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You might have heard the term ‘ally’ thrown around in conversations about social justice or in the context of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). But what does it actually mean? Simply put, an ally is someone who supports and advocates for the rights and well-being of groups other than their own. In the context of the workplace, allyship refers to the active, ongoing process of using one’s power and privilege to support colleagues who may be marginalized or underrepresented.
Allyship isn’t just about understanding and empathy; it’s about action. It involves taking tangible steps to challenge bias, discrimination, and inequality in the workplace. As an ally, you have the opportunity to promote a culture of inclusion, equity, and diversity. But how do you do this effectively?
1. Educate yourself
This has to be step one. Educating yourself on the issues and challenges faced by marginalized groups, such as racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, etc. is the only way to build a solid foundation of allyship. Learn about the history and context of these issues, and how they affect people’s lives and opportunities. You can read books, articles, podcasts, or watch videos on these topics, or join workshops and trainings that promote diversity and inclusion. DEI expert and SocialTalent author, Salma El-Wardany, is a big advocate for choosing a medium of learning which suits your style. Not a big reader? Perhaps watching some documentaries is more your speed. Prefer bite-size content? Follow DEI leaders and enthusiasts on social media. Consumable, repeatable learning will ingrain awareness.
SocialTalent provides dedicated DEI Training for workplaces. Reach out to learn more.
2. Listen to and amplify the voices of your marginalized colleagues
Seek to understand their perspectives and experiences, and create a safe space for them to share their stories and opinions. Respect their boundaries and preferences, and do not speak over them or for them. Instead, use your privilege to amplify their voices and advocate for their needs and interests. For example, you can invite them to speak at meetings, acknowledge their contributions, or support their ideas and initiatives.
Making space is a huge element of allyship. By sharing the spotlight, you not only give credit where it is due but also inspire others to do the same. This cascading effect of allyship creates a positive cycle that benefits everyone in the workplace. Remember, according to a report by Bentley University, employees in organizations with cultures of inclusion and allyship report feeling greater happiness and are more likely to go above and beyond for their employers.
3. Challenge bias, discrimination, and injustice in the workplace
Always remember that allyship should be regarded as a verb, not a noun. It’s about action. Call out and confront any behaviors or practices that are harmful or unfair to your marginalized colleagues, such as microaggressions, stereotypes, harassment, or exclusion. Do not remain silent or complicit when you witness or hear about such incidents. Instead, speak up and take action to address them, and hold yourself and others accountable. You can also report any violations to the appropriate authorities, or seek support from allies and allies groups.
4. Be humble and open to feedback
Recognize that allyship is a continuous learning process, and that you may make mistakes or have blind spots along the way. Be willing to admit your errors and apologize sincerely, and learn from your mistakes and feedback. Do not take criticism personally or defensively, but rather as an opportunity to grow and improve. Seek feedback from your marginalized colleagues, and ask them how you can be a better ally to them.
There can be so much fear and shame associated with allyship, but it’s important to make progress with the best intentions. Tread gently into the space – you don’t have to be the loudest voice or have all the answers, you just have to show respect and a willingness to do better.
5. Understand that we all have privilege
Privilege plays a significant role in allyship, influencing the dynamics of support, understanding, and advocacy. Privilege refers to unearned advantages or benefits granted to certain groups based on aspects such as race, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, or other social identifiers. Recognizing and understanding one’s own privilege is crucial for effective allyship.
In her SocialTalent course on Being an Ally, Salma El-Wardany breaks privilege down for us. Take a look:
6. Celebrate and appreciate the diversity and uniqueness of your colleagues
To create psychologically safe, inclusive work environments you must be very intentional and visual with your support of diversity. Nothing happens in a vacuum and part of being an active ally requires you to celebrate and encourage those from underrepresented backgrounds. Recognize and value their strengths, skills, and contributions, and express your gratitude and admiration for their work. Highlight their achievements and successes, and give them credit and recognition when they deserve it. While certain acts, like rainbows during Pride month, can often feel performative, there is power to be gained by being upfront with support.
The final word
Being a better ally in the workplace is not a one-time effort but an ongoing commitment to growth and inclusivity. Allies contribute to the creation of a workplace where individuals are celebrated for their unique qualities and contributions. By educating themselves, actively listening, and advocating for change, allies play a pivotal role in building bridges and fostering an environment where everyone can thrive. The impact of being a better ally extends beyond individual relationships; it transforms the entire workplace, making it a more vibrant, innovative, and equitable space for all.