less privileged or marginalised groups. This is vital in any workplace to ensure all voices are heard and to make us a truly inclusive employer.
It also means calling out unacceptable behaviour. This is not easy, but it is the obligation of each of us to do so if we want to have an inclusive, productive and vibrant place to work. Throughout my career, I have observed moments where voices have been shouted down, ignored, laughed at or shown a lack of empathy and compassion. Early in my career it took me time before I felt comfortable speaking up, especially when I perceived a senior manager was in the room. I now reflect back and realise there was nothing stopping me doing so sooner other than my own self-confidence.
There was one defining moment in 2006 that I remember to this day, and which permanently changed my own approach and attitude. A female member of my team came back from a meeting in tears. I listened to her explanation of what had happened, which was that an aggressive male manager had effectively shouted down each of her points, ignored her opinion and railroaded her into a decision she wasn’t comfortable with. Alongside this specific meeting, I was aware of other factors outside of work (which the manager was also aware of), but about which no empathy or understanding had been shown. In short, the manager had acted in wholly unprofessional way.
I subsequently told the manager directly that his behaviour was totally unacceptable. I also spoke to my wider team, without providing any details, reiterating that in no way should any view be suppressed or anyone be made to feel that way at work – no matter what pressures everyone was under.
This unsavoury incident demonstrated clearly what happens when trust breaks down. The manager in question apologised for his conduct, but re-establishing trust would take time. Equally, it is incredible how alone people can feel when others do not step in to be an ally. This often has an impact on someone’s mental wellbeing. Whilst I helped as best I could after the event, support could have been provided immediately in the meeting had others felt confident to do so. I am not criticising those there, since confidence in speaking up comes not just from the individual, but also from trust in the organisation that it would be addressed.
As my career has developed and I have taken on more responsibility and seniority, I continue to advocate this approach around visible allyship. No one should feel bad about coming to work, and any behaviour not in keeping with company values requires each and every one of us to stand up for what’s right, and to support anyone whose voice is marginalised or shouted down. We absolutely should challenge each other, respectfully, and we must not tolerate bad behaviour.
With this in mind, I strongly encourage people to:
- Listen to each other with empathy
- Be active listeners – consider other people’s perspectives without immediately jumping in to argue
- Not tolerate behaviour inconsistent with our values
- Be present, engaged and committed to the discussion – not thinking about what’s coming next
- Ask about each other’s experiences, and be open to sharing your own.
This approach applies both inside and outside of our normal working world, and is a character trait everyone should aspire towards.
Ultimately, my plea is to speak up for yourself if you are confident to do so and be an active ally where you see someone needs your support. By doing this, it clearly demonstrates that unacceptable behaviours are not tolerated. Within Leonardo, this aligns with our commitment to being an inclusive employer where every person’s view matters.