Back to Blogs
6m read

Personal Power and the Practice of Allyship

Women’s Leadership Network (WLN) member, Wendy Meluch, reflects on recent workshop with staff, leadership, and colleagues.   

About 50 staff got to experience YSF at its best last month, when they attended the WLN’s Identity, Empowerment & Allyship Workshop.  A truly diverse group came together to explore personal power and listen to panelists reflect on sharing that power in life and at work. 

Engaging Activities 

The Power Flower activity, led by Jeanie Calagui, was fun (who doesn’t like to draw flowers?) and richly insightful. We each drew a 10-petal flower and labeled the petals with dimensions of diversity (~sources of social status), e.g., race, age, gender, body shape, education, citizenship status, able-bodiedness and sexual orientation. Individually, and while listening to a fabulous sound track, we took time to color in each petal according to how much power we felt we had in each of those dimensions.  

For me, sharing our flowers in small groups epitomized the “relational” way of being and working together that the Y hopes all employees are experiencing.  Helpful prompts asked us to talk about which of those power dimensions are dominant for us, leading us to understand that these are dynamic.   

“At different times and in different situations, we may be in a position to be an ally or to need one.”- Wendy    

Thoughtful Panelists 

Tacing Parker, Drew Kodelja, Jane Chandler, Manuel Rodriguez, and Rodney Chin shared their reactions to the Power Flower activity. They spoke eloquently about their commitment to being allies, and their delight at being invited to participate. These leaders were tremendously inspiring, I felt proud to be associated with each of them and have them here.  

One of the most memorable parts of the panel discussion was in response to anonymous comments by women-identified staff about being disrespected in the workplace. (WLN’s Padlet is still live, you can read/join the conversation.) They touched on the idea of a continuum or evolution of allyship, “listen – believe – amplify the voices of women.”  Like the Power Flower, this continuum provides a useful lens for considering our own awareness and ability as an ally.  

Conversation and Reflection 

Panelists also pre-read and reflected on a recent article about burnout which points to “betrayals” by the employer as the primary culprit, not overwork. A key part of that betrayal dynamic can be gaslighting.  As a part of this discussion, one of the panelists described how gaslighting breaks down employee morale and willingness to speak up with new ideas or suggestions.  

Another panelist brought the idea of gaslighting to the patriarchy they see at the Y. They shared a list of unwritten rules for protecting YSF patriarchy, which they have identified and collected over the years. Here are a few examples: only certain information can be given to staff, giving information to staff can harm them, information about decision making can confuse staff, I am qualified to make decisions without asking opinions, etc.  As staff throughout the organization get more familiar with the recently established Consult Decide Inform (CDI) framework, perhaps that patriarchy can be defused.  

Personal Responsibility to Learn & Change 

I am hopeful that by facing issues of misogyny, inequity, racism, burnout, etc., YSF can manifest a consistently terrific workplace. As we have learned with the anti-racism work, personal responsibility is at the core of our organization’s ability to live up to these higher callings.  Participating in events like this WLN workshop is a perfect example of people doing the work to learn about themselves and their impact on the world around them.  

Wendy joined YSF staff in August of 2018, and the WLN Committee in Spring of this year. WLN is one of many employee resource network groups established to bring safe spaces for our colleagues from all walks of life.