Individual vs organizational responsibility
A lot of this comes down to the difference between individual responsibility and organizational responsibility. I believe the latter should be held to a much higher standard. If someone doesn’t want to engage with D&I work, or attend an International Women’s Day event, that’s their choice, but organizations have to lead the charge.
I’m proud to be a ROMBA scholar. I’m also actually one of the organisers of this year’s ROMBA conference. There are 12 of us on the committee and I’m the only one from Europe – which has given me a whole new perspective on how LGBTQ + issues differ from culture to culture. Working with the Out in Business Club here at LBS is a similar experience. Our community is so international, which is wonderful, but it’s also made me think more critically about how we can push for progress when everyone experiences issues differently.
Being forced to get out of my own head and look at issues from a more international angle has been a good reminder that people’s lives rarely revolve around just one part of their identity. As Audre Lorde said, “There is no [such] thing as a single-issue struggle because we don’t live live single-issue lives. ” This is partly why allies are such an important part of our movement, and why effective allyship is so key for making progress in the corporate D&I space.
Sometimes allyship can be as simple as paying attention to how your organization behaves and asking the right questions. Where do your organization’s profits go? What kind of communities are they investing in? Even when you’re considering something as basic as your benefits policy, could you ask if general family leave or time off caring for an elderly family member or a loved one who is sick is valued as maternity or paternity leave? Sustainable allyship is all about small steps we can take every day.
That said, privilege goes together with power and it can be used for good. The impact of having people who hold power in the room on the side of marginalized communities cannot be overstated; it’s immense. Genuine allyship also enables us to share the load. Sometimes, just moving through the world as a marginalized person can take a toll. It can be painful and exhausting – so why should the burden of advocating for our community fall to us, too?
Oppression holds us all back
Really, the work we’re doing benefits society as a whole, which is why we all need to advocate for each other. I’m a woman and a queer person, but I’m also white and not disabled and I can use my privilege and power to advocate for other communities. We need to understand that oppression holds everyone back and it’s on all of us – not just members of marginalised communities – to break down these systems of oppression. I think D&I initiatives combined with the power and platforms that companies and organizations hold can be really transformational in helping to combat oppression and build a more inclusive and equitable society.
It’s great that schools like LBS are open to having these conversations. That said, we need to be conscious that we’re not just talking about D&I, but also genuinely reflecting on how we can continue to learn and evolve. When organizations aren’t willing to do this, it doesn’t matter how many conferences they put on or how many D&I speakers they invite; people will never be able to take them seriously. The work starts at home. For me, that means asking, why do we have lower levels of representation in certain communities at LBS? And what are the pathways we can create to help get more students from different backgrounds here?
I’d love to see LBS think about how to increase representation among certain underrepresented communities, specifically women, Black and LGBTQ + students, particularly those that identify as trans and non-binary. Especially given we’re such an international community, I want to see LBS investing more heavily in additional funding options for students. If we know women are affected by the gender pay gap, and people of color are also subject to a racial wealth gap, we need to get serious about how we can innovate around this issue and offer real, tangible solutions so everyone has a path to come here.
After graduation, I see myself working in the D&I space. I’d really like to use the international lens I’m gaining at LBS to help organizations understand there’s a multitude of factors that influence our identities. It’s never just about sexual orientation; race, culture, gender identity, class and socioeconomic background all intersect. When you look at D&I professionals, it’s clear that a lot of people in these roles tend to be marginalized themselves – Chief Diversity Officer roles are largely held by Black women, for example. Similarly, lots of queer people hold senior roles in this space. I understand why these dynamic exists, but I’d love to see more people who are traditionally more privileged getting involved and use that privilege to help organizations walk the walk.
Julia Hamilton is Co-President of London Business School’s Out in Business Club