AbbVie’s Julie Osborne Discusses the Importance of Listening and Learning as a White Ally to the Black Community

(Courtesy of AbbVie)

For Julie Osborne, vice president of equality, diversity, and inclusion at AbbVie (No. 19 on the 2020 DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity) being a white ally to the Black community and other groups facing racial injustice begins with listening and learning.

Back in 2018, she led a number of U.S. and global focus groups on topics regarding diversity to truly listen and understand how people felt about the company’s diversity and inclusion efforts and why. These conversations have continued through “Java with Julie,” informal talks she has with AbbVie employees to discuss equality, diversity, and inclusion-related topics. They have continued virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic. Osborne said the talks allow her to understand what individuals and groups at AbbVie are thinking and what they require from her and the company to do their work in an inclusive environment.

Related story: Understanding White Privilege and Being an Ally to the Black Community

“Through the conversations I’ve had, I’ve learned what others view the definition of ally to be. I then work to incorporate that into my approach and share this view broadly,” she told DiversityInc via email.

To outline what effective allyship requires, the equality, diversity, and inclusion team at AbbVie came up with a checklist which includes being a champion for others’ civil rights, being open-minded to understand viewpoints and taking deliberate action to practice inclusivity and speaking up when equality, diversity and inclusion efforts fail.

Osborne said true allyship feels genuine. Effective action is an ongoing process of education, self-reflection, outreach, and action.

“Performative allyship is just that: a performance,” Osborne said. “A manager checks the box because it was the right thing to do. For example, you told me what to say and I said it. Authentic allyship has a genuine quality that can be felt by both people.”

Related story: News Roundup: Diversity in Comic Films and Aviation, High Demand for CDOs, and Talking About Race

Coming to the conversation as a white person who has had the privilege of not having to experience or understand racial injustice firsthand can be uncomfortable and challenging. However, Osborne says this discomfort is a sign of growth and that education can ease some of the discomfort. Books, conversations, movies, and events that cover topics of race and identity help bridge gaps by exposing professionals to realities that are different from your own.
“I think recognizing your discomfort and being able to ‘sit’ with it is important. It means you are learning,” Osborne said. “Change is not easy, and discomfort is part of the process for any change. When you feel it, it means the discussion is having an impact.”

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