Building a career is hard enough even if you start with all the possible advantages you can imagine. Doing so without gender, race, or other privileges can seem impossible. Finding allies within the organizations in which you work can be a crucial strategy for continuing to advance in your career — but also, and perhaps more importantly, allies can make dealing with the problems you face more manageable.
Just What is an Ally?
I’m using the term ‘ally’ in a very specific fashion. While mistaking ‘ally’ here for ‘mentor’ is possible, making a distinction between the two is important. Within feminism, the term ‘ally’ means a very specific thing. GeekFeminism’s definition is one of the clearest:
Allies are people who support a group who are commonly the subject of discrimination, prejudice, etc, but who are not members of that group. Specifically, feminist allies are individuals who are not women who support women’s rights and promote feminism.
Feminists aren’t the only people who are in need of allies, of course: anyone looking for equal treatment can use the help of allies who may have a more privileged position. Straight allies have long had a place in the LGBTQ movement for acceptance.
While having mentors who can help you with your career can be a crucial strategy, their concerns tend to focus more on getting ahead within the current system. In comparison, allies are more likely to help you improve the system. From the perspective of advancing your career, having both mentors and allies is likely to be important.