Allyship in the workplace is increasingly in the spotlight
Allyship in the workplace is increasingly in the spotlight, as customers, employees, and investors increasingly see equity and inclusion as not just a 'nice to have' but a 'must have'. Allyship has become essential – driving systemic improvements to workplace policies, practices, and culture. But what actually constitutes a workplace ally – and what does it take to be a good one?
Allies are, in effect, collaborators who fight injustice and promote equity in the workplace through supportive personal relationships and public acts of sponsorship and advocacy. They can be men advocating for the advancement of women, for example, white colleagues standing up for the rights of people of color, able-bodied individuals thinking about the needs of those with disabilities, or heterosexual employees creating a workplace free of homophobia and transphobia against LGBT colleagues.
In essence, a workplace ally is an individual who is not a member of an under-represented group but who takes action to support one or many such groups. Being an ally is an active process and it’s not something individuals can simply bestow upon themselves – i.e. I’m not transphobic or homophobic or racist, therefore I’m an ally.
To be a true ally means taking on the struggle of an oppressed group as your own, carrying the weight felt by those in a marginalised group and never putting it down. Allyship means valuing people with different experiences from your own, learning about privileges and natural prejudices, and working to make the workplace more equitable in spite of them.
The five kinds of ally
The following are some examples of roles that allies can take to support colleagues from marginalised groups:
The cheerleader – cheerleaders are visible and vocal supporters of those in under-represented groups, shining the spotlight on individuals in public spaces and forums. Across meetings, conferences, and online spaces, cheerleaders provide a voice that’s heard by large audiences.
The amplifier – amplifiers ensure that under-represented voices are heard, valued, and respected. The amplifier highlights the contributions of others and uses platforms to communicate the needs of others. In this context, they really are the ones who shout the loudest.
The researcher – the researcher ally is hungry for knowledge about the lived experience of those in a non-dominant group. Their interest is authentic and well-intentioned, they want to listen and learn about the challenges and setbacks faced by certain colleagues.
The intervener – the intervener takes action and dives straight in… appropriately. They call out offensive or problematic behavior, taking opportunities to defend and educate whenever there is a need to do so.
The supporter – a supporter is a trusted confidant for members of a non-dominant group to share their perspectives, fears, joys, and concerns. They create a security blanket of trust and support where individuals feel heard, respected, and safe.
Tips for being a good ally
- Know your privilege – before standing up for the rights of others, understand the rights and privileges that you have and those that others don’t.
- Listen and do your homework – in order to learn, you need to listen. Know when to allow another person’s voice to fill the room and believe them wholeheartedly. Do some research – blogs, books, articles, tweets, news articles and YouTube vloggers all provide an insight into the key issues facing minority groups. Get up to speed on the issues that are important to the communities that need support.
- Speak up, not over – an ally’s job is to support and use their impactful position to educate others but in a way that doesn’t speak over the community members they’re supporting. However, don’t be afraid to speak up when you see injustice play out in front of you – remaining neutral in this kind of scenario is not helping, it’s simply maintaining the status quo.
- Speaking up isn’t the same as speaking for – some worry that it is "not their place" to comment on bad behavior. Allies are normally in an advantageous and privileged position to use their voice to support others. Bring a supportive voice to the table where others are never invited to sit.
- Make mistakes but apologise afterwards – nobody is perfect and unlearning problematic things takes time and effort. It’s OK to trip up now and again. Just remember that it’s not about your intent, it’s about the impact you may have had. If you make a mistake, remember to listen, apologize, commit to change, and move forward.
- Ally is a verb – just saying that you're an ally is not enough, you need to follow up with consistent and authentic actions. Allyship doesn’t start and stop with "I believe in you, good luck" – it’s an active process that requires constant work and action.
Remember, to be an ally is to take on the struggle as your own and stand up, even when it feels uncomfortable to do so. It means using your privilege to advance those who lack it – and acknowledging that, while you also feel the struggle, the conversation is not about you.
By Alasdair James Scott, a senior consultant at worldwide diversity and inclusion training consultancy PDT Global