Notes from an aspiring ally

 |   Tuula Rytila, CVP Microsoft Digital Stores

Tuula at HOLA 2019 Event

As a young girl growing up on a farm in Finland, I had an appetite to learn about other cultures. This curiosity and commitment to an open mindset has been persistent in my life. As an adult, I have been incredibly fortunate to live in six different countries, study six languages and experience a variety of cultures. In every country I’ve lived or visited, I’ve made it a priority to be culturally curious, learning as much as I can about the people, their customs and business norms. Especially in these times, when the world and its citizens need to band together and support one another more than ever, I believe the practice of learning about other cultures helps humans grow and exemplify empathy for others.

When the opportunity came up a year ago to be an executive sponsor of HOLA, Microsoft’s Hispanic and Latinx employee resource group, at first, I did not feel qualified since I’m not Hispanic or Latina myself. But as I learned and observed more, I realized there was an opportunity for me to be an aspiring ally. I say “aspiring” ally here because “ally” is a title that only the community can give to me, and I must earn it for it to mean anything.  `

When I started connecting at a deeper level with my Hispanic and Latinx colleagues, I had questions to try and better understand their community and how I could help:

  • Whether at home or at work, where do you often encounter the most need for allyship? Are there common occurrences when you feel overlooked, judged, or left out of conversations?
  • When is English as a second language a challenge? Finnish is my first language, so for me personally, I know in certain situations my English is better than at other times.
  • In addition to amplification of your voices and mission, what are ways allies can help this community?

While I will never fully understand the lived experience of the Hispanic and Latinx community, the mutual trust formed during these conversations has allowed me to learn from them immensely. For Hispanic Heritage Month, it is my privilege to share some of my most valuable lessons as an aspiring ally, particularly how we can support our Hispanic and Latinx friends and colleagues.

  • Educate yourself about differences in culture, lived experiences and privilege. If you are White, do an honest exploration of how the color of your skin might have allowed you to have personal, educational and career opportunities without social barriers.
  • Create a connection. No matter their gender, culture or race, anyone can aspire to be an ally. Allyship is connection – an intentional decision to act in support of another in the manner they want to be supported. That is what I strive to do.
  • Amplify voices, especially if you are a leader. Everyone brings their own unique talents and perspectives, and we will all do better work when we create space for unique perspectives, backgrounds, and experiences to inform new thinking.
  • Reach out to your Hispanic and Latinx coworkers, neighbors and friends, especially during these unprecedented times. Hispanics, specifically, are experiencing an especially difficult year as they push through the COVID-19 pandemic. Hispanics have an infection rate of approximately four times that of non-Hispanic white persons as a result from inequities in living, working, health, and social conditions that have persisted across generations.
  • Don’t fear mistakes. It is common for people immersing themselves in other cultures to feel afraid to say the wrong thing or to second guess if they are doing everything they can to be a supportive participant. What I have learned throughout my allyship journey is that it is OK to ask and to acknowledge when you may not know the history, right term, or pronunciation. What is important is that you care and are committed to constantly learning and evolving.
  • Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month and Hispanic/Latinx culture. Approximately 16.7% of the US population is Hispanic and 73% of survey respondents consider it extremely important or very important that companies and organizations recognize and celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month. Learning history and culture, engaging with stories and events, discovering the diverse experiences that shape a community – all of this helps build empathy and understanding and brings you closer to becoming an informed and effective ally.

Aspiring to be an ally has been a meaningful and enriching experience for me. I encourage you to aspire to allyship, too.

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