Our workplaces are comprised of individuals from different backgrounds and cultures, and everyone – no matter their gender, race, ability, or sexual orientation – wants to feel included and supported in their surroundings. It is important to foster a workplace culture that thrives on inclusivity and making sure that everyone feels comfortable. Here are five ways to be an ally in the workplace with some thoughts from our own coworkers.
What is an ally?
The dictionary defines “ally” as someone who is not a member of a marginalized group but takes action to support that group (Merriam Webster).
Chelsea Wicken, Business Analyst of Roth Staffing in Orange County says, “Being an ally means you are taking action to help facilitate a change – first internally, then externally. It starts with making space to sit in discomfort and explore uncomfortable feelings while engaging in difficult conversations, no matter how awkward they may be. You start to notice, name, and intentionally challenge your own biases and reactions. You are seeking out perspectives and stories that are different from your own – removing all possible ‘filters’ and truly listening to someone else’s experience, trusting their words as you would want your own words trusted.”
Everyone can be an ally. This can start with reaching out to a colleague to show your support, standing up for someone who’s been slighted, or advocating for someone at work.
Here are some ways you can be an ally and foster allyship in the workplace
- Take a moment to listen – be supportive and educate yourselfListening and educating yourself is one of the first and most crucial steps you can take towards being an ally. Believe your coworkers, validate their feelings, and give them the opportunity to speak up. While your voice can help, it is more important to understand when to give others the chance to have their voice heard.
As you educate yourself, it may be uncomfortable hearing others’ experiences. However, this will help you better understand the perspective of different marginalized communities and the best ways you can be an ally to them.
- Give others a chance and recognition they deserveMake sure you give everyone a chance to shine. This can be as simple as ensuring everyone speaks during a meeting or giving someone recognition for their hard work on an important project. You can also give rise to speaking opportunities to diverse groups to share their experiences.
If you’re able, connect coworkers from minority groups to influential people in the industry and make sure diverse groups are represented at important meetings and events.
- Advocate and speak up for your colleaguesAs an advocate of your coworkers, take action when you recognize wrongful situations. It is your responsibility as an ally to push back when you see wrongdoings such as offensive jokes or comments, misplaced credit, or unfair exclusivity. Be sure to check with the person before you act to make sure they’re comfortable with you speaking up on their behalf.
“Allies can help by joining in the conversation. Point out inequities when they are seen & encourage your immediate circle to be a part of the solution. Advocate for all your coworkers to participate in our DEI initiatives regardless of race or ethnicity”, says Roman Ward, Market Manager of Ledgent in Massachusetts.
- Get to know your colleaguesA great way to better understand your colleagues’ experience is to take some time to truly get to know them. Take note of what they are good at – at work and outside of work – and learn about their ideas and aspirations. As you get to know your coworkers you will be able to connect them with helpful opportunities that match their skill set when the time comes.
- Understand and learn from mistakesWe need to keep in mind that we are all human and we will make mistakes. When this happens, take a moment to understand why you were wrong, apologize, and learn how you can do and be better next time. Having empathy and humility is the only way forward but will also build trust as an ally.
“Being an ally does not mean you will not make fundamental mistakes, you will. It is part of the job. Mistakes are ok, it is what you detect and absorb from those mistakes that aid you to remain a more valuable ally”, says Darcy Bryan, National Account Manager of Roth Staffing in Dallas. “Most of all it means staying engaged, staying present, and continuing to show up. You must earn the title. It is not a leadership role; it is providing support and if you are not taking steps to be an ally you are sustaining the systemic structure that oppresses others.”
Working together and fostering inclusivity is important in ensuring that everyone thrives and feels comfortable, especially at the workplace where you spend most of your hours during the week. Byron White, Market Vice President of Roth Staffing in South Florida says, “I think it’s important that allies remember that listening and empathy goes a long way. If everyone is a little more empathetic to marginalized communities, we are taking a huge step in the right direction.”
Remember, change doesn’t happen overnight but is ongoing and will take time to reach the whole organization. But in the meantime, continue to take action and be a leader in fostering allyship within your workplace.