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Allyship in the Workplace: Begin Where You Are

Today, we want to talk about allyship in the workplace. Unsure of what it means to be an ally? In this post, we talk about what allyship means, actionable ways to become a better ally to your colleagues, and how allyship & diversity benefit workplaces everywhere.

What does “allyship” really mean?

Allyship is when a person who is not a member of the marginalized group acts in ways that support members of that group.

Who do allies show up for?

Allies show up for under-represented, marginalized groups that they do not personally identify with. This includes, and is not limited to, showing up for people with disabilities, members of the LGBTQIA community, racial and cultural minorities, women, and more.

Allies show up for these groups because they recognize that the voices of marginalized individuals are under-represented. As an ally, you understand that existing power structures, especially in the workplace, can lead to dismissiveness and other micro-aggressions toward marginalized groups.

How to think about allyship
  • Allyship is not about helping marginalized groups, it is about partnering with them.
  • Allyship is not an identity, it is the consistent commitment to learning about power structures and systemic oppression that affect marginalized groups.
  • Allyship is not proud, it is always open to being corrected by those with whom you seek to be an ally.
  • Allyship does not represent marginalized groups, it acts in solidarity with them.
Allyship and privilege

To be an ally, you need to start by understanding and recognizing privilege. First, you need to understand that you and others’ experiences are shaped by systems of power and oppression. This means acknowledging that you and your colleagues’ experiences at work, and beyond, are impacted by gender, race, physical ability, age, education, and more. Allies use their privilege to support the success of individuals who do not have access to the same privilege.

Self-awareness, commitment to learning, and a strong desire to listen and understand the experiences of others are necessary for effective allyship.

Be an ally to your colleagues: Start from where you are

Curious about how you can use your awareness of privilege and passion for inclusivity to benefit your colleagues?

Allyship can manifest in every workplace! The Muse has a great guide on workplace allyship called 7 Examples of What Being an Ally at Work Really Looks Like.

Here’s our take:

How can you show up as an ally?
The Sponsor

Acting as a Sponsor means putting your positive opinions about your colleagues out in the open when new opportunities are on the table. This can look like recommending your colleague for a promotion. You can also take on the role of the Sponsor by leveraging your network to connect your colleagues with people that can help meet their career goals.

The Champion

The difference between the roles of Champions and Sponsors is that “Champions willingly defer to colleagues from underrepresented groups in meetings and invisible, industry-wide events and conferences, sending meaningful messages to large audiences”. This can look like re-directing questions to your colleagues with greater expertise or openly advocating for greater representation of minority speakers at events.

The Amplifier

This role amplifies the voices and visibility of individuals from under-represented groups. The ally voices their agreement and gives credit to their colleagues’ ideas in meetings. The ally notices when communication ground rules are needed to make conversations more inclusive and they are not afraid to voice their concern in a constructive way (I.e., when interruptions are inadvertently silencing certain group members). The Amplifier understands the importance of visibility and seeks out willing colleagues from under-represented groups to “speak at staff meetings, write for company-wide newsletters, or take on other highly visible roles”.

The Advocate

The ally leverages their awareness of representation to advocate for their colleagues from under-represented groups to be included in meetings and events that promote career growth. In the role of an advocate, you can seek out partnerships with your colleagues from marginalized groups when working on a special project.

The Scholar

The ally in the role of the Scholar does not expect people from under-represented groups to provide them with learning resources (4). Instead, they take the initiative to learn about “the challenges and prejudices faced by colleagues from marginalized groups”.

The Scholar is a humble listener, realizing that it is not appropriate to share their own experiences and opinions. The Scholar wants to expand their understanding of challenges faced by their colleagues from under-represented groups within their company and industry. They do this by utilizing publicly accessible information and by asking their colleagues from under-represented groups if they would be comfortable sharing their experiences.

The Upstander

The ally in the role of Upstander “sees wrongdoing and acts to combat it”. They speak up because they realize that the perpetuation of systemic oppression can happen anywhere – even in workplace conversations that don’t intend to offend anyone. The ally acting as an Upstander voice and explains why they disagree with an inappropriate or offensive comment.

Acting as an Upstander means using your privilege to insert yourself into situations that occur at the expense of a colleague from a marginalized group, such as bullying (4). The ally understands how to empower their colleague by consulting them privately to make sure they are okay. The ally is not a saviour – they act in solidarity with marginalized groups through holding themselves and others accountable.

The Confidant

The ally who is showing up in the role of Confidant understands that privilege shapes experiences. They are not disbelieving of others’ experiences because it is not their own lived experience. Being an effective ally in the role of Confidant means that you are directly contributing toward a safe space for colleagues from marginalized groups who are sharing their experiences with you. You listen actively and ask questions – you understand that you should not insert your own experiences and opinions.

How does allyship benefit your workplace?

Encouraging allyship within your organization promotes inclusion and helps maximize the benefits of your team’s diversity.

Did you know, “companies that had higher-than-average gender diversity and employee engagement also had 46% to 58% better financial performance” than companies with lower-than-average diversity and engagement?

Promotes Inclusion

Diversity initiatives’ goals are to enhance representation within the workplace.  However, having diversity does not ensure the participation of diverse and underrepresented individuals. When people are encouraged to participate and feel able at work, they feel included.

Inclusion is, “the action or state of including or of being included within a group or structure. More than simply diversity and numerical representation, inclusion involves authentic and empowered participation and a true sense of belonging”.

Culture and morale

Supporting colleagues from marginalized groups by acting as an ally means that…

  • You support your colleague’s voice.
  • You acknowledge and amplify their expertise.
  • You notice and act when they are excluded from important opportunities.
  • You hold others and yourself accountable to create an inclusive workplace.

Committing to allyship consistently means that…

  • Your colleagues from marginalized groups are empowered to participate.
  • There is a greater sense of team cohesion and camaraderie when everyone feels heard and valued.
  • The culture of your organization shifts to greater safety and inclusivity.

Effective allyship actively encourages diversity to manifest in the workplace through enabling inclusivity and enhancing workplace culture!

Begin where you are!

Want to learn more about allyship? Check out this open-source starter guide! Curious about the impacts of workplace allyship? Check out this TedTalk: 3 ways to be a better ally in the workplace, which describes the impact of toxic workplace culture and microaggressions on employee motivation and confidence.

Do you have questions about understanding your privilege? Check out this article on Different Types of Privilege, Including White Privilege—Explained.

For information about diversifying your workforce, check out Envol’s blog post on Diversity, Equity & Inclusion: Building Diverse Teams.

Need help creating a DE&I strategy? Reach out to us at [email protected]! We would love to hear from you.