Allyship as a Wedding Professional with Hope McGrath

Allyship has always been an important role to uphold in the lives of non-POC, but in light of recent events concerning the Black Lives Matter movement, it’s crucial that we take the time to reflect on what it means to be an ally in the wedding industry.

While this is a very nuanced, sensitive, and sometimes uncomfortable subject, it can also be incredibly empowering to help be the support system that those around us need and speak up against injustice. That said, it’s the responsibility of non-POC to take this time as an opportunity to uplift Black voices, share Black stories, and educate ourselves on systemic oppression and racism at the root level.

OFD had the chance to sit down and speak to Hope McGrath, a Certified Professional and Transformational Coach, who shared her perspective on race in the wedding industry in a recent media chit-chat.

Beginning Your Journey to Allyship

A key question that many wedding pros have been asking themselves is: how can I be a productive, meaningful ally? And admittedly, this requires a multi-faceted approach that cannot be accomplished overnight. We may be showing our support in vocal ways, but it’s important to realize that this issue goes much deeper, and our support as non-POC is also reflected in our actions.

McGrath says, “Speak from the heart. Don’t try to make things up. Don’t try to say something in your work or your personal life that you don’t really feel is real. Because you [may] feel like, ‘Oh, I need to connect to Black people now, because my business may be going downhill if I don’t get with the program.’ We want you to feel [and] really try to educate yourself. And Black people and POC can tell when your messaging is inauthentic really, really quickly.”

Additionally, she emphasizes that if you have a passion to be an ally, it’s time to educate yourself. “It’s time to have those difficult conversations. It’s time to look in the mirror and realize, ‘Do I really want to learn, or am I just doing it to build my business?’ What are the real motivations?”

Bring Others Into the Fold

In this instance, actions will speak much louder than your words, even if you are well-meaning and encouraging. Diversity and inclusivity have not always been at the forefront of the wedding industry, and there are still holes today that need to be filled – whether it’s diversifying your team or supporting Black-owned wedding businesses and fellow vendors.

When it comes to mentoring a “professional of color”, McGrath notes that it can be such a blessing if you are in a powerful position in your industry to do so. She shares her own story of working in the fashion industry: “When I was younger, I wanted a mentor so badly. I would beg these women that I used to work for, [asking if] I could take them to lunch and hear about them.

And once we went out to lunch, they disappeared. They wanted nothing to do with me, and I wasn’t sure why. I wanted mentors and I couldn’t get one. A lot of Black professionals within that are working with the white majority, they do not have those opportunities. Those Black colleagues want to collaborate. Many of them want to collaborate with people that don’t look like them, and they want to share their knowledge.”

Holding Others Accountable

Accountability and responsibility are key to being proactive with a purpose. As McGrath mentions, there are going to be times when having these conversations with family, friends, and especially colleagues in positions of power are going to be very difficult. However, staying silent is being complicit with the unfortunate status quo of racism, and in order to be a catalyst for change, it’s no longer acceptable.

So, how can this be done within the wedding industry, where you may be afraid to speak up against microaggressions or racially insensitive comments? “I suggest you all start with asking questions and being curious,” advises McGrath. “We’d like white professionals to hold other white professionals accountable.”

She continues: “For example, I saw that BRIDES posted the ‘100+ Black-Owned Wedding Businesses to Support Now and Always’. And here’s what they said, ‘At BRIDES, it’s our job to highlight the best of the best in the wedding industry – and we’ve admittedly fallen short.’ So, they just called themselves out.

McGrath notes, “Let’s forgive ourselves and let’s move forward. So that is one thing to do. Speaking to professionals of color in your industry. And you know what, pause and listen. You don’t know everything. It’s okay to listen. And that way, that’ll allow you to educate yourself and listen.”

Holding Yourself Accountable

In the same vein, there’s zero shame in taking the steps to back up your words and keeping yourself in check. This may entail putting changes in place that will impact your business or who you align yourself with, but these are all small steps towards long-term growth and allyship.

Determine what that’s going to ultimately look like for your company. McGrath suggests beginning with a diversity and inclusion statement and sticking to it. “[This is] for your company with your philosophy on how you’re going to handle diversity and inclusion, and this is where you can radically think about where you stand. So, you can say to yourself, ‘I’m only going to work with people who support multicultural vendors and this new way of looking at things.’ Or, ‘I’m going to say something when I see professionals of color being looked over.’”

We cannot support the Black Lives Matter movement and our fellow Black wedding professionals without first auditing our business practices and fixing any mistakes. McGrath says, “In order to speak about what other people are doing, you have to actually do it yourself. So you have to hire Black people, you have to refer Black people. You have to do the work first before you can start telling other people what to do.

You can suggest, ‘Well, what do you think about including more people of color in this project?’ Or, ‘What do you think about using this image of a Black couple or a mixed couple for this image?’ Because you can’t really educate everyone, you just have to educate yourself and then be an advocate for others.”

There’s a long road ahead for the wedding industry in fully transitioning to a mindset where diversity is a top priority, but allyship is where you can pitch in and begin taking measures for positive change. Evaluate how you benefit from white privilege, and keep reading, listening, and learning.