How to be an Ally in the Workplace
Advocating for your underrepresented coworkers not only creates a positive work environment for all, but means that everyone feels included, equal, and appreciated.
Pat Wadors, the Chief People Officer at Procore, once said, “When we listen and celebrate what is both common and different, we become a wiser, more inclusive, and better organization.” In a professional setting, learning to listen and celebrate those thoughts and opinions that might differ than ours is one of the first steps of being an ally in the workplace, and a great way to allow business to blossom, as all members of the team feel included and have equal opportunities.
In the workplace, allyship is when workers align themselves with underrepresented members of the team while advocating on their behalf and working against discriminatory actions in order to provide equal opportunities for everyone. Allies are people who align themselves with underrepresented groups’ missions. Allyship also doesn’t pertain to one specific underrepresented group, but all groups which are underrepresented, including the LGBTQ community, women, people of color, and others.
Workplace leaders can be a big help in uniting colleagues and showing allyship. A recent survey conducted by Catalyst, a global nonprofit working with some of the world’s most powerful CEOs and leading companies to build better workplaces for women, shows that through allyship and curiosity, leaders are responsible for nearly 40% of the experience of inclusion for people of color. The survey also found that when leaders demonstrate allyship and curiosity, people of color are less on guard to racial bias at work, which in turn leads to increased inclusion and intentions to stay at their organization. “As someone who has lived and worked in many different countries and experienced many different cultures, I have seen first-hand the value that different perspectives bring,” says Charles Bendotti, SVP People and Culture at Philip Morris International and executive sponsor for the STRIPES Global Employee Resource Group.
Here, we show some ways to be an ally at work and how allyship helps to create inclusion and equity for all.
It’s important for allies to educate themselves on the challenges and prejudices their colleagues face. Simply listening, learning, and absorbing information is the first step in becoming an ally. You can also take it a step further and do some research into underrepresented groups by reading journals and publications on the topic, listening to podcasts, and partaking in panel discussions as an observer. Furthermore, learning about the history of oppression against underrepresented groups helps you understand the importance of aligning yourself as an ally. In the workplace, this is important for creating an inclusive culture and breaking down barriers.
To be an ally, it’s important to turn your intentions into actions. And yes, it means more than updating your Facebook profile picture with a filter that says you’re an ally. In order to stop injustices and prevent them from happening in the future, we have to act. Here’s what action can look like.
Suppose you’re in a meeting and notice that there aren’t any women (or perhaps you’re the only woman) present. Here, you could act by speaking up. Politely ask the group, “why aren’t there more women at this meeting?” Doing so just might result in the team acting and including women in the meeting and in future meetings. Perhaps you’re concerned about the lack of diversity in senior leadership. It’s worth advocating for your underrepresented colleagues here in order to see appropriate representation. Speaking up can also include advocating for coworkers in the same position as you who are making less money, speaking out when you see someone being mistreated, and speaking up when someone deserves a promotion.
Be an Advocate
As a leader in the workplace, it’s important to use your voice to advocate for positive change, including for hiring more women in senior positions, or more people of color in management roles, for example. An advocate notices exclusion and holds colleagues accountable to correct unjust situations, and creates inclusion for all people.
Champion Your Fellow Colleagues
Sometimes at work, your peers need your support in the form of championing them. As an ally, it’s important to recognize the work of those people from underrepresented groups. Did a colleague from such a group give you helpful insight into a touch project, or pitch in to help you on a deadline? Let that work be recognized to the team, especially in group settings. Acknowledging their work to a larger audience helps show that you’re an ally, and helps your colleague get the recognition they deserve.
Being a champion also means stepping aside when you realize an underrepresented coworker might be a better fit for a specific task. Maybe you were asked to put together a keynote speech on a topic you’re not well-versed in. As a champion in this instance, you would recommend the job to someone from the underrepresented group that could better do the task.
Being an ally creates a space for all to be included and heard. “By listening with an open heart and mind, speaking up and acting against any injustice or exclusion of any kind, we can create environments for everyone to make the most of their own gifts and strengths,” says Bendotti.
As you continue to learn the importance of allyship, it’s crucial to remember that learning and acting are things that we all are capable of doing in order to create a thriving workplace.
The Inclusive Future content on BlogHer is sponsored by Philip Morris International (PMI). BlogHer has independent editorial responsibility for the content. The views expressed by the authors and contributors may not represent the views of PMI except for those quotes directly attributed to PMI executives.