Allyship and making room for historically marginalized employees

Allyship and making room for historically marginalized employees

Nikisha Ridgeway believes some of the best allies she has encountered have disrupted the oppression she has faced in her career, even when she was unaware it was happening to her.


“They coached and mentored me and helped lead me to successful outcomes,” said Ridgeway, president and CEO of Starbridge.

She added, however, that when an allyship is not done right, it can lead to loss of trust and have long-lasting consequences.

“When an allyship is not done well the trauma is magnified,” Ridgeway said, noting people need to be aware of where they stand in terms of power and privilege and use their position to support others from marginalized communities. “Regardless of your comfort level show up and rise to the occasion.”

Ridgeway made her comments as part of a panel discussion on Power, Privilege and Allyship at the Rochester Business Journal’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Virtual Summit last week.

The panel discussed how business leaders can recognize and leverage their influence to grow opportunity and affirming spaces that empower individuals from historically marginalized communities.

It was moderated by Rabbi Sandra Katz, executive director of the National Coalition Building Institute of Rochester.

Joining Ridgeway on the panel were:

  • Karen Elam, executive director of the Levine Center to End Hate at the Jewish Federation of Greater Rochester
  • Natalie A. Grigg, partner and department chair of the Default Services Department at Woods Oviatt Gilman, LLP, and
  • Stuart J. Mitchell, executive director of the PathStone Foundation.

Grigg spoke of her early days in the field of law when it was a largely male-dominated industry.

To navigate, Grigg leveraged the resources around her, sought support from allies and mentors and recognized her own ability, including when and how to voice her opinion.

Today, Grigg serves as the chair of the law firm’s DEI committee.

In the role, she constantly looks at ways Woods Oviatt Gilman can continue to strengthen DEI efforts both internally and throughout the community.

Mitchell spoke of the need to create champions of diversity in the community, who can support efforts from eliminating redlining practices to advocating for more affordable housing in the suburbs.

Rochester is racially segregated, he said, adding that the topic must be at the top of everyone’s mind, including those in the business community.

“When we understand where we fit in, we can begin to address the issues,” Mitchell said.

Elam spoke about the extreme polarization in the world today, noting the number of hate crimes is on the rise, including locally.

Focusing on DEI can play a role in addressing the problem, Elam said.

“Safety and belonging are at the root of all DEI work,” she said.

The Levine Center to End Hate is taking several actions to help remedy the situation, from building out its community education programs to creating a corporate council to engage with the business community.

Collaboration and understanding are key to better outcomes, Elam said.

“The more we educate ourselves, the more we see each other,” she said.

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