Allyship At Work: So you Wanna be an Upstander in the Workplace?

ICYMI, we recently hosted an informational session in support of our efforts for intentional inclusion in the workplace. Titled “So You Wanna be an Upstander?”, this session emerged through our partnership with SageD Consulting’s flagship program, Legacy Leadership.

The only program dedicated to culturally relevant, place-based leadership cultivation for BIPOC women leaders in the social impact sector, Legacy Leadership creates an opportunity for the Lola members to engage in a curated, supportive community where everyone has both the knowledge and the experience to provide tailored, individualized support to one another in two distinct ways:

  • Executives are BIPOC women leaders/executives who work in the social impact space
  • Upstanders are non-Black women who purposely develop the necessary skills to position themselves to increase access to resources and opportunities for BIPOC people

So… you wanna be an Upstander? Let’s unpack what the term means, why it is a part of Legacy Leadership, and how it provides significant ways for non-Black Lola members to demonstrate their commitment to anti-racism and allyship at work.

Allyship At Work: What is an Upstander?

Full transparency: many of us can recall a time when we have been in space, observed racism, and remained quiet, essentially acting as a “bystander” in the setting.

While that is uncomfortable to share, it’s also important to admit because oftentimes, “bystander” behavior stems from assuming that someone else will step in and take action. In turn, the significance of their inaction is often underestimated.

Termed in opposition to bystanders, Upstanders within the Legacy Leadership program are Non-Black women who “stand up” and commit to intentional racial healing work and make intentional efforts to expand access to resources and opportunities for Black individuals. Upstanders are also aware of the remarkable opportunity they have to be in community with the Executives, who are incredible, highly-respected leaders.

The Lola is very proud to partner with Legacy Leadership and support the pathway to becoming an Upstander, but before we dive into more details with that, let’s take a look at how this unique programming came to be.

Reflecting on the History of Upstanders in Legacy Leadership

Sagdrina Brown Jalal is the creator of Legacy Leadership, the founder of SageD Consulting, and a Board Member here at The Lola, In April 2020, she led the Inequity in Philanthropy Advisory Group at the Center for Civic Innovation (CCI) and analyzed funding data from the $25M+ Greater Atlanta COVID-19 Response and Relief Fund.

While she had long known that “the leadership of Black women has historically been undervalued, underinvested in, and underutilized”, by analyzing the data and finding that only 10% of the $25 million dollars invested in that fund went to organizations led by Black women, Sagdrina gained a more concrete way to tell the story of the severe extent and impact that systemic racism and inequity have had on BIPOC women leaders trying to make positive change through their work.

“Executives are often expected to produce superhuman results while access to comprehensive professional networks and resources is systemically withheld from them. Legacy Leadership addresses this resource withholding through the Upstander relationship.” – Sagdrina Brown Jalal

As an antidote to this, Sagdrina built a unique program component into Legacy Leadership: non-Black Upstanders are each paired with an Executive to help increase access to professional networks and resources, not only demonstrating allyship at work but also supporting their own leadership development by learning from the Executive.

The Pathway to Becoming an Upstander & Shared Success in 2022

The Lola and SageD Consulting first explored a partnership in this arena with the 2022 Legacy Leadership cohort. The Lola supports the pathway to becoming an Upstander by assisting in recruiting potential Upstanders from our member community. We then help select Upstanders based on three criteria:

  • Demonstrated commitment to anti-racism
  • Personal and professional alignment with the Executive
  • Willingness and ability to assist the Executive with achieving her specific leadership or organizational goals

After the Upstanders have been identified but before they begin working with Executives, they must complete specific anti-racist training. Then, each Executive is paired with an Upstander for the duration of the cohort.

It’s important to note that the Executive–Upstander model is not a mentorship model: it is a peer-to-peer collective work and responsibility model. Executives and Upstanders are in community with one another, working together to achieve shared goals and to provide shared value.

What does that look like in practice? In our 2022 cohort, each Executive worked with her Upstander to identify her most pressing professional development need. Upstanders then exercised their commitment to allyship at work by providing direct access to their network and resource bases in order to assist the Executive in achieving that goal. Goals fell within the following focus areas:

  • Fundraising and organizational development
  • Organization and process development
  • Networking and resource development
  • Board development
  • Communications and marketing

Additionally, Executives and Upstanders were given complimentary access to leadership development programming. Executives completed program modules ahead of Upstanders and provided feedback and advice on the Upstander’s leadership development journey. Executives gave a fresh perspective on leadership development for Upstanders, with Upstanders repeatedly stating that Executives helped them think about topics in ways that they had never experienced. 

Executives and Upstanders were able to naturally build and sustain their relationship through their shared membership at The Lola. Upstanders were all current members of The Lola and Executives were provided a year membership at The Lola as part of their participation in Legacy Leadership. The Lola memberships both provided shared experiences for Executives and Upstanders through The Lola’s programming and created a place-based anchor for relationship-building and allyship at work

Allyship at Work in 2023: Introducing the “Seeing Whiteness” Program

2023 ushered in a new cohort of Legacy Leadership Executives, and in doing so, an opportunity to iterate on the successes as well as the lessons learned from the 2022 cohort.

With our robust and growing commitment to anti-racism and workplace inclusion, we are extremely excited to offer a brand new opportunity for members by implementing a “Seeing Whiteness for Anti-racist Action” circle for Upstander development.

An excerpt from the Seeing Whiteness program overview explains:

“Seeing Whiteness is a six-session learning circle program for white-bodied people. We introduce a lifelong noticing practice that builds skills and stamina to bring racial healing, equity, and liberation. Seeing Whiteness offers a learning circle experience, via Zoom, that creates space for the practice of noticing racial stress, conversation, and care. We connect the dots between our lived experience right now, the ways we hold racism in place, and the opportunity to do something different. The goal is to practice noticing and challenging the ways white people have been socialized to protect white-dominant norms and culture, to build stamina to KEEP GOING to do something different, and to strengthen the bonds of mutual accountability to dismantle racism in our communities.”

The six sessions are designed around the following eight desired outcomes:

1. Choose to engage in this work for our whole lives long!

2. Be honest. Honesty spurs racial healing, justice, and equity.

3. Seek discomfort. Without challenge, there is no change.

4. Develop skills and stamina to work in and through moments of racial stress.

5. Be emboldened. With courage and grace, I give feedback on racism, and I seek, accept, and act on feedback on my racism.

6. Notice, name, and disrupt the ways we protect white dominant norms and culture. Stop holding racism in place.

7. Develop and deepen authentic interpersonal relationships beyond my racially segregated life.

8. Participate in repair (of relationships) and return (of resources).”

The team at “Seeing Whiteness” demonstrates allyship at work and acknowledges that their curriculum “has been advanced through the scholarship of authors such as (but not limited to):

  • I’m Still Here (Austin Channing Brown) 
  • Do Better (Rachael Ricketts) 
  • How to Be An Anti-Racist (Ibram X. Kendi) 
  • My Grandmother’s Hands (Resmaa Menakem)
  • The Racial Healing Handbook (Dr. Annelise Singh)
  • So You Want to Talk about Race (Ijeoma Oluo) 
  • White Fragility (Robin DiAngelo)

Shop for the books at Brave + Kind, which is Black-woman owned by Bunnie Hilliard, a Lola Member!

Another critical component of Seeing Whiteness was shared by one of its founders, Lisa Flick Wilson: “Importantly and of necessity, this work is not done in isolation; facilitators are in a relationship with Black partners throughout the work. ‘Seeing Whiteness’ is guided by a core team of Black partners who provide ongoing feedback and consultation in the design and facilitation of the program. Seeing Whiteness facilitators also partner with a Black accountability partner, someone with whom they have an honest relationship, to work together throughout the course of the six weeks (and beyond) to share what they are learning about themselves, and to invite questions or perspectives that spur deeper inquiry, challenge or to help them return to a key concept or conversation at their next session with participants. Participants in the ‘Seeing Whiteness’ circles are also encouraged to work with a Black accountability partner as part of the practice of the program and beyond. Money received for the ‘Seeing Whiteness program’ covers program costs, compensates our Black partners who walk with us in authentic relationships, and supports Black-led organizations.”

We are so excited for the first Seeing Whiteness circle to kick off in August 2023 and look forward to sharing more in the future!

An Ongoing Commitment to Fostering Allyship at Work Through Anti-Racism and Intentionally Inclusive Efforts

Resolving this systematic inequality that’s been ingrained in our society for centuries is not going to dissolve overnight, but we can start by taking action.

The work of the Upstanders is deeply embedded in the values upheld by The Lola membership, centered around anti-racism, anti-bias, and allyship at work. The organization is mission-driven and committed to combating racism, which permeates every aspect of our work, not just its professional endeavors. The Lola creates a space where the empowerment of women is championed, their choices are respected, and intentional inclusion is prioritized.

In the words of our co-founder Eileen Lee: “When you intentionally connect networks that wouldn’t typically meet, magic happens.”

Choosing to Act

In a world dominated by male power structures, women’s rights to choose and make their own decisions are constantly under threat. However, the one choice that can never be taken away from us is the choice to act. So, the next time you find yourself idly standing by or feeling like you’re not contributing to breaking down the barriers that withhold power from some women in the workforce in order to maintain the status quo, white-dominant power structure, remember how much harm is created by being a bystander, negatively impacting individuals (our peers) and systems (the power structures) alike.

By overcoming the bystander effect and actively supporting Black women in leadership, we help disrupt barriers to their work, in turn strengthening communities by creating more capacity for these brilliant leaders to do their work, which often looks like making magic. Let’s choose to be agents of change, embracing the power within us to reject the status quo of systemic racism and instead, contribute to a more equitable future by taking action for positive impact. Choose to act — choose to be an Upstander.

Join the Next “Seeing Whiteness” Circle

So you wanna be an Upstander! If you are a non-Black woman eager to continue learning, practice better allyship at work, and develop the skills and stamina needed to understand your place in this work, we would love for you to fill out this interest form for future opportunities to join the next Seeing Whiteness circle and potentially participate in Legacy Leadership as an Upstander. 

Together, let’s create a world where all women can thrive and drive meaningful change in our communities. Join us in committing to anti-racism and standing up to actively participate in creating equity that contributes to a world where ALL women can flourish.

Want to learn more about allyship at work and join a community where you can learn how to be a better ally and accomplice to others?

Learn more about The Lola’s intentionally inclusive efforts here and join the community here.



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