Being an ally is personal: Here’s why

21 Jan 2021 · 4 min read
Charles Bendotti, PMI’s Senior Vice President, People & Culture, reflects on why leading with inclusion and building teams with those unlike yourself is vital to building a better future for everyone.
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When I was young, my mother told me: “Never assume what others want or need—ask them.” Though a passing comment, her words left an indelible impression and have continued to echo throughout my personal and professional life as I make choices about who I am and how I lead. 

These words ring especially true for me today as I reflect on the bitterly divided world in which we live; a world where, at times, it seems as though people couldn’t be further apart. As a proud father of three young adults, this is not the world I want to hand down to them and the generations to come. 

To be an effective ally—to any marginalized individual or group—means listening with an open mind and an open heart.

Throughout my career, I have had the opportunity to live and work in many parts of the world—from Buenos Aires to Brasilia, Cairo to Kyoto, and Quito to Quebec—picking up a greater understanding of diverse cultures and communities along the way. 

It is this combination of experiences that has prepared me to be an ally. Living as an “outsider”—however welcomed—taught me not only about the world but also about myself, helping me become a better leader.

My experiences in a diverse array of cultures taught me to listen, ask, and reach out to others to help foster a more inclusive, supportive, and welcoming world for everyone—in the workplace and in society generally—regardless of background, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, ability, or any other dimension of identity. 

For those in a privileged position—most often, white men such as me—achieving this means speaking up, taking action, and doing what is right when we see injustice or exclusion, large or small. That’s what allyship is all about. 

To be an effective ally—to any marginalized individual or group—means listening with an open mind and an open heart. In doing so, we learn about others’ lived experiences and needs, which improves our understanding, strengthens our sense of empathy, and empowers us to take meaningful steps to ensure no one is denied that sense of belonging we all crave. 

What’s more, this openness—human curiosity, if you will—can be educational and enriching in multiple ways, and it can help to cultivate a more empathetic and effective brand of leadership.

Diverse individuals need to own their uniqueness before they can fully leverage their gifts and strengths to make a difference through their work and in the world more broadly.

As Senior Vice President, People & Culture at Philip Morris International (PMI), I take my responsibilities to heart when it comes to being an ally, beginning with leading by example across the organization. That’s one reason I elected to be the executive sponsor of STRIPES, PMI’s global employee resource group on LGBTQ+ inclusion. 

We created this group to cultivate a deeper sense of belonging among our LGBTQ+ employees and provide the possibility to understand and support the community to anyone who is interested. Only by ensuring that every employee feels they truly belong within the PMI global workplace can we unlock the full strength of our diversity to achieve our purpose: delivering a smoke-free future. 

To be effective as an ally and a leader is to empower others. Diverse individuals need to own their uniqueness before they can fully leverage their gifts and strengths to make a difference through their work and in the world more broadly. The best legacy I can leave is to convey the message my mother instilled in me: We all need to use our power, as big or as small as it may seem, to stand up for equality and equity—for ourselves and, always, for others.

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