When I first joined KPMG, I can’t say I was aware of the concept of allyship. But on reflection, there’s no way I would have got to where I am today without allies. From my early days with the Canadian firm, there were a couple of partners who always had my back. They knew what type of a person I was, recognized my potential and told the world how great I was – even when I didn’t think so myself!
A good ally is somebody who looks out for you when you’re not there. If you don’t fit the norm, you need somebody to challenge biases, racism and ignorance, to be your voice.
It was a similar story when I considered returning to KPMG after a few years at other organizations. There were some who weren’t completely convinced I was partner material, but my sponsors simply wouldn’t take no for an answer. This is what allyship is all about: seeing someone’s potential and being prepared to use your political or social capital to advocate for them.
Maybe I’ve had a bit more of a heightened sense of doing the right thing because I’m different to the majority. I’ve always had a laser focus on my own integrity. My parents were all too aware of discrimination and it was drilled into me as a kid that I would be held to a higher standard for being black. So I’ve striven to do what’s right at all times – even when it might have been easier not to.
This is especially important when you’re in a senior position. With everything that’s happened in the past year, leaders can’t remain silent, and we’ve seen many statements on racism, gender and sexual orientation bias. But it’s the action that counts; if you don’t live those values personally, the world will see it.
Today’s leaders must embrace and be advocates for women, people of color, people with disabilities, Indigenous Peoples, the LGBTQ+ community, the environment, and social change. You need a wide lens that accommodates different people and skillsets, to manage a diverse workforce. And as a people leader and an ally, it means looking at an individual’s potential, identifying areas of their abilities that may be partially hidden, to see things others don’t see and to nurture that promise.
Which is where being a good leader and a great ally intersect. In order to bring everyone along with you, you must be an ally to a diverse range of groups – to a lot of people not like you. I always say that a good leader is looking for someone to take their job. Which means mentoring people, giving them the belief they can progress and assuring them they belong – that different backgrounds and perspectives make our organization stronger. That’s what I experienced and that’s my template for the future.